Developing the Leadership to Find the Right Mix

Colleagues sometimes ask me what it’s like to write a weekly blog post, typically wondering how I constantly find topics to write about.

I normally note that I only write once a week, and I get ideas much more often, so it becomes more about sifting and sorting than dreaming up subjects.

Quite often, like this week, an idea hits me between the eyes and I cannot put it down, and then the tough work begins as I try to figure out how best to share it with readers.

I’ve gotta say, this one could go any number of directions, because it’s so foundational to my work.

Thinking Out Loud, In Writing

Selfishly, I write in order to force myself to clarify my thinking, and would do so even if I didn’t make my writing public.

It’s my version of “thinking out loud”, which I’m known to do, but I do it in writing. It’s kind of my personal journal, open for viewing.

So what was it that “hit me” this time, that I’m about to share?

I’m taking a series of online courses through Coursera, and there was a video in which a presenter uttered a sentence that made me immediately hit pause and rewind.

I’ll spare you the details of the courses, but note that they’re in the area of Positive Psychology, a recent interest of mine.

I don’t have the verbatim quote, but got the five key words.

      “…the right mixture of governance, culture, and leadership…”

Whoa, some of these words are right up my alley, but I’ve never heard them put that way before.

He’s Speaking My Language

Regular readers know how often I write about governance, despite the fact that that word has less than positive connotations for many people.

I also write about leadership often enough, or maybe not often enough, since it’s so important in so many places, especially in enterprising families.

Culture isn’t a word I use much, but it’s also key, and never far from the subject either, even if I don’t use that word.

So while those three words caught my ear, it was the ones right before them, “the right mixture” that got me thinking.

As I considered the idea, I couldn’t help coming to the conclusion that governance and culture fit together nicely as different ways that people work together, formal and informal, but leadership seemed to stick out a bit.

Mixing Governance and Culture

Governance is mostly about the formal structures, procedures, and mechanisms that are put in place to make sure that things run well, and that there are actual written ways that remind us all how we have agreed we will act together.

Culture is more about the informal “that’s how we do things around here” that are almost never written anywhere, yet they’re typically even more powerful in guiding actions than the written rules are.

Finding the right mixture of those two elements, the formal and the informal, is where a lot of the magic happens, and I use the word magic because it’s something that we usually can’t explain and perhaps don’t even try to comprehend.

The Right Mixture Needs to Be Found

But that “right mixture” does need to be found, and it will often happen with trial and error.

It will also vary from one family to another, as well as from one decade or generation to another within the same family, depending on where they are in their evolution of working together, and who the key players are.

But it’s not as if there’s a dial that we move to the left or right to adjust to the right setting, it just sort of evolves.

How and Where Does Leadership Fit?

Maybe that’s where leadership fits in, after all?

Who moves the dial towards a need for more formality, or towards more informal discussions, with the goal of moving the entire family system to a more appropriate equilibrium?

That work can only be done by those who take on that leadership role.

Lest you think that such leadership roles are assigned, or given based on age or seniority, let me remind you that this is not the case, and when leadership is set by this “default” setting, sub-optimal results normally follow.

Someone needs to step up to these roles, and take them.

Is that you?

Both Ways of Doing It Are Tough

It’s not often that I’ll write a blog on a brand new idea that just came to me, but this revelation I had last week was enough to put this subject at the top of my topic list.

I knew I needed to write this after I’d already shared the “A-Ha moment” on a call with someone so soon after the discovery.

The discovery, as I’ve labeled it, was nothing more than a brief phrase I read in a book (or maybe I heard it on an audiobook?).

The phrase, if I’m getting it verbatim, was, 



                                             changing the people 

                                                  is easier than 

                                            changing the people”.


Don’t worry if it doesn’t hit you right away, that can be expected. 

The important thing is to eventually get it and understand it, and I promise we’ll get into it, and especially look at it from the lens of people who work with their family members.

Changing People 1: Simple Method – Swap

So I’m making this one “No.1” because based on my understanding of the quote, this is the first option the speaker is alluding to.

