Testing My Message for Resonance

I recently returned from a quick swing through the Toronto area, along with some new business partners.

We met with a number of folks I’ve already known for a while, along with some new faces.

Having recently aligned my services for family enterprise clients with a group of like-minded professionals, we did a little “road show” to explain our methodology and offering to potential collaborators.

These visits allowed me to repeat a favourite message of mine on a number of occasions, to a varied audience, which helped me to gauge its resonance.

I’m happy to say that most people truly got it, and so I’ll address it here once again, along with a new twist.

Unfortunately, this new idea won’t be a panacea, but I hope it will stimulate some thought among readers, which is always a goal of mine here.

Getting Clients to Realize They Need Us

I’ve long understood that the type of resources and services that enterprising families could benefit from are not necessarily very obvious, even to those families who face the challenges that they do.

Working with family members or co-owning assets together presents some significant yet predictable challenges, but the families themselves typically think of themselves as unique.

Of course each family is unique, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other families who have successfully faced and overcome similar challenges to theirs.

The way I’ve explained this is to say that while there is a huge need for what we do, that doesn’t nicely or neatly translate into a similar demand for these services.

That message, the one about the fact that there’s a large need, but not necessarily a huge demand, was the one I repeated at each meeting.

Most heads nodded in agreement, as I had expected.

Big Pharma Seems to Have It Covered

Anyone who watches TV, especially programming from the US, will be quite familiar with the multitude of pharmaceutical commercials with which viewers are constantly bombarded.

The drug companies spend millions coming up with products that solve for a condition from which many people suffer.

But in order to get those people to buy their product, the end customers need to learn about the existence of this magic solution, so that they can then go see their doctor and ask for it.

Of course it wasn’t always this way, but it seems to be quite prevalent now, so I think we can conclude that it must be working.

Rather than focusing on pushing their product through the medical community (which they surely also continue to do) they create awareness through their commercials to instead pull the demand through via the end users.

“Ask Your Advisors About Family Governance”

So whereas we’re all familiar with phrases like “Ask your doctor about Blekthrypligo”, somehow a similar “Ask your advisors about family governance” doesn’t sound like it holds as much promise.

This field is continuing to evolve, though, and has a lot of room to grow still.

There are many players from a variety of professions who serve and interact with families every day.

These people can see and detect issues that each family faces, even though they may not be in a position to work with the family to resolve these needs.

Our hope is that once other professionals are aware of our offering and ability to become additional, complementary resources to their family clients, the necessary introductions will be made.

Turning Supply into Demand, One Family at a Time

This requires these other professionals to have an abundance mentality, and not fear bringing in outside specialists with complementary skill sets.

I wouldn’t say that this attitude is prevalent or even widespread yet, but it does feel like we are moving in that direction.

In some fields, notably financial wealth management, it seems to be moving a bit faster.

Collaboration in this space continues to be a challenge, but progress is happening.

With time, and with more and more people concentrating on serving the families and not just their enterprises, we can make a bigger impact.

Not every family needs these kinds of resources all the time, but as a generational transition approaches, complexities increase and “structural” solutions are often insufficient for handling “relationship” issues.

Families don’t typically handle these challenges well on their own.

But reaching out for guidance and assistance doesn’t have to be a challenge.


Whenever I share my personal backstory, I always include the part about going away for a couple of years to do my MBA.

That’s because it was right after my MBA studies and my return to our family enterprise that big changes occurred for me, thanks to our unexpected liquidity event.

See Finding the Liquidity Sweet Spot for your Family

Instead of the steel fabrication business I was expecting to eventually take over, I ended up running our small family office.

The part of my story that typically gets skipped, however, is that before doing my MBA I was quite busy doing lots of MBWA.

During a recent coaching call with a client, he brought up this term, and it conjured up great memories for me, which I’ll share below.

Nothing Wrong with Doing an MBA

Let’s first dispense with a couple of MBA matters. 

Last year in Getting your MBA to Lead your FamBiz – 5 Things to Consider, I shared some thoughts on the potential value of pursuing MBA studies in advance of taking on a greater role in one’s family enterprise.

