Amphibious Guidance for Members of your FamBiz

The Old Family Business / Business Family Debate

Defining the kind of work that I do with members of business families is always a bit tricky for me, so sometimes I like to dive straight into the topic here, hoping I can either enlighten readers, or discover something new for myself.

My clients are either business families or members of such families, and I really don’t do much work with “family businesses”.

I know that may seem almost contradictory, but my focus is on the people and their family above all else, including whatever business they happen to own and run.

 

Not Really a Business Coach

It’s also taken me a while to truly embrace the term “coach” as a descriptor for what I do, but when I finally got my CPCC certification in 2019, it finally seemed to resonate with me and feel real.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m no longer an “advisor” or even a “consultant” to enterprising families and their members, although the former suits me much better than the latter.

The only exception is when I’m asked what I do while going through customs, where “family business consultant” has been my standard reply and it has never elicited much response, which is the ideal result in that situation.

 

So What’s with the Amphibious Stuff?

The idea for labelling the kind of advice and coaching I do as “amphibious” comes from thinking about the origins of many of the people I’ve encountered in this field.

Off the top I’ll admit that the term amphibious here is far from a fantastic metaphor, but I want to explore it anyways, because I think it might be instructive.

A quick search of the word amphibious brings back:

               “relating to, living in, or suited for both land and water”

What I was really going for was the “suited for”, which in my head would also include “at home in”, or even “native to” but instead of “land and water”, my version is “business and family”.

 

The Ambidextrous Triathlete?

Some other ideas that came up while considering this include the term “ambidextrous”, as in “able to use the right and left hands equally well”, which gets at a lot of what I want to convey, but still misses out on part of it.

Many of you know of my love for the Three Circle Model, and since the blog linked here dates back to 2013, you know that this is more than just a recent fling.

So if there are three circles, maybe my two-way amphibian isn’t capturing everything either.  Admittedly, it isn’t.

Maybe there’s something there to be explored later, where Ownership could be the swimming portion of the race, the biking part could be the Business, and the running at the end could represent the Family.

Those who know me will quickly recognize that all of this is quite far from my comfort zone.

 

And the Comfort Zone IS Key

But all kidding aside, the idea of a comfort zone is pretty important, and that’s where the amphibious part resonates.

People who grow up as part of a business family experience life differently form those whose parents have “regular” jobs.

Having grown up in such a family, I’m always comfortable sharing those experiences with clients as I coach them, and they frequently nod as they reflect on similarities to their own context.

We’re all more comfortable relating to realities of families similar to our own.

 

What About “Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone”?

But when working with folks who are part of a legacy family, in order to be part of a process where they make progress, they typically need to get out of their comfort zones, don’t they?

Yes, of course.

In order to do that, it’s always best to recognize all the realities that they’re living within that zone, which is precisely what their amphibious coach will be well placed to do, because they aren’t only comfortable there, they’re also natives.

 

Guidance and “Walking with” my Clients

The ability to “walk with” someone and to “accompany” them on their journey is something I expounded on in Work with Me, Walk with Me.

Yes, they’d typically be able to benefit from working with any skilled coach, no matter the type of family of origin of said coach.

However, if given the opportunity to work with a skilled coach who has a similar lived experience, the potential for a rich relationship goes up tremendously. And I’ll always say “ribbit” to that!

Which One Is More Appropriate in a FamBiz?

During a recent board meeting for a local charity, the Executive Director asked us for guidance around a situation that was troubling her. The answer I gave her reminded me of advice my Dad shared with me decades ago.

Since Dad was the first Family Business owner I ever knew, and still the one upon whose wisdom I typically rely most, this incident provided a nice opportunity to share it here.

While Dad didn’t have a specific FamBiz application, because he concentrated on his own business, I do think about other people’s businesses, so I will adapt it to that situation.

 

Pandemic Safety or Easy Cash

The non-profit on whose board I serve has a large hall we rent out on occasion. Since our province has been on “essential services only” lockdown, that rental income really dried up.