The idea of getting rid of certain people and replacing them with new people is an option in many situations. 

The thinking goes that if you can’t change the way you are, then we are going to get rid of you and bring in someone who is a better fit.

Simple enough, on the surface, right?

But what about doing this in a family business, is it really that simple when you are contemplating firing a relative?

Yes, it is done sometimes, and sometimes the family even manages to get through it without too many hard feelings, but it’s always trickier than it would be if the person being changed out wasn’t part of the family.

Changing People 2: Complex Method – Convince

So let’s look at the other way of changing people, which I’ve decided to call “convince”.

I labelled this one “complex” because it can take on all sorts of angles and will vary in how each person who’s trying to convince another will go about the effort.

It’s also likely something that is not a “one shot deal” but much more of a process, involving a number of interactions over a longer period of time.

The other reason I call it complex is because no two people will do it the same way, and even if it “worked” with one person, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to make it work the same way with someone else.

When Do You Switch from One to the Other?

If we go back to the quote that’s driving this whole blog, there seems to be an inherent question under the surface, which I get from the first word, “sometimes”.

So, what are those times where you need to switch from convincing someone to swapping them out?

Presumably, you will try to convince first, second, and third, and maybe even a few dozen times, before coming to the conclusion that you need to go to the much more drastic plan of getting rid of someone and bringing in someone new.

Working with family members is great when things are going well, and when they’re not, well, it can really be awful.

Coming to the conclusion that someone absolutely needs to go is quite difficult, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Who Can You Really Truly Control?

Of course trying to convince people to change has its limits, because most people don’t like to be told what to do, and a lot of people resist change to begin with.

If you’re a regular reader you will be familiar with my thoughts on how futile it can be to even try to change others, because the only person we can actually really control is ourselves.

I know that I don’t like it when other people try to tell me I need to do something different or try to make me do something I don’t like doing.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, either.

Sometimes we need to flip it around, look in the mirror, and see what changes we can make in ourselves, and see if we can’t end up with some positive changes in the others around us.

Family systems theory is pretty clear, if you change how you interact with the system, the system will change.

When a Nudge is Better than a Shove

Forcing People to Do Things Often Backfires

Working with people who are very involved with their family members in the management and/or ownership of a business brings with it a lot of variety, as you might suspect.

However, there are many things that repeat from one family to another with great regularity.

One of those “regular” occurrences is family members reacting negatively when they feel like they’re being “pushed” to do things that they’d rather not do.


You’re Not the Boss of Me

When the relationships in a family business involve members of different generations, it’s common for the elder family members to be the “bosses” of those who are part of the rising generation.

In such instances, “telling” your direct reports what they should be doing is usually acceptable, but even then, a more subtle approach would often get better buy-in and results.

But when family members are siblings or cousins, i.e. members of the same generation, the “you’re not the boss of me” attitude is quite prevalent, even in cases where there exists an org chart somewhere that actually denotes that you ARE, in fact, the boss of me.

And that brings us to the idea that a nudge, or actually a series of nudges, is typically more effective than a shove.

The Matriarch Who Felt Shoved Out

I was recently talking to my coach about a client who recently resurfaced in my life after a chance encounter.

I shared with Melissa that “Nancy” wanted to work with me again and I mentioned that I’d see what I could accomplish with her, by nudging her to take a fresh perspective on her situation, now that she’s no longer involved in the business she once led.

My coach suggested that for this client, perhaps a shove would be more effective, and that got me thinking about this a bit more.

My “go to” move is nudging, and that can work well a lot of the time – until it doesn’t.

Newton’s Third Law All Over Again?

Maybe a nudge, and then another nudge, and another, is the way to go, as long as that works, but then sometimes you need to switch it up and try a shove.

In Nancy’s case, since she felt like she was shoved out of the business, only a shove will work to dislodge her from where she is now.

This is making me think of Newton’s third law of physics, and the “Equal and Opposite” reaction.

I guess we’ll see how it plays out in this case, but I think I’m likely to remain a “nudge first” kind of coach.