Looking back now, I regret one key word choice I made, right there in the headline.

I’ve long tried to make the distinction that I “did” my MBA, and I didn’t simply “get” and MBA.

Trust me, in the program I was in, there was a great deal of “doing”.

To me, “getting” an MBA makes it sound like something you grab off a shelf.

My bias is that too many people “get” their MBA, while not enough actually “do” their MBA, but maybe that’s just the boomer in me.

Wandering Back to the MBWA Discussion

When I was in the first 3 years of my career in our business, which I entered right after my undergrad, I quickly determined that the most important thing I was supposed to do was to learn the business.

I had some vaguely defined roles and tasks related to marketing and then scheduling production and reporting contract status to customers, but the main thing I felt I was supposed to do is figure out how everything worked.

Because I had the same name as the founder, along with a “Jr.” appended to the end, there was literally no place I could not go.

I learned a ton doing that, yet felt like I was wasting a lot of time being unproductive. Until, that is, the book In Search of Excellence came out.

When I read it and learned that “Management By Wandering Around” (MBWA) was actually a thing, it was a true Eureka moment for me.

I felt legitimized.

Sibling Partners with Different Styles

Then a few weeks ago, while on a coaching call with one of two siblings who are learning to co-lead the business they’ve recently taken over from their father, the younger one surprised me.

The book I referred to came out early in my career, well before these current clients were even born, and now I was hearing something about “I wish my sibling would learn to do more Managing by Wandering Around, like I do”.

You can imagine the smile this put on my face, as I shared much of what I wrote above.

So let’s close out by looking at what can be gained by adding a bit of MBWA to roles in one’s family enterprise.

See and Be Seen

When you wander around your business, you see a lot of things that you otherwise might not notice if you just sat comfortably in your office.

And not only do you see things and people, people also see you

Connecting with your people is something that often gets overlooked, and the work from home trend that Covid imposed certainly had an impact on this.

Being seen as caring about your people and interacting with them and perhaps even speaking with customers are all important parts of running a business.

Working In the Business and On the Business

Then there’s the part about not only working in your business, but also working on your business

That was the point my client was making regarding their sibling and the responsibility to be overseeing the business and not just doing the job of being one of the cogs.

Wandering around, and managing while doing so, is a way to kind of do both at the same time.

There are opportunities to learn, and also to teach, and more people should probably be doing more of it.

Some New Thoughts on Old Ideas

This week I want to look at some ideas I’ve written about here over the years, and share some of the new ways I’ve begun to think about them more recently.

I just attended the annual FFI Conference in NYC, where my thoughts are always stimulated, as I get to gather and absorb the latest from many of the standouts in the field of family enterprise.

It was during the opening keynote that the seed for this blog was planted, when the speaker talked about how so often we need to sit back and see what emerges.

Hmmm, I thought; I often talk about how things need to evolve, but he’s talking about emergence. How are they similar and how are they different?

That question is where we’ll begin, but then later we’ll look at the idea of rebirth, which emerged in my mind after a fantastic breakout session the following day. (See what I did there?)

Evolution Vs Emergence – Compare and Contrast

Long time readers (thanks!) are familiar with the fact that I love to talk about evolution whenever the subject turns to family governance.

See The Evolution of Family Governance

I believe that the best and most sustainable governance is co-created and built very slowly over time. 

I always suggest this approach, because so many people need time to understand and accept whatever processes and structures they are putting together to govern the way their family relates to their business.

See From Understanding to Agreement, Via Acceptance

What I had not considered until now is how and where the idea of emergence fits into this long process.

While this is still relatively new thinking in my head, my initial view is that there are small ideas that emerge during this evolution, and then each of those needs to be looked at on its own.

Some of the things that emerge, perhaps as a suggestion, will turn out to be less than ideal, and then they should be discarded.

Other ideas will emerge, and seem useful, may become championed by some family members, and then could become part of how things evolve positively going forward.