Our government has allowed TV and Film production to qualify as essential, which, while being a bit of a headscratcher, became and opportunity for us.

We were approached by production crews to rent our hall for their people to take breaks and have their meals.

“Should we accept these rentals?”, was the question from our E.D.  “With so many government regulations because of our food bank, maybe we should ask first.

“How much do these rentals pay?”, came the first question.

 

Some Things Are “No-Brainers”

When I heard the answer, which was a decent sum, I replied that it was better to go ahead and do it, and ask for forgiveness later, if we got into trouble.

It seemed inadvisable to me to wait and ask for permission first. And that brought back memories from my father.

With Dad, it was typically when he wanted to build something that might require a permit.  He would “play dumb” and go ahead and build, figuring that asking for permission would cause undue delay and possible extra costs.

In our charity example, it was a no-brainer.

But what about in a family business, when you’re a rising generation “future leader”, does this advice also work?

 

All About Seizing Opportunities to Lead

There’s a plethora of potential examples that cover a wide swath of situations where this could apply, and the answer will of course vary depending on the context.

The message I want share here is that when there’s a doubt, oftentimes making the leap, and taking action, will be perceived as the better option.

When I work with different generations of a business family, I notice that some rising generation family members will defer to their elders on too many decisions, for far too long.

Yes, I understand the attitude of “But if I screw up, Dad will be mad”; been there, done that.

 

Act as If I Weren’t Here; What Would You Do?

As I wrote those words, I actually had a flashback to the 1980’s, when I once asked for Dad’s direction on a decision.  I don’t recall any details, but I do distinctly remember his words.

                     “What would you do if I wasn’t here?”

Interesting, I thought. And from that point on, for issues and decisions that were not critical, and for which a timely response was important, I began to make more of the decisions in my sphere of influence than previously.

Naturally it was better for both of us that way.

And, importantly, this began an ever-increasing responsibility load that I was able to successfully take on for myself. Another Win-Win.

 

They’re Probably Secretly Waiting for It

There are certainly some exceptions, but for the most part, parents are actually pleased, relieved, and proud when their offspring are able to take on more important roles, responsibilities, and decisions.

They’ll usually forgive you if you make a mistake, too.

Asking for permission on too many minor questions, for too long, is only going to delay the important transitions of knowledge, experience, and decision-making that are key to making a family business succession successful.

 

A Gradual, Iterative Process (Like So Many Others)

These transitions are a long time in the making, and tend to evolve gradually. They’re also iterative, meaning that you do something, learn from it, maybe take a step back, evaluate, and try again.

Over time, you make progress in the desired direction

Eventually, because a family is truly interdependent, especially over the long term, you may get to the point where you resemble a family discussed in Asking for Permission in a Family Business.

Eventually, the shoe gets to be on the other foot!

 

Different Things Drive Different People

It’s fascinating the things one can learn by listening to “real people” talking about their lived experiences.  Too often our learning comes from reading more theoretical ideas that, even though they come from smart people, can lack in true substance.

In some other instances we may spend time with colleagues or other peers, exchanging stories, ideas, and learnings, but those too sometimes lack the “oomph” that we can get when we have the chance to hear from those who are actually in the middle of living through an experience.

So when I recently had the opportunity to listen to a panel of rising generation members of local family enterprises share their stories, I was all ears.


Sharing Viewpoints On What We Heard

Of course I absolutely love opportunities to share with peers too, and when that sharing follows a panel of real-world experience sharing, it’s the best of both worlds.

And therein lies the genesis of this week’s post: comments about this panel of young people assuming important roles in businesses owned and run by earlier generations of their families.

One member of our group marvelled at the “thirst for knowledge” that all the panelists shared.  “Hmmm… she’s right”, I thought, as I reflected on what I’d heard.

It was true that each of the three panelists did seem to share that part of their journey involved wanting to always learn more and more and finding a variety of ways to continue that path.

But is a thirst for learning enough, I wondered.

Thirst for Knowledge VS. Hunger for Growth

Just a couple of weeks ago, in Sibling Compatibility Is Not Sufficient, we looked at how important it is that those expecting to take over the reins of any family business be competent, and not simply know how to get along well with each other.