Too Many “Yes Men”

In Revealing a Family System to Itself a couple of weeks back, I finished the piece talking about how it’s easier for someone from outside the family to reveal things to family leaders, and here we are again.

People in top positions in a business, family or not, are often surrounded by folks who tell them what they want to hear, because of the self-preservation instinct.

Could it be that sometimes family members gently nudge and go no further, and then it becomes even more important for an outside coach to do the shoving?

Maybe that’s just part of the courage such outsiders need to have to earn the money that we charge.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

The nudge or shove discussion is reminding me of a great book I read a few years back, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk.

It’s about using social media for business development, and if I recall correctly, what “Gary Vee” was trying to get across was the importance of “giving” in small steps, repeatedly, before “asking”, which was the right hook.

My analogy here is that it makes sense to nudge, nudge, nudge, first, and then, if and when it’s necessary, you can always resort to a shove.

Before you earn the right to shove someone, you need to build up their trust in you first, and the best way to do that is with nudges.

Connection Is the Key

When you become a resource for people as they work to improve their lives, their businesses, and their families, it really helps when you first take the time to make a deep personal connection with them.

The expression “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” is valid in most cases.

That’s true if you’re nudging, and especially if you plan on shoving.

It’s Never a “One and Done” Deal

The most important “new” ideas always take some time to sink in, so when family members start to think about an eventual transition of their business or wealth to the next generation, it’s normal for it to take a while to get everyone on board.

When we combine this idea with another important maxim of mine, i.e. “Family governance is the ultimate team sport”, it’s no wonder the metaphor of a marathon comes up when we discuss these topics.

I work hard to make sure that the content I create gets spread far and wide, because I think it ultimately makes a difference, if only to “one family at a time”.

I also do whatever possible to appear in whichever format I can, whether it be podcasts, webinars, or other speaking engagements, to augment the regular writing that I put out.

And sometimes things come back to me in interesting and useful ways, and we’ll now look at a recent such occurrence.

LinkedIn Keeps Us All Linked (In)

I’ll once again profess my love for LinkedIn as a platform for connecting people from around the globe who have common interests.

My social media team regularly posts my freshly-created content as well as a lot of “recycled” material, and because most of my stuff is “evergreen” it always strikes some readers as new.

In response to one recent such post, a woman from Asia shared some great feedback with me (Thanks MP!).

She noted that she had seen me on a webinar last summer for an firm based in Asia, and that had inspired her.

She then added that her father “is also slightly more open to the idea of governance after watching your interview a few months ago” in reference to something I did with a colleague from Africa.

She concluded her note with “It’s a work in progress” along with a smiley face emoji.  Wow. Allow me to try to break this all down.

Which Generation Takes the Lead?

The first worthwhile point I’ll share is that contrary to popular belief, it’s not always the leading generation that initiates important family discussions about the future, it’s often the rising generation, as it is in this case.

In fact, I much prefer to work with families when the younger folks are urging their senior generations to begin these key communications.

When the parents need to figure out how to share and engage with their offspring, the challenge is a bit different, and it can be more difficult to get everyone into it.

But when it’s a “bottom-up” scenario, where the younger ones are already quite interested, getting their parents to open up and start sharing also has its headwinds.

But either way, this doesn’t typically go very quickly.  And that’s OK too, in fact, that’s the best way to go about this.

Hurry to Start, So You Can Go Slow

As I prepared to write this blog, my social team happened to share a post that’s a simple quote of mine, and I think the timing was serendipitous.  

Here it is:


                         “There’s no rush, except … hurry up 

                 and get started so that you can then slow down 

                           and take your time to get it right


The road is long and part of life’s long journey, especially since those from each generation of the family are on different parts of the arcs of their lives.

You need a long overlap of time where you work together, gradually shifting roles and responsibilities from the leading generation downwards.

Patience, Flexibility, Progress

Let’s get back to the idea of a “work-in-progress”.

What we’re talking about here definitely qualifies as “work”, hence another maxim of mine, “things don’t just happen all by themselves”.