Dealing with the Little Ideas that Emerge

That whole process of figuring out how to deal with the little ideas that emerge during the longer arc of evolution, becomes the day-to-day aspect of making sure that the governance being built will be “fit-for-purpose” for that particular family.

See Making your Transition Plans “Fit for Purpose” from last week.

Suggestions are mentioned, debated, and perhaps tried out. Some will stick, and likely get modified and improved over time, while others will prove to be unusable or detrimental, and will be discontinued.

Thus little things that emerge become, or not, part of the overall evolution of how the family decides how to be together.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Switching timeframes now, there was another great session at the conference, called When It’s Time to Part Ways.

I typically search out the breakout sessions that deal with subjects we don’t talk about enough in our field, and this one fit the bill.

So many sessions treat finding better ways to make sure that we can support families we work with as they attempt to transition their family’s assets to the next generation, all while preserving family togetherness.

Many times, however, a family will be at the logical end of its ability to do this for one more generation, and trying to find a way to part ways amicably becomes an interesting and important option to look at.

Rebirth – Success After “Failure”?

During audience discussion at that session, it became clear that the most common reason this rarely gets pursued by families (and their advisors) is that it feels like a failure if the family is unable to keep its business or wealth under broad family ownership through their next generational transition.

But often by the time they do get there, they wish they’d done it ten years earlier!

As advisors, we need to have the courage to put such ideas on the table, showing families that it is not a failure, and actually becomes an opportunity for rebirth.

If wealth is separated after family members part ways, new ideas will surely emerge in various family branches.

The really good ones that emerge will continue to evolve in positive ways, and the whole family will hopefully have avoided a situation where family relationships have been irreparably harmed.

Isn’t that a success?

Just What Are You Trying to Achieve?

The subjects I cover in this space typically have something to do with families who’ve accumulated a certain level of wealth, who eventually get to the stage where transitioning that wealth to the next generation has become a priority.

When I work with such families, it’s always simpler when they’re still early in their journey, because when they start fresh, I can guide them through some of the important considerations that I know will become pertinent down the road.

Oftentimes they’ll have already begun with some of the legal and structural preparations that other professionals have suggested in good faith, but that end up causing issues on the human and relationship side of the family’s reality.

All of this preamble is designed to set up a look at making sure that a family’s transition plans are actually “fit for purpose”.

Consumer Protection Origins in the UK

The term “fit for purpose” is one I’ve heard off and on in recent years and at some point I noted it as a possible blog topic.

As I dusted it off recently, I decided to do some quick research and found that its origins are based in the UK, and derive from consumer protection laws.


That is, if a product is deemed to not be “fit for purpose” the purchaser can return it for a refund.

The term later got renewed life in a political context when an opposition party stated that someone or something in the government was not “fit for purpose”, and when that story got legs, the term became part of the lexicon.

So why am I bringing this up in a family wealth transition blog? I’m glad you asked.

Asking Some Basic Questions Is Key

When we attempt to determine if anything is “fit for purpose”, the first question that begs is “what is the purpose?”

Getting back to the general topic of planning for a transition of wealth, such plans are typically supposed to tick a number of proverbial boxes, i.e. they have multiple purposes.

Having both the wealth AND the family relationships survive the next generational transition are usually among the goals families have.

But because relationships are nebulous and hard to define, this can play second fiddle to other purposes that are more easily quantified, like, oh, maybe, saving taxes?

Most clients’ heads will nod when presented with an iron clad plan that guarantees that they’ll owe less taxes, without getting into the details of the side effects of such plans that may impinge the family relations purpose noted above.

Doing Things “On Purpose”

If we think back to our childhood, our first exposure to the word “purpose” was likely in the context of a sibling interaction where someone got hurt and then blamed the other.

“He did it on purpose”, you may have exclaimed to the nearest parent.

“No, it was an accident”, the other would say, in their defence.

So here we have our first nugget, one “opposite” of doing things on purpose is getting something haphazard, i.e. by accident.

As long as we’re looking at expressions that contain words about purpose, regular readers already know my love for the Purposeful Planning Institute and the great community I belong to thanks to that group.