Inherent in that competence, at least in my mind, is a willingness to take risks in order to continue to grow the business.

And another way to express that could be to talk about one’s hunger.

So when my colleague noted the thirst for knowledge that we had witnessed during the panel, my mind went to hunger. (Okay, it was also getting close to lunch time).

One Without the Other Is Asking for Trouble

So when we think about the attributes we’d like to see in rising generation family members who will someday take on key roles in the family enterprise, ideally they will have both a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for growth.

Let’s look at what you’d have if you only had one, without the other.

If you have the thirst for knowledge, you’ll have people who are curious and always wanting to learn more. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But, without at least some hunger to drive them to take risks, they could easily succumb to “analysis paralysis” that could certainly lead to stagnation.

On the other hand, if all you have is someone willing to take risks, but without the curiosity and desire to inform themselves in advance, you could have a lot of reckless behaviour that could quickly sink the business too.

A Look in the Mirror for Me

When I do some self-reflection, I realize that one of those situations I just described actually fits me pretty well.

Whenever I do any kind of assessment like Strengthfinder, I always score very high on “learning”.  I’m constantly looking for any opportunity to learn more.

But if I were to assess my willingness to bear risk, I’d score at the other end of the scale.

I’m guessing that deep down inside, when my father decided to sell the operations of our family business, that he had started before I was born, he also realized that handing the reins to me might not work out as well as he might have originally hoped.

No Regrets and Back in the Family Business Game

As his only son, I recall from my earliest days being told that my duty was to eventually take over the business from him.

And for the first four and a half decades of my life, that was the direction I took.

Now that I am back in the family business game, working with other families, my goal is to not have any family members need to take so long to find their rightful place.

There is room for the thirsty and the hungry, and both, in every family.

Family Harmony Is Very Important, But…

One subject that I harp on a lot is family harmony and making sure that everyone gets along together.  

This is important for families who want to ensure that the business they built, or the wealth they’ve accumulated, will be able to continue after the next intergenerational transition.

And while harmony really is something that families need to work on if they don’t already have it, in many cases it will not be sufficient.

I came across something recently that made me think about this and how I may not have been doing justice to some other key considerations in this space.

This week, I want to address a couple of them here.

 

If You Aren’t Growing, You’re Shrinking

The first thing many families ignore at their peril is the importance of competence.  

Of course this can take many forms, but bottom line, if no family members are competent in managing the business or the wealth, dissipation will often be the result.

I’ve noticed a lot more being written in this field about the importance of having an entrepreneurial spirit in families, so that with each generation, there is some renewal of activity to maintain and hopefully grow the family wealth.

In cases where there isn’t anyone with the inspiration and ability to at the very least maintain the family wealth level, some choices around how to manage things and what the next generation family members can expect to pass on to their offspring will need to be made.

If you just take a look at how many households are being supported by a business in the first generation, and then extend that down even two generations further, the geometric expansion in that number will be difficult to match without an equally rapid progression of the family’s wealth.

So if all you have is “one big happy family”, but nobody willing and able to drive the amount of wealth forward, it becomes a matter of time before dissipation will kick in.

 

Complementary Roles for Family Members

Besides competence, another area that becomes important in many families is the existence of complementary skills in the sibling or cousin group who will be taking on leadership roles after the next generational transition.

If everyone is good at the same thing, and there are areas where nobody has any skill or desire to take on leadership, there could problems.

Having too many cooks can cause unneeded conflicts, and having skill gaps can lead to being blindsided in certain areas.

Of course when a family attains a certain wealth level there are some benefits that are easy to see, such as having an ability to find roles for just about any interested and motivated family member.

And when they have skill gaps, a family with enough resources can typically hire outsiders to fill such roles.

 

Competent + Compatible = Complementary

As I was writing this I got to thinking that maybe complementarity is the intersection of competence and compatibility. Let’s work through this and see if it holds up.