The other keyword in that phrase is “progress” and that’s what you need to focus on.  “Look for progress, NOT perfection”, as I also like to reiterate.

This of course also means that there’s a premium on patience, because there will be many occasions where things don’t feel like they’re going as quickly as they should, for one generation or the other. That’s to be expected.

Things won’t go in a straight line either, so you need to be flexible and sometimes you’ll need to take one step back in order to take two forward.

Start the marathon, and enjoy it together.

It’s Never Sufficient, But Always Welcome

Writing a weekly blog comes with its challenges, but thanks to the many groups of people with whom I interact, I never seem to be at a loss for topics.

Some of my favourite occurrences are those where something comes up in one discussion, and that triggers something else from a few days earlier, only to be supplemented with something else later.

This kind of serendipity seems to be following me around lately, so I’m just going to run with it.

And so it was with the idea of “hope” and how its fits in in so many places.

Facilitation and Positive Psychology

It’s been over three years now since I completed the five courses that form part of the ORSC (Organisational and Relationship System Coaching) program, but thankfully our cohort does sometimes stay in touch (thanks MK).

As we commiserated recently over the difficulties some have had due to the pandemic, one colleague brought up a methodology they’d found and were enjoying that’s centered around hope.

That got me flashing back to one of the courses we’d done together where an instructor shared her “Two MAJOR Points” for facilitators who use the ORSC method.

The two keys for her were as follows:

  •                    Revealing the System to Itself
  •                    Staying Positive

I trust that readers will easily understand why I choose to equate “staying positive” with “hope”.

Indeed, anyone who facilitates discussions or activities with a group of people would do well to remain positive and hopeful, because failing that, your leadership can spiral downhill quickly.

(Note to self: cover “revealing the system to itself” in another post, soon)


My VIA Character Strengths “A-Ha” Moment

As we spoke about hope, at first I recalled the old expression that “Hope is NOT a Strategy”, which I first heard long ago, when I was focused on buying stocks low and selling them high.

It was pointed out to me that in order to cut your losses, you needed to have a plan to exit a position that happened to go south, because simply buying and holding, and “hoping” did not work very well as noted in the above maxim, so you needed to have some other strategy to deal with such situations.

But then I glanced down at my desk where I came across the printout of my most recent VIA Character Strengths survey, which I had done as part of the recent RendeZoom conference. See “What Color Is Your Cape?”

Wouldn’t you know it, right up in the No.4 spot of my personalized report was “Hope”.

So while hope is not a strategy, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a strength. And when you add it to the positivity that facilitators need to bring, this was starting to feel real to me.


Flashing Back Again

After the call with my ORSC colleagues, I thought back to the RendeZoom conference, which included a lot of occasions to work in small breakout groups within many of the sessions.

In one of those that had followed our keynote on positive psychology and the importance of focusing on strengths, I had shared with a few attendees that one of my strengths was hope, and I gave a recent, specific example of where it had helped me.

I related a recent mediation that I had led for a sibling group, which we finally completed with success.

I shared that one more than one occasion, one or two of the siblings were not feeling very confident that a resolution could be reached.

Despite the negative views, I forged on, sometimes reminding them that I remained “hopeful, if not confident” that we could come to something that they could all agree to. And we did.


“You’re Probably Right”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to share one of my favourite expressions that I’ve loved since I first heard it decades ago.


                                        “Whether you think you CAN, 

                                              Or you think you CAN’T, 

                                                You’re probably right”


When working with families, especially those who are wading through some tough issues, providing hope and positivity will almost always be welcome, and even necessary.

There’s likely already enough negativity to work through, so as a resource being brought into a system from the outside, the least we can do is bring the hope for a positive resolution for the family.

I think I can, and I’m probably right.

How Are We Going to Make Decisions Together?

In this space we talk a lot about family governance, which I know is a term that turns some people off. In order to soften it, I typically follow up quite quickly to clarify what it means in practice.

The two major elements of governance are communications and decision-making. The way I normally phrase it is “How are you going to make decisions together?”

It’s normal for families to move from an autocratic decision-making style in one generation to a more democratic style in the next.