For All Intents and Purposes

The word “intent” gets combined with purpose in the expression “for all intents and purposes”.

Families I work with need to be very intentional about how they make sure that their relationships will remain strong.

“Things don’t just happen by themselves”, I often tell them. This takes work and families need to be very intentional.

Getting back to “fit for purpose”, my intention here is to make sure that families make the effort to consider how their plans to transition their wealth are going to impact their family relationships.

Very Fit for One Purpose, Unfit for Others

Too often, some of the decisions families are advised to make for one purpose, like saving taxes or making sure that access to the wealth is severely limited, end up creating undesirable side effects.

I try to make sure families think through their choices so as to avoid those shortcomings.

Openly sharing the purpose of what the family is trying to achieve is also a big part of how families succeed, because that transparency is part of the solution too.

Continually asking “what are we trying to accomplish” never hurts.

There Are Different Ways to Take a New Look

LinkedIn is head and shoulders above all other social platforms for professionals, and I’ve found plenty of great content there over the years, not to mention the wonderful connections I’ve been able to make and nurture there.

This week’s post was prompted by something I saw there recently, and even though the majority of my network on LnkdN is connected to the world of family wealth transitions, this particular piece came from a local colleague whose professional life is very much elsewhere.

This friend had recently experienced a sudden and unexpected career disruption, after which he took some time away to think about how he wanted to come back fresh for a restart.

I was so pleased to see that he shared a quote from Leonardo DaVinci on the experience of stepping back and taking a fresh look at his life and career thanks to this experience, and I know that I can use it as fodder for some ways to look at my work with families.

Back to Some Translation Issues

Setting out to write about this topic this week, I hadn’t realized that I was going to once again run into an issue around translation, which is something we looked at last week.

See: On Coaching, Parenting, and Sub-Optimal Translations

But because the LinkedIn post in question was in French, I’m writing this in English, and I’m pretty sure the original quote from DaVinci was in Italian, I’ll need to take a bit of editorial licence here.

(Despite some attempts via Google, I wasn’t able to locate a direct English translation.)

Here’s my quick version of what he posted:

“Take a step back, and the problem looks smaller. And in one glance you’ll have a better view of the full picture, and a lack of harmony or proportion will be easier to see”   – Leonardo DaVinci.

Planning to Transition your Family Wealth

This is the point where I now switch from the inspiration for the post to the message for families whose main challenge is transitioning their wealth from the current generation to the next.

These families have many potential resources available to support and guide them on this journey, yet the hard work cannot be farmed out to outside professionals.

The idea of stepping back and looking at the problem differently is definitely something we can suggest as a worthwhile action.

Because I also understand the context of my colleague’s recent challenge, I also know that his “step back” was not just a simple one.

I know for a fact that he included both time and space in his reflection.

Time Away to Clear your Head

His efforts involved taking several weeks off and travelling across an ocean.  He was also able to spend a good deal of family time with those most important to him, and get his mind away from what had been his usual work grind.

Many family leaders employ similar methods, such as getting away and taking longer and longer vacations (and weekends) over their final years of working in their business, to allow those on their way up more opportunities to take on leadership roles.

That works well in many cases and isn’t anything new, but I’m talking about more than that here.

Clearing your head completely and beginning to think about “working ON the business” as opposed to “working IN the business” is a bigger step.

Being able to see the picture more fully, including where there’s a “lack of harmony” can take a bit longer and require more effort.

Add an Outsider to the System

In many ways what I’m getting at is that this requires a fresh perspective, which can really only occur after some kind of a break, either in time or space.

Getting away from being in the middle of something is needed to be able to look at things from the outside.

Having someone along who is also an outsider to the system can also be useful, because they will automatically have a different viewpoint, as well as way less “baggage”.

When you’re constantly surrounded by the same people who all look at things the same way, you can get caught in the tough space of “group think”.

Getting away in both time and space, and bringing in a coach who is there for you on your journey, are great ways to make a fresh start.