If you have people who are competent, i.e. good at something, and then you get to the point where the group of people get along, i.e. are compatible, can you not then ascertain that they are complementary?

It feels almost like this fits with one of my favourite ways of pointing out synergy, which is to say that “One Plus One Equals Three”.

Earlier I mentioned the geometric growth of the family and now I just opined on synergy, I guess this is a good place to link to The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration.

 

So Strive for a Complementary Team

This may be a stretch, but perhaps either competence or compatibility are scalar, while putting them together gives you complementarity, which is a vector quantity.

I just flashed back to my High School Physics class there, and since that was over 40 years ago, I admit that I needed to Google this to get the terms right.

As Mr. Henry used to say, “velocity is speed with a direction”.

So if you strive for a complementary team in your sibling or cousin group, you’ll be able to combine everyone’s ability to get along with a direction and a purpose.

This isn’t to be confused with complimentary, although if they also develop the habit of saying nice things to each other, that’s OK too!

It’s More Than Just About Family and Business

There are some subjects I cover pretty often in these blogs, because much of the work I do revolves around areas where families have predictable challenges that I try to help them work through.

Regular readers know that I’ll often return to such staples as communication, governance, family meetings, harmony and working together.

Well lately I’ve been seeing and hearing much more about the subject of ownership, so that’s where we’ll turn now.

 

The Forgotten Circle?

I can’t believe it’s been over three years since I wrote Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business. I guess that at that time I was noting an absence of discussion on this topic, so it seems that may no longer be the case.

A few months before that, I penned Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree, in which we looked at the issues that arise over generations where ownership of a business ends up coming down to family branches with different involvement in the business, and how those issues need to be dealt with somehow.

But today I want to look at a specific area around ownership, and that is the way that the feeling of ownership is so important for families to recognize, if they are expecting their following generations to maintain their family legacy.

 

The Ownership – Legacy Connection

I typically make one similar assumption when I begin working with any family, which I normally end up validating early on. That assumption is that the leading generation of the family, the ones I sometimes label the “NowGen”, have at least some interest in creating a lasting legacy.

Those words mean different things to different people, so let’s look at this more. For me, a lasting legacy is one where even after the NowGen has left this earth, there is some continuity of what that generation built, grew, and/or stewarded, by the “NextGen”.

Let’s look at the opposite of that, which sometimes occurs, and which is also fine if that’s what makes the most sense for that family.

If the family wealth is to be split among the descendants and then they will all each go their own way, then there will be little or no legacy left.

In most families in what some call the 99%, this is standard practice.

 

That Feeling of Ownership

When a family attains a certain level of wealth, the idea of maintaining some sort of legacy will often come up.

Such families will then typically consult a number of professionals who are experts in the area of protecting that wealth so that it may then be preserved for future generations of the family.

One of the details that gets dealt with at that time is the ownership of the assets that make up the financial wealth, and this is where some important considerations sometimes get lost along the way.

“Family specialists” like me who work with the family members on how they will govern the family wealth often walk into situations after most or all of the ownership details have been cast in concrete.

And in situations like that, we typically note that there were some opportunities to make the future owners actually feel like owners.

 

Just Trust Me On This, Kids

Of course when the offspring are still children, it is normal for their parents to make important decisions for them. The problem comes up when those children become adults, and yet their parents continue to treat them as children.

I always encourage parents to work on having adult-to-adult relationships with their offspring, because a “one-up, one-down” framing can be crippling to the development of the rising generation.

Growing up in my family, I had legal papers put in front of me and was told to just “trust me, sign this”, and many others went through the same thing too.

 

Feeling Like You Actually Own It

Getting back to those experts who prepared legal documents about the wealth, they understand the differences between legal ownership and beneficial ownership for assets in a trust, and my point here is that at some point those beneficiaries need to have this explained to them as well.

Who will share ownership of what, and when those changes are expected to happen are also key.

To preserve a family’s legacy, feeling like you own it cannot be overlooked.

If the debate is to share this information now or later, my advice is that sooner is always better.

 

Most family businesses actually start out with one major contributor who builds something large enough to eventually employ many people, including other family members.