By far the best democratic style I know of, and what I always recommend families strive for, is consensus.

Last week I shared about the recent PPI RendeZoom, in What Colour Is Your Cape?

This week’s post was inspired by one very brief comment I noted from one of its breakout sessions, that gets to the heart of what consensus requires.

What You Can Learn When You Pay Attention

Conferences are a great chance to hear industry veterans share some of their wisdom with colleagues, and I got some of that from the PPI crowd as usual.

What I did not expect, however, was to hear a very useful synopsis of the two most fundamental ingredients of consensus, especially coming from the youngest person at the conference.

It was during the final set of breakout sessions, and I opted for the one dealing with teenage philanthropy, led by Sue Schwartzman. 

She brought along three members of the rising generation from families who’ve been part of her program over the years, including one current participant.

It was Friday afternoon and I was just glad to hear an interesting discussion, and that’s when I got my money quote.


               “Consensus Is All About Respect and Flexibility


“Wait; What?”  

Did I just hear the best summary of what consensus requires from someone born in this century? The short answer is “YES”.

Short and sweet, direct and clear. How come I’d never heard anyone say it this succinctly before?

I’ve written about consensus before, notably in Putting the Consent into Consensus Part I and Part II, way back in 2016.

But this young woman, who shared with us how working with a group of other teens to make decisions about which projects they would fund had really hit the nail on the head.


The Missing Link or Ingredient

These aspiring teenage philanthropists were part of a program where they got to learn not only about philanthropy, but also on some key life skills around collaboration, and what it takes to do it well.

So often when I’m called in to work with family members, it can take a while to figure out just where they need to make some changes in how they relate to each other when it comes to their decision-making.

Thanks to this latest “A-Ha Moment”, I now have a new, simple “diagnostic” question that I’ll ask myself: 


                      What’s missing here, respect, or flexibility?


Based on experience, respect is almost always something intra-family groups could use more of, but inflexibility isn’t usually far away, for at least one family member.


An Iterative Work-In-Progress

As I write these words, I cannot help but think about the fact that these two key elements feed off each other and can be very much related.

As my respect increases for the others with whom I’m working to come to important decisions, so is the flexibility I’m likely to feel comfortable according to their ideas.

Likewise, as I hear new ideas that I’m willing to consider, I’ll feel more flexible towards them, and I almost cannot help then also having more respect for those who initiated these ideas.

This can be a fortuitous circle that then continues to “spiral up”, and that would be a good thing for most families. 

The counterpoint is that continued inflexibility can decrease respect, and vice-versa, too, resulting in a downward spiral.


A New Handle On and Old Problem

After writing over 400 blogs, my threshold for something of value isn’t very high; I’m only looking for one new insight for my toolkit.

I’ve now noted a simple new way to think about how families communicate around their decision-making, centered on the presence (or absence) of respect and flexibility.

And it came from a precocious teenager, so it has the added benefit of giving me a story to tell when I share it.

That’s plenty for me, I hope it’s useful to you too!

Examples of Each Type Abound

Anyone who has spent any time in the family enterprise world has surely encountered a variety of different versions of sibling partnerships.

Sometimes sibling groups come together and end up working so well together that people are rightfully impressed by the way they can combine into what appears to be a “1 + 1 + 1 = 10” arrangement. That’s good, and maybe even great.

Other times, things might start off on the right foot, but after some time, and typically after the previous generation has fully exited, they may be lucky to find themselves staying even, i.e., where 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.  If you were expecting at least a 5, then 3 feels pretty bad.

And of course when you read about disaster family business stories on the front page of the newspaper (remember those things?) well then it’s often more of a case of (1 + 1 + 1) X 0 = 0, or maybe even a negative number, or downright ugly.

Avoid Ugly, Strive for Good

I don’t want to spend too much time on the ugly version, except maybe to say that before things get ugly, they usually go through some “bad” on the way.

I’d rather share some ideas on what you want to look for when things begin to turn bad, and encourage folks to cut their losses well before they get to ugly.