Getting the Exact Meaning Can Be Tough

Because I consider myself a bit of a wordsmith, I usually strive to be very precise with my choice of words.

I also admire those who take the time to ensure they use the right words during conversations, and I actually pointed out my appreciation to a colleague recently, as we were discussing something delicate.

And as regular readers are aware, I sometimes work in French and speak it daily, which allows me to play with the meanings of words in two languages.

This sometimes brings up situations where the most accurate word I want to use happens to exist only in the other language.

It actually happened to me earlier today on a Zoom call, but luckily enough the person with whom I was speaking was another Montrealer, so even though our conversation was in English, he understood me when I slipped into French to find “le mot juste” in a sentence.

I’ve Never Loved the Term “Coaching”

A few weeks back in Education as a Prescription for Discomfort I teased the fact that I’d soon be writing another “bilingualism-inspired” post, so here we are.

In some ways it’s been a long time coming, because as someone who trained as a coach and with a coaching certification, I’ve long lamented the fact that the term coaching doesn’t resonate well in many cases.

See No, Dad, Coaching Isn’t “Helping Losers”.

As it turns out, coaching is also something that my wife does a lot of as well in her work, although she deals with very different situations than I do.

But recently she was working on something and was trying to find the right word to describe what her team does, and even though she had the perfect word in French, she couldn’t seem to find the corresponding English word that conveys it properly.

“How do you say ‘accompagnement’ in English?”, she asked.

“You don’t”, I replied. “Accompaniment isn’t a word”.

“It’s too bad”, I continued, “because it’s so much clearer than the word “coaching” for what we both do”.

(As it turns out, it is a word, but the main definition is about music, so it isn’t helpful.  We could also get into wine pairings, but that doesn’t really apply here either).

Work with Me, Walk with Me

When I did my training to become a coach, one of the two fundamental takeaways was the we need to learn to “be with” the person we are coaching. (The other is listening without judgement).

Later while doing some conflict resolution training, I began to like the term “walk with”, because it speaks to both the “being with” and the journey that people take.

See Work with Me, Walk with Me

Being with someone and joining them on a journey are so important, but so is our motivation and attitude.

I sometimes refer to myself as a guide, because that also conveys the journey and the role I play.

I need to be there with you and for you, and be looking out for your interests, not mine. So when I coach someone, I accompany them on their journey.

But for “Parenting” It’s the Other Way Around

Lest you think that finding the right word is only a problem in English, let’s now turn to a word that really doesn’t translate well in the other direction.

Thanks to one of my mentors, Denise, for pointing this one out to me.

She does most of her work in French, and she laments the fact that there really isn’t a good French word for “parenting”.

(Google gives us “parentalité” but that’s not a word that anyone ever uses).

I can understand her frustration because poor parenting is a huge cause for many of the issues faced later on in life, especially in the context of a family that is expected to continue to own and manage assets together, even after their parents are gone.

Parents as Coaches?

As we think about coaching and parenting, we can naturally consider how they can be interrelated.

The key to being more of a coach to our offspring lies in the fact that once they are grown adults, we need to foster an adult-to-adult relationship.

The part about listening without judgement also comes into play.

And the “being with” can’t be overdone.

When I’m coaching someone, the call ends and I typically don’t see them again until the next call

Limiting just how much time you spend accompanying them can be tough.



A Convoluted but Useful Conclusion

Last week we looked at the various types of skill sets that people who work with families might need in order to provide them with the whole breadth of service they require.

See Liberal Arts Vs. STEM Skills to Serve Families

As I openly shared then, that idea and concept came to me from a colleague during a Zoom call with peers, which is nothing new.

We ended that post with another peer-inspired idea, that of thinking of this as a “left brain / right brain” dichotomy.

That one came from a different call, one that I’m part of locally in Montreal, that meets in French.

We’ll get to yet another bilingualism-inspired post soon enough, don’t worry.

Although this week’s idea is a bit convoluted, that has nothing to do with language, and more to do with the way my brain is wired.