As any parent with children who want to help out around the kitchen knows, even when they’re really too young to contribute, it can sometimes feel like a step back as you need to actually take a bit more time to include some of these helpers.

This week we’re looking at the idea of sharing the load with family members, as the family matures and there actually are others who should be able to contribute to the family’s success.

Bringing them in isn’t always as simple as we hoped at the outset.

“Many Hands Make Light Work”

In theory at least, sharing the work among many people makes things easier for everyone.  Many hands make light work, the saying goes.

But what if we’re talking about more than simple “work”.

I’m trying to get at some of the things that underlie the complex nature of enterprising families, who are working towards an intergenerational wealth transition.person holding another person

There’s a lot of work to do there, in many cases. And if it were just a lot of work, it might be simple to divvy up.

But what if it feels more like a load?

“It’s Not the Load that Breaks You Down …”

The idea for this post came from a recent webinar I attended, by the Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX).  The presenter happened to be a friend and colleague, Thomasina Williams, with whom I once presented at the Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

She was presenting on Stress, Health and Well-Being as a result of the pandemic, and one of her slides featured a quote that I loved.

It was from Lena Horne, and it read: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it”.  

According to Google, it also seems to be attributed to C.S. Lewis and Lou Holtz. It seems like great quotes get recycled a lot.


When Does Work Become a Load?

When we think about work, we’re typically pondering things that go on in what I like to call the “business circle”. 

If you aren’t yet familiar with the Three Circle Model of family business, you may want to start here: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

The place where things can start to feel more like a load often come up in the “family circle” and even the “ownership circle”.

Part of the difficulty in the family circle comes from the fact that there are often some members of the family who do work in the business, while others do not.

The “information asymmetry” that this creates can become a big issue for the family to address.  When someone is a family member and perhaps even an owner but isn’t involved in the day-to-day dealings of the company, they can feel like they’re flying blind at times.


Sharing the Load

Keeping all family members current with what’s happening in the business becomes important when there’s an upcoming generational transition.  

And by “upcoming”, I mean within a decade or so. In fact, it’s really hard to start this process too early.

One way to make the load easier to carry is to share it among different people. Of course the onus of sharing the info should fall on the ones who work in the business, but that doesn’t mean that all the work is theirs alone.

All family members who are currently owners, or those who expect to be in the future, also share in this task.

Ideally, the information flow should have both a “push” and a “pull” component.


Lightening the Load

As we think about ways to lessen a load, apart from sharing it, there is also the possibility of making it lighter.

This may seem like a bit more of a stretch, but here’s one way to look at it that might be useful.

Last week in Live from the Forum – Success Transitions we were looking at regular family forums, I don’t think I spent enough time talking about the importance of having fun together as a family.

Everyone should be looking forward to such meetings, knowing that there will be plenty of opportunities to share some laughs along the way.

In my book, spending time with people you love, and having fun together, always makes things much lighter.

Who Can Work in the Business, and When

There are a number of subjects that come up again and again in the wonderful world of family business, and sometimes it feels like I’ve written about most of them here already.

Still, when there’s a confluence of happenings over a short space of time that puts one of them back on my blog radar again, I like to revisit them.

Such is the case this week, as the subject of rules for working in a family business has come up a few times, from different directions, in my interactions over the past few weeks.

So let’s take a fresh look at the subject of “rules of engagement”Rules book for FamBiz.

 

Let’s Start with a Flashback

It’s not as if I’ve written about this recently either. In the summer of 2018, I wrote Forced into the FamBiz, which was about the fact that I believe that it makes sense to “force” one’s offspring to work in your family business when they are young, as a summer and/or part-time job.

It also clearly states that I’m a proponent of making a rule that families should not hire their children for fulltime jobs in the business until they have successfully obtained and held a similar job elsewhere, for a certain number of years.

 

This was an idea my father had heard about, but had decided unilaterally didn’t apply to his family (and therefore me).

I’ve recounted this many times since beginning my work with other business families.

