Striving for the Right Kind of Ego in a FamBiz

It Can’t Be All About “Me”

When the inspiration for one of these weekly posts comes from an actual coaching session I had with a client from a family business, I really get excited.

Regular readers may recall that I have a penchant for mining for ideas in the land of translations between words in English and other languages, typically French.

So if you’re a fan of those, keep reading because that’s where we’re going this week.

It all began with a misunderstanding on my part, which I quickly realized, and then happily recovered from.

 

Young Rising Generation Leaders

I’ve been fortunate to recently become involved with some local organizations who offer programs to entrepreneurial families who are preparing for eventual intergenerational transitions.

The program I’m part of, as a freelancer, has me coaching some young rising generation family members who are expecting to take on leadership roles in both their business and their family, as the parents eventually hand over the reins in the coming years.

As I said this is local, and in Quebec that typically means that the work is done in French, which thankfully for me, n’est pas un problème.

My French is not 100% perfect, but I’m more than functionally fluent for the job, thanks to five decades of practice. (Merci École St-Rémi)

Management Versus Ownership

So there I was on a Zoom call with “Sandra”, the oldest of three siblings who are preparing to eventually succeed their father, the founder of the business.

Although she’s the oldest, she’s still in her early 20’s, and so they’re still obviously in the early innings of this eventual transition.

Because of her age relative to her siblings, and the position she holds thanks to her seniority working in the business, she’s poised to hold the eventual top role in the running of the company, at least as things stand today.

However, in terms of the ownership of the company, the assumption is that Dad will be looking to make his three offspring equal owners, with one third of the company each.

Take note of the word “equal” there, as it foreshadows where we’re heading.

 

Did I Hear That Right?

As I was trying to impress upon Sandra the difference between her management role and her ownership role, I pointed out that in the business a hierarchical situation is likely warranted, but the ownership reality is actually flat.

As she was replying that she recognized that they would all be “equal” in the ownership, she obviously used the French word, “égaux” (pronounced “AY-go”).

The problem was, in my head, I heard the word “égo”, which is pronounced exactly the same way. I think you can guess what that translates to in English.

So here I was, thinking that she was talking about her ego, rather than the fact that they were equals.

Bang!

 

Calling a Timeout

Wait, stop, sorry, back up!

I asked her to pause to allow me to explain and apologize and thank her for the blog topic.

How the heck could the word “ego”, which feels like it is all about “me”, the individual, be pronounced the same way as the plural for the word equal, which is all about us?

I hope you aren’t expecting me to give you an answer, because I don’t have one. If someone reading this does, perhaps a linguist, please let me know, and in the meantime, I’m just happy to have stumbled upon this.

It feels kind of like an oxy-moron to me.

 

Lessons for Families Working Together

The take-away for me is simply that sharing this story and the reality behind it creates an opportunity to put this subject on the table with family members.

The business can be organized as a hierarchy, the ownership is flat, and the family, well, the family is the family. We are right back to the Three-Circle Model again. (I can’t believe it’s been almost 8 years since I wrote that!)

So each circle has a different structure, and that’s how it usually goes.

That means that the people who are part of more than one circle need to recognize that it’s always important to consider whether they are discussing matters that have to do with the running of the business, or ownership issues, or family matters.

Those differences matter, and must be discussed and made clear. It will allow you to separate “ego” from “equals”.

A Family’s Most Important Project of All

Welcome to another edition of “Steve tries to take a bunch of ideas and spin them into something coherent and useful for enterprising families and those who work with them”.

It should be interesting as I try to weave together the fact that families are very interdependent, that recognizing this is a key to intergenerational success, and that proper guidance on the journey will be of enormous help to them along the way.

These thoughts have all been brewing in my head for a while, stimulated by various recent interactions, and now it’s time to share where I’ve arrived. Thanks for joining me again.

 

Coaching Every Family Member Is Ideal

My favourite gigs with families are the ones where I get to spend both one-on-one coaching time with each family member, and then also participate in their group meetings.

While I’ve noted that in some cases it’s possible for a family to make progress in situations where there’s only one family member who’s sufficiently motivated to seek outside coaching, my best engagements are those where I get to work with everyone, both individually and together.

While recently discussing some cool aspects of coaching in general with another coach colleague, we kicked around the importance of the coach exuding an attitude of “I’ve got your back” and “I’m here for you without any other agenda, unlike most other people in your life”.

You can imagine that this might be a difficult role to play when you work with many of those “other people in your life” as well, and you wouldn’t be wrong either.

 

Serving the Whole Family’s Interests

The keys to doing this well are quite simple, in fact, but please don’t ever forget that simple is not the same as easy.