You Can’t Have Too Much Education

During that call with my francophone colleagues, one of our leaders made the point that education is always her first “go to” when beginning to work with any family.

Heads were nodding across the screen at this, as it’s difficult to argue against.

But let’s look at that a bit longer here, to consider the context she was speaking about.

When a practitioner enters a family system as an outsider, we need to quickly try to establish some common ground on which we can then firmly stand.

We want to show that we are knowledgeable and trustworthy of course, but also able to communicate with all members of the family.

Most families suffer from a serious case of “information asymmetry”, as I like to call it.

That’s just a fancy phrase to say that some family members typically know everything about what the family owns and manages, while others are very much in the dark.

Bringing everyone up to the same level on some subject(s) with some education is an important first step for all of these reasons.

Assessing a Family’s Learning Orientation

Some part of the general agreement of our group around education naturally stems from the fact that when we get to work with a family that has an appetite for learning and education, such mandates are typically much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Working with people who are “learners”, as opposed to “learned”, is very different, as anyone who has a “know-it-all” in their midst will readily appreciate.

When we start with any education content, we can begin to assess how hungry the family members are to learn together

Why Were We Called In?

Later on during this same call, a colleague shared his view that learning usually only happens in response to some level of discomfort.

Hmmmm; I needed to think about that one a bit.

Is discomfort a necessary pre-condition to my being able to learn? I suppose that it will increase my motivation, assuming that I am trying to learn how to ease my discomfort in some way.

Certainly the fact that a family has invited us in as an outsider to be a resource for them, there was some discomfort somewhere in the system that prompted that reach-out.

So somebody was suffering from some discomfort somewhere.

Now to the Prescription Angle

Somewhere along the way during the 2-hours we spent together, the idea formed in my head that education is always useful, and if it is to try to settle some discomfort, we could think of it as a prescription.

If education is a go-to solution to instigate some learning, and learning is a solution for discomfort, then this makes sense.

Like I said, it feels a bit convoluted and yet it might be useful, if it can remind us of these two ideas in our work.

Clarity Is More Comfortable Than Confusion

Education is almost always used with families in order to increase clarity, and to find places where every family member better understands what the family owns and how they are planning to transition that to the next generation of the family.

Educating for more clarity is always useful, because increasing clarity enables better understanding.

Ideally we want to get to the stage where everyone agrees with whatever plans are put into place, and if the family members aren’t able to comprehend the plans, it is difficult for them to agree to them in an informed way.

We’ll pick up this idea again next week, please come back!

Slotting the Right People into the Right Roles

Serving families who are hoping to transition their business or wealth to the next generation is always complex.

Regular readers know that I encourage those who serve such families to collaborate for the benefit of the family, and that’s often easier said than done.

So many specialists are involved in creating the “perfect” plans, making it difficult to keep things simple enough for the family to understand them so that they can be effectively implemented.

With so many outsiders involved, it often takes a special skill set to be able to communicate everything so all stakeholders feel heard and can then work together with the plans that have been created.

Peer Group Inspiration Once Again

This week’s post was inspired by a statement from a member of a peer group who phrased something in a way I’d not heard before, at least not in a family enterprise context.

Then, in yet another group a week later, another valued colleague phrased something in a complementary way, making this blog a “must-write” for me.

Between the organisations I’ve joined and the peer groups I’ve been privileged to be part of this past decade, my interactions with like-minded professionals are at the top of my list of learning opportunities, and blog post inspirations.

So Many Content “STEM” Experts

The first instance happened during a case discussion I was leading in a monthly meeting I host.

We were talking about a family office where some new hires were facing some challenges in their communications with members of the family.

One the peers in the group suggested that there seemed to be lots of people with a STEM background (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) on that family office team of professionals, but they didn’t seem to have anyone from the Liberal Arts field.

A light bulb began flashing in my head of course, as I now had a new way to think about this subject.

Liberal Arts to the Rescue?

I have two children who have recently graduated with Bachelor’s degrees from very good schools, and even though they share the same two parents, they could not be more different.

The first studied engineering and is now following that up with studies in business analytics, so very much from the STEM mold.