I was an undergraduate business student at McGill, and my Dad told me he’d listened to some consultants explain why there were many reasons to forbid hiring family members until they’d demonstrated the ability to get a job on their own, without using their last name as leverage.

 

“But We’re Not Gonna Do That”

After I looked at him with some hope in my eyes (as I recall it, anyway) he stated “But we’re not gonna do that”.

Having not had to live by such a rule is now one of the main reasons I now endorse it.

But let’s get to the occasions where this came up recently. The first was on an FEX webinar where some family business leaders were sharing stories about how they got through the worst of the pandemic.

One business leader from western Canada related that her son had joined their business recently, and that this went against their family’s rule against allowing family members to come on board until they had worked elsewhere for 10 years. (10 years seems excessive, but alas, that was their rule).

As it turned out, every department of the company was now fighting to have him join them, thereby signaling that he had proved his worth despite the shortened period of working elsewhere for very long.

 

Family Business Collaboration

I recently joined a nascent group that pulls together members of family businesses and consultants who work with them. Family Business Collaboration

On a Zoom call recently, someone noted that his FamBiz had a rule about working elsewhere for 3 years.

I asked how long that rule had been around in his third generation company, and I found his reply interesting.

He noted that he was the first person to be “the beneficiary of that rule”, since his grandfather had not applied it to his father at the time.

Isn’t in interesting that a father who didn’t have to live by a rule went on to implement it, and his son, who was subject to it, found he was a beneficiary of it.  I get it.

 

A “Lessons Learned” Video

So when a respected colleague and friend (and mentor) asked me if I could share a brief video of myself for a family business conference she will soon be giving, this all came in handy.

She’s now asking several people involved in the FamBiz space about lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Would you be at all surprised to learn that the lesson I shared was all about the idea that there are many reasons why demanding that young adults work elsewhere before joining their family’s business makes a lot of sense, and that I wish my Dad had instituted such a rule?

I hope not.

I have few if any “hard rules” that I recommend to my family clients, but if I did, this would be it.

New Perspectives on a Flashback Memory 

In the summer I love being at my cottage, and when here, one of my preferred spots is on my kayak, hoping to spot some bald eagles while paddling around the Chockpish River. 

See: From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz

This week I ventured to a part of the river near the first cottage we stayed in here, years ago, and it created a flashback to a memory that part of me prefers to forget.

As I casually related that story to my coach, Melissa, this week, we ended up in some new territory that makes me want to share it here now. 

 


Just a Trip to the Beach

It was a nice day for a trip to the beach, which, depending on the mode of transport, is either a five-minute drive by car, or a twenty-minute paddle by kayak.

So Mom and our daughter were going to drive and my son and I were going to take the scenic route via the water.

I had one “Walkie-Talkie” and my wife had the other, just in case.

“OK, bye, see you there in a few minutes”.  Not so fast…

 

Boat Safety Training Comes in Handy

My wife grew up on a river with power boats, and we’ve taken our share of boating courses, many years ago. One part of the training included using a VHF radio to communicate and to signal distress

(The protocols on the water and for aircraft are similar if not identical.)

The Chockpish river is not deep, and in places you can run aground, even in a kayak, but there was another danger lurking beneath the surface.

My preteen son (at the time) got into the small kayak and I pushed mine into deep enough water to get going, and was then going to board (mine is a “sit-on-top” model).

Off we go, except…

 

Did I Tell You About the Moose?

Our neighbour, Doris, had recently recounted a sad story about a moose who “got stuck in the mud, and died” in the river, because she (the moose) couldn’t get out.

That story came to the forefront of my mind, as I too, began to sink into the mud as I tried to board my kayak.

With my son waiting, “patiently”, for us to depart, Dad kept getting in deeper and deeper. This was NOT going as planned.

Did Doris mention that the moose had a heart attack trying to get out? I wasn’t sure anymore.

I was slowly but surely reaching panic mode.

 

Asking for Help, Before It Gets Critical

I remembered the Walkie-Talkie, and I remembered my radio training. We’re all familiar with “MayDay” as a distress call, when it’s a matter of life and death.