Let’s talk about some examples of good, and look at what families are doing right, and concentrate on the positive.

I was recently privileged to serve on a committee charged with determining the winners of a competition that some family businesses have entered to choose an annual award winner to be announced this fall.

The three finalists all shared certain characteristics that made me think of this topic, and I think there are definitely some lessons worth sharing.


From Autocratic to Democratic Leadership

Family business literature typically talks about G1 being a one-person show, that hopefully moves on to a sibling partnership in G2, on the way to becoming a G3 “cousin consortium”.

The three FamBiz we judged were all past G2 and yet they were each currently involved in transitioning to a group of their offspring for the first time, since each of the past generational transitions were of the “father-to-one-son” variety.

Perhaps one of the secrets to FamBiz longevity is to avoid passing the company down to more than one child or branch (?)

The biggest change that occurs when going from one leader to a few is that autocratic decisions no longer typically work as well, and are usually not deemed acceptable by the other sibling partners.

Learning how to “make decisions together” is something I talk about a lot when discussing the importance of family governance.


Family Governance? Not Again!

“Oh boy, here he goes again”, I can almost hear some of you thinking. 

But once again discussing the three finalist business families we looked at, they had all been working on their family governance for at least a few years now, and each of them had done so with the help of at least one outside expert brought in specifically for that task.

If you are hoping for a “good” sibling partnership, one key is to begin working on your family governance, so that it has a chance to evolve while both generations are still involved.

While each generation learns how to deal with the transitions involved in moving from one to the next, the siblings in the rising generation also learn how to work together effectively, or at least that’s what’s hoped for.


Avoiding Bad Before It Gets Ugly

The key to avoiding ugly is to be able to recognize a situation that has a likelihood of turning bad. 

Sometimes families recognize that certain siblings will not likely mix well in a business context, and so they transition to one of their offspring and find other ways to treat the others. That’s one way to avoid “bad”.

But once a sibling partnership exists, as soon as things start to get sticky, there’s still a chance to avoid “ugly”, but it almost always involves getting some outside help to allow the important conversations to happen in a productive way.

See Getting Legal Advice for your FamBiz vs. Lawyering Up for more on ways to react before things get too far out of hand.

Green and Yellow Are OK; Red? Lookout!

Having recently been involved as an advisor and mediator with some families where the relationships could hardly be described as harmonious, this week I want to talk about how important it is to try to keep such situations under control, and not allow them to boil over.

I’ve written about aspects of this before, so there will be a few links to previous posts along the way.

In 2017, with Yellow Light Family – Proceed with Caution we looked at the “family dynamics axis” of a model that places families in a particular zone based on traffic lights, with which most people can readily identify.

Green light families are great to work with; when the light turns yellow, there are a few more challenges that many advisors with some experience can often help families overcome, but when the light turns red, all bets are off and many advisors prefer to head for the hills.


Kissing Your Proverbial Sister for Real

A couple of years later, in Kissing your Sister – Playing for a Tie in FamBiz, I shared this quote from a slide I’d seen during a presentation on Family Governance:

                         A General Family Business Precept:


                       In a Family, if you play to Win, you Lose;

                       In a Family, if you play to Lose, you Lose;

                       In a Family, if you play to Tie, you Win


                        Richard Goldwater, MD; Boston, MA


I found that so perfectly appropriate for most family enterprise situations that I just had to share it.


A few weeks ago, I wrote Getting Legal Advice for your FamBiz vs. Lawyering Up.  In that post, I shared learnings from some recent work I was in the middle of, where I saw my role and my goal as keeping the siblings from instituting any legal proceedings against each other.


FWIW, up until now, I’ve been successful.  But things still feel more “adversarial” than I’d like.



Letting Things Cool Down

For some reason the word “adversarial” came to mind recently as I pondered how to approach this blog.

As I sometimes do, let’s see what comes up when I Google the word:

          “involving people opposing or disagreeing with each other”

Hmmm, I was really only considering the “opposing” part, and not the simpler “disagreeing” aspect.

When people work together, disagreements often come up, it’s only natural, and we need to learn to be able to work through them.

One expression around this that I love has to do with learning to “disagree without being disagreeable”, and that’s something I’m often called on to do when working with family members.


When Opposing Viewpoints Create Opponents

Situations that cause more opposing viewpoints often revolve around a Zero-Sum game, where everything one person gains is at the expense of someone else.

The greenlight families noted above typically involve businesses where things are already going well and they are expected to keep going and even improve.  

When you’re making a bigger proverbial pie, the fight over who gets which slice takes a back seat.

Whenever a family limits its view to what’s already there, and there’s no plan on increasing what’s available for all to share, the chances of adversaries taking up sides increases.

Can you find ways to make it about more than what everyone can already see?  Sometimes you need to expand what you are looking to accomplish and consider some intangibles instead.


Many Kinds of Wealth and Capital

This brings us to some of my other favourite topics, examining what wealth and capital really are.

Too many families, and their professional advisors, seem to believe that financial wealth is by far the most important consideration for every family.

While the financial wealth is certainly not something to ignore, families who also work on their social capital and human capital actually have a better chance of success with all forms of capital.

Earlier in my career, I was managing financial wealth on a daily basis, with one eye on my computer screen and the other on CNBC. (No, I don’t miss those days.)

One market guru, whose name I’ve forgotten, used to talk about the two kinds of capital: financial and emotional. He was reminding his fans not to overspend their emotional capital, because it is a limited resource.

Families fighting over money end up wasting lots of time and energy dealing with negative situations, to the point of exhaustion or breakdowns. It’s just not healthy.


Were They Always Adversaries?

If family members are currently adversaries, I like to ask if they were always this way, or if there was a time in their lives when they were more cooperative and working towards common goals.

What changed?  Can they go back?  

Burying the hatchet can be good for the soul. I encourage it.




Getting Inside Family, Business, and Ownership

I’ve been a huge fan of the Three Circle Model (TCM) since I saw it for the first time. See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment. It is as useful today as ever, and continues to anchor much of the work that I do when interacting with business families.

I’ve seen many adaptations, some more useful than others, over the years.  It is quite simple, and because of that, it also lends itself to lots of possible uses.

I recently saw something that made me look at the three circles a bit differently, and that’s the basis of what I want to share this week.

The source of this idea is a local colleague and friend of mine who works mostly in French, allowing me to play language instructor or translator in this space once again

His way of looking at the challenges in the family, the business, and the ownership concentrates on the intergenerational transitions inherent in each of the circles, which in and of itself, was eye-opening to me.


Parents and Their Offspring, G-X and G-X+1

While the genius of the TCM is the simplicity with which it conveys the overlaps of the circles via a Venn diagram, it doesn’t do much for how to look at the generational transitions within each circle (not that it attempts to).

My colleague Michel Handfield, works mostly with family businesses where there’s a simple structure of a parent and one or more children involved, where they are all involved in both the family and in the business, and are also the current and future owners of the business.

So whereas the TCM is really good for more complex situations, because it outlines 7 different sectors where different people might fall, Handfield gets into the dynamics between the generations, but looks at them specifically as they exist in each of the three circles.


Mind Your P’s and E’s

I don’t shy away from ideas in different languages, and because I’m bilingual, I have access to things in both English and French as possible resources

By happenstance, Handfield has come up with an elegant model in French, which unfortunately loses some of its elegance in English, because of the way key words happen to translate. 

Have no fear, I’ll make sure the gist of it doesn’t get lost along the way.

Here are the three “P & E” relationships he’s identified:


                           Family:            Parent – Enfant 

                           Business:        Patron – Employé

                           Ownership:    Propriétaire – Futur propriétaire


So we have a Parent-Child relationship in the family, a Boss-Employee situation in the business, and an Owner-Future Owner scenario in the ownership circle.

No, it isn’t rocket science. But man is it powerful because of its simplicity.


Same People, Different Issues

The first important thing to note is that the people don’t change.  Actually, the people themselves do change, over time, of course, but we are always looking at the same people, no matter which of the circles we’re talking about.