The second has a BA in philosophy, politics and economics (“PPE”) which I believe is one of the oldest and most classic fields of study at Liberal Arts schools, having started at Oxford about a century ago.

When I imagined which of my two offspring would be better suited to address the challenge that the family office professionals were dealing with, it was a no brainer.

They were not short of technical know-how, but their ability to manage the people side of things was glaringly absent.

A Great “Left Brain” / “Right Brain” Collaboration

Seven days after that call, I was with another group that meets in French every month.

This group is roughly 2/3 process and people practitioners, and 1/3 content and technical specialists.

We discuss all matters relating to family enterprise succession, and over the years we’ve been meeting, some collaborations have occurred.

As we went around the proverbial Zoom room to catch up (having not met since June), one member reported some news about a collaboration she’d recently done with another colleague from our group.

She being people-focused and her collaborator being an engineer, she noted that they made a great “Left brain / Right brain” team. (Actually “cerveau gauche / cerveau droite!)

Complementary Skill Sets Are Key

It’s heartening to see that those of us who specialize in people and process are increasingly being seen as important parts of the complex world of family business and family wealth succession plans.

Unfortunately, it’s usually only after the technical specialists hit a roadblock that they feel the need to call in some reinforcements on the human side.

The bigger the family and the more complex the scenario, the more there is at stake. And the more there is at stake, the more you need to make sure that everything is well communicated and understood by all stakeholders.

Too often, the experts brought in to handle the structural and financial intricacies are not well skilled at the human element, and even uncomfortable in such roles.

Please make sure that there are some Liberal Arts types to complement those STEM folks.

A Variety of Skills Are Needed 

Working with enterprising families as they prepare to transition to the next generation, as I’ve been doing for the past decade, I’m continually amazed at the different challenges this work throws up at me.

It’s been heartening to exchange with so many other colleagues who practice in this same space, to realize that this isn’t just something that affects me, but also everyone else who toils with family dynamics, in their various manifestations.

It’s probably the biggest reason this work is so rewarding, because you never know what you’ll discover when working in the “family circle”, and even what seems like it should be simple “discovery work”, often requires lots of detective skills.

I’ve written before about the importance of discernment, that is, figuring out what everything means and deciding what’s important, but going upstream a bit, just uncovering facts to understand each person’s context, can be an arduous process in its own right.

See: On Discernment and Resourcefulness for Family Clients

There’s Information in Everything

When starting with a new prospect, the mystery-solving begins, as the person who first reaches out presents their view of the issues and the presenting problem to be addressed.

At this point it’s important to be a sponge and try to soak up any and all information, putting as many puzzle pieces on the table as possible.

As more people are heard from, typically in one-on-one calls, more information is shared, and more puzzle pieces are added.

In addition to the facts that each person shares, there’s also information in how they share it, including who volunteers to step up for these calls quickly, and who needs to be cajoled into participating.

Imagining the Entire Puzzle, and Knowing You’re Wrong

When I first started this work, I’d get to a point once I’d heard from a few people and believed that I had a pretty good idea what the challenge was, who the players were, and how I could go about working with them to make some important progress together.

Nowadays, I’d much more realistic in my expectations, and I understand that early on in any family engagement process, it’s next to impossible to get a good read on where things should go, can go, and will go.  And that’s OK too. 

Well, it’s OK with me, but often harder to get clients to buy into the fact that whatever simple situation they initially believed needed to be addressed actually turns out to be much more complex and that a simple solution won’t likely suffice.

Subjectivity and Selective Sharing

Two of the major reasons underlying the difficulty in getting the full picture as an outsider to the family system come from the way we get our information.

On rare occasions there are ways to read up on a family from third party sources, but those can be fraught with misinformation in many cases, even where they do exist.

We get most of our info from the members of the family, each of whom has their own version of the truth.

Of course knowing how each person in the family perceives the facts is very important to understand, but when the goal is to develop an objective, “outsider’s” picture of reality, skills of discernment always come into play.