Fewer people know that there’s another signal to call out, before things get that far, but I knew it was time to use it.

I turned on the Walkie-Talkie and said “Pan Pan”.

           “Pan Pan, I’m stuck in the mud, and I think I need help”

My wife knew that this was not a joke and that I needed help, and she turned around and came back to help.

The rest of the story is thankfully uneventful, because after seeing her, I calmed down, which helped me stop sinking deeper, and I eventually extricated myself, on my own.

 

Lessons Learned when Stuck in Real Mud

I hope you never get to the point where you’re literally hip deep in the mud, even in shallow water.

  1. Don’t wait until it’s “life and death” before asking for help.
  2. Know how to ask for the right help, and from whom.
  3. Remaining calm will almost always be helpful.
  4. The presence of a helper is beneficial, even if they aren’t the ones who pull you out.

 

Lessons that Families Can Use

  1. Don’t wait until it’s “life and death” before asking for help.
  2. Know how to ask for the right help, and from whom.
  3. Remaining calm will almost always be helpful.
  4. The presence of a helper is beneficial, even if they aren’t the ones who pull you out.

 

Did You See What I Did There?

I probably could have made this point without the repetition, but I wanted it to be “in your face”.

Families get “stuck”, and they know things won’t magically solve themselves.

It’s OK to ask for help, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Invitation:

Send me an email with “Pan Pan” in the subject line, and I’ll offer you two complimentary one-hour coaching sessions.

Preparing for an Important Family Voyage

Regular readers know that I have a certain penchant for metaphors, so this week’s blog post won’t be too much of a surprise.

Having previously shared my frustrations with what people who do my kind of work should call ourselves, (eg. “No Dad, Coaching Is NOT ‘Helping Losers’”) we’re back here once again, if only to demonstrate that we’re no closer to a resolution.

But let’s just say that the word “guidance” has always had a nice ring to it for me, so this week we’ll be talking about the value of a good tour guide.

And since families who own assets together have embarked on a long voyage together, I hope you’ll agree that my metaphor is apt.

 


 

“Coaching” Continues to Grow, Including On Me

It has taken me a few years, but the idea of referring to myself as a “coach”, first and foremost, is growing on me all the time. 

It probably has to do with the maturity of the industry and the fact that I recently completed my long delayed coaching certification process.

That process included many interactions with lots of different coaches who ply their talents and expertise is a vast array of fields.

Very few of them specialize in working with families who are either in business together or who own significant assets together.

This really is a niche inside a niche.

 

A Good Coach Can Help Anyone

It is true that a good coach can help anyone, assuming that person is up for it, and not afraid of doing the work.

There are plenty of examples of coaches who know little about any particular domain who have been able to help their clients make great strides despite the coach’s own lack of experience in their client’s particular field.

Going back to the idea of the coach as a guide, I think you’ll agree that someone who’s familiar with the terrain that the client is coming from, the ability of the coach to “get” the client, and truly understand what they are experiencing, is much greater.

A drawing of a tour guide leading a group

That NYC Tour Guide Knew Her Stuff

Imagine visiting New York for the first time and going for a tour. You get lucky and end up with the most personable and knowledgeable tour guide you could ever have hoped for.

So next year, when you decide to go on an African safari for your vacation, would you try to find that tour guide and ask her to lead that “tour” too?

I wouldn’t think so.

When I shared this metaphor with a colleague recently, she noted that she would never go see a male OB/GYN for the same basic reason.

 

“OMG! You Understood in Five Minutes”

I’m flashing back to a phone call I got last year from someone who had heard me as a guest on a podcast and who then felt compelled to contact me (that’s ALWAYS nice!).

As she related her situation, where she had recently been promoted over her brother, I noted some of the challenges that I guessed she was now dealing with, and she said “Oh my God, you understood in five minutes what nobody else seems to understand!”

Family members who work together have interdependent relationships that are unlike those of family members who do not, it really is as simple as that.

But as I always say, simple is not the same as easy, in fact, in cases like this, it is anything but easy.