In the simplest and probably most common version, it’s father and son, although there are now many more father-daughter combos than ever before, and also mother-son and mother-daughter. 

But no matter the genders or even the numbers, the relationships between the senior generation and the rising generation all fall under the Parent-Child, Boss-Employee, and Owner-Future Owner dynamic.


Different Hats, Different Rooms

There are a couple of analogies that people in this field go to when discussing the importance of recognizing which “hat” one is wearing (“Boss” hat versus “Dad” hat, for example) or which room the decision being discussed belongs (owner room versus management room). 

(For more on the Four Rooms Model, check out my podcast interview with Josh Baron)

Outside advisors can sometimes be most resourceful to business families when they simply point out these distinctions and get the family to see things more clearly.

But Handfield’s P & E model focuses on the dynamic within each circle as it applies in the three situations, which is why I like it.

When an advisor works with a parent-offspring pair, recognizing what’s going on between them and offering guidance is made easier when they can separate out those dynamics for the benefit of those living them.  

Being able to grasp which relationship dynamic is at play in any situation allows one to understand the context in which the people are operating much more easily, which is quite useful when you’re trying to offer them guidance.

Nice to Meet You; Let’s Start Working Together

Working with business families and their members is always interesting and rarely simple.

From the outside it looks relatively easy to get going with any family, but if you’ve ever been in a position to do this, you know how complex it all can be.

That’s what I want to look at this week, and I’ll contrast different terms that come from various professions and how they handle the beginnings of working relationships.

Bottom line, there is no simple standard way that these relationships work, although each practitioner will typically try to develop one or two ways that they prefer to construct such relationships.


Discovering What Makes a Family Tick

Upon being contacted by someone about working with a family, the fascinating work of finding out who’s who and how everyone relates to each other begins.

That work often continues for as long as the relationship exists, although much of it is “front loaded” and the learning curve at the outset is generally pretty steep.

I used to laugh when people who do this work would tell me that they start off by drawing a genogram or family diagram, but I don’t laugh anymore.

I find myself doing that very early on, because once you get the hang of it, you can’t go back to just taking notes ever again.

The process that many call “discovery” starts from the very first call or email, and for some it is a key step that they actually outline as part of their process, that begins after they’ve come to a formal agreement to work together.


The Contracting Stage

The formal agreement between the advisor and the family can be quite simple or very complex.

Whether it ends up being several pages long and executed with a signature or if it is more informal and mostly verbal, it does make sense to spend some time upfront in order to properly set expectations.

The Family Enterprise Advisor program (FEA) I completed years ago, where I had my calling to this work, spends a good deal of time on making sure those who complete the program truly understand how important the contracting stage is.

The program also encourages advisors to collaborate with other professionals in service of families, and much emphasis is placed on the contracting that is required between such advisor parties.

As things change during the relationship, it will often be necessary to revisit the question and get into re-contracting too.


Designing the Alliance

Where FEA’s talk about contracting, coaches who trained with CTI like I did talk about “designing the alliance” instead.

I like that language because it gets at a couple of very important aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The idea of “design” speaks to the fact that it isn’t always the same, and there’s a need and desire to customize the relationship between the coach and client.

The “alliance” part is all about the fact that while there are two parties, and the coach and client become true allies and work together for the good of the client.

The client is not alone, and they are also expected to be quite active during the coaching process, in fact, they will be the ones who do most of the work.


One Person or the Whole Family

My favourite part of all of this is that when I got into this business of serving families, I always imagined only working with families as a group.

Much of the work I do is of course still done with entire families, but thanks to some of what I learned during my Bowen Family Systems Theory studies, I realized that one can make great strides for the whole family even when working with just one family leader.

The discovery is very different when you only hear about people and never meet them, but a relatively clear picture does emerge, albeit from a subjective view of the individual client.

In all cases it is important to get these relationships off on the right foot, and that means asking a lot of open ended questions and then doing a lot of listening.

Coaching one person or facilitating for a whole family require different but related skills. It’s fascinating work and if you are naturally curious about people it can be lots of fun too.