There’s a deeper level to the subjectivity question too, and that’s the selective sharing that also happens, meaning that skeptical family members will hold back on sharing their full and true feelings until they believe that the person with whom they are sharing can be trusted.

Trusted with What, and for What, Exactly?

Of course trust is a key concept in many areas of life, but when it comes to family businesses and the relationships of family members, everything seems heightened.

So when we look at developing trust as an outsider coming into the system, we need to do everything we can to make sure that each family member feels like they can trust us.

They need to trust us with their deepest feelings, many of which have not been shared with all their family members.

And they need to trust that we are there for them individually, as well as for the entire family as a whole.

To do so, we need to listen to them without judgement, in order to gather all of the clues we’ll need to be able to properly serve them.

See No Room for Judgement when Working with Families

It’s Often Right in Front of Your Nose

Although I personally try to shy away from using a simple “see problem, find solution” mindset, I recognize that many people do default to that way of thinking.

There’s no shortage of folks who prefer this shortcut way of looking at situations and trying to find a way through a challenge.

Dealing with complex family situations as I often do, a bigger picture, longer term, systems view of what they’re facing, typically yields better results for me when guiding a family.

There’s plenty of nuance in my work, and I also try hard to not present myself as the bearer of simple solutions to problems.

Inspired by a Tweet, Uh, I Mean, an “X”?

While I love using LinkedIn for professional interactions, I’m still a fan of what used to be called Twitter, although I spend less time there than I once did.

This week’s blog was inspired by a post I saw recently on X, from Dr. Nicole LePera (@Theholisticpsyc) a psychologist with over a million followers there.

Her post read simply:

                    If I am the problem, I am also the solution.

As you might imagine, I was intrigued and needed to process this more, but on the surface it held promise as inspiration for an eventual blog post here.

It’s so simple, and there are many ways to ponder it.

I immediately emailed it to myself and saved it in my “blog ideas” folder.

Complex Situations Have Multifaceted Problems

Back to the complex family situations I often learn of, and sometimes get invited in to assist with, there are always many people interested in finding a solution.

Not that many, though, immediately jump at the opportunity to look at the part that they themselves play in the perceived problem.

If (and when!) they do, they can eventually see how at least a part of the resolution is right there in front of them, when they look in the mirror.

While it isn’t usually easy to get anyone to the place where they even feel like taking that glance in the mirror, it is almost always a necessary step that needs to be taken.

As you might imagine, it’s also typically not something that only needs to happen for one member of a family, because any complex situation naturally requires some “adjustment” by several people.

Spreading the Responsibility Around

Challenging family situations affect many members of the family, and are also affected by many family members too.

Getting each family member to understand and accept this fact can take some time, but that “buy in”, to get everyone focused on doing their part in getting to a better place is crucial.

This work requires a “systems view” to be able to see what’s going on, and it also requires the guidance for each person in the system to make the necessary adjustments to get to a better place.

Getting a family to understand that there’s a shared responsibility at play can calm the whole system down as well, and that’s a huge piece of making progress.

The More and the Less of It

Families can benefit from making small, gradual adjustments, which can happen once some family leaders step up and show the way, by modeling such behaviours.

I’m talking about learning to practice more forgiveness and less blaming.

Nobody likes to have fingers pointed at them, even when they may internally acknowledge some of the fault for where things are.

Knowing that others are in a forgiving mood can become contagious, for the benefit of all.

Instilling an attitude of more gratitude and less lamenting one’s fate is also quite beneficial.

Benefits of the Mirror

Helping family members think about their own role in things, and getting them to think in terms of “I-statements”, as opposed to “you are to blame”, goes a long way.

Getting a family to a better way of being together requires an attitude of more self-efficacy, that gets everyone out of finger-pointing mode.

There’s typically a kind of culture to the ways families act, that can set in an add to the “stuckness” that sometimes exists.

Getting a family “unstuck” doesn’t usually happen quickly, and rarely in one step.

Taking the time to work with each person individually, to get them to understand and accept that everyone holds part of both the problem as well as the solution, is always worth the trouble.