 

Coaching Is Not Just a Skill

Learning to become a coach is something that just about anyone can do, but as with most such pursuits, there is a lot of “self-selection” bias, meaning that a group of coaches can often feel a bit too homogeneous. 

And while the type of people who are good at coaching can use their skills to be a great resource to just about anyone, there’s something about the “lived experience” that no amount of training can buy.

Some skills translate to any situation, but others are just part of who you are, based on what you’ve lived through.

 

Context Is Key

The “FamBiz Context” might be one name for it. Yes, every family is unique, and every family member lives it a bit differently.

But in the end, there are plenty of similarities when you look at the relationships in one family and contrast them with those in another.

Always go with the guide who knows the terrain, and the context.

Great Expectations in Enterprising Families

Writing this blog every week means I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting viewpoints to expound upon in this space.

I usually collect ideas and set them aside for a time, and while they germinate in my head (and in an email folder) sometimes a new slant comes up and allows me to almost kill two birds with one stone.

So it is this week, with a look at how important expectations can be in a family that’s in a position to transition significant wealth to the next generation.

 

PPI Strikes Again

I lost count a long time ago as to how many of my posts have been inspired by my participation in events and webinars put on by the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

So once again in early July the thought leader guests (Coaches Mimi Ramsey and Stephanie Hardwick) did not disappoint when they brought up “expectations”.

The money quote, which I hesitate to qualify as a quote since I’m not sure I got it verbatim, was that “unmet expectations are the biggest source of conflict”.

Wow, so true.  Can you think of anything that causes more; I can’t.

 

Family Enterprises Are Rife with Examples

Anyone who works with business families is familiar with the common refrain that they need to work on improving their communication, and that’s certainly true in almost all cases.

What they neglect to point out is that very often some of the most glaring gaps in their communication are around the very subject of expectations of one another.

A related idea that fits right into this topic is that loaded word, “assumptions”; i.e. everyone makes their own assumptions about how things are, and what’s expected, without ever checking to see if other people view things the same way.

Expectations are typically somewhere high up on the list.

Great Expectations in Enterprising Families

When a New Slant is Actually an Old Slant

I noted off the top that I love it when a subject comes up from two different angles, allowing me to tie them together in one blog.

The part I just related, about unmet expectations and conflict, was quite recent, but the other angle has been simmering in the back of my mind for quite a while.

This piece is a bit more involved, and it also comes from someone I first met thanks to PPI, none other than David York.

If his name sounds familiar, it may be because I’ve mentioned him before, including two whole blogs, each devoted entirely to one of his nuggets of wisdom. See Doing Better than the 4 D’s and Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two? I’m clearly a big fan.

 

Three Key Questions for Building Stewardship

Wanting to make sure I got York’s three questions exactly right, to quote them here, as they are so simple and so fundamental, I looked through my accumulation of various slide decks from presentations and happily hit the jackpot when I found that one particular slide, which read:

 

                                    Six Keys for Creating Stewards: 

5. Remove the Ambiguity

                                         – What can I expect?

                                         – What should I not expect?

                                         – What is expected of me?

 

Rising Generation Family Members Want Clarity

I think that anyone who puts themselves in the shoes of a person growing up in an enterprising family, or a family of wealth, can agree that having clear answers to these questions would go a long way towards giving them clarity on some pretty fundamental topics that will affect their lives in so many ways.

When parents do not communicate the answers to these questions, they leave their children in a position where they each begin to make their own assumptions as to what the expectations are.

As you might imagine, the various assumptions will often be quite different from what the parents are expecting, leading to unmet expectations, which invariably lead to: conflict.

 

Turning Expectations into Agreement

Back to the coaches on the PPI call I began with; they noted that what families should aim for is turning expectations into agreement.

In order to do that, like York says, you need to have conversations to clarify what those expectations are, and, as he notes, what they are not.

And let’s not forget York’s last point, about what the parents expect of their offspring.

None of these things are automatically known, they need to be discussed, and these conversations are not always easy to have, nor obvious to start.

They cannot be ignored forever, and a coach can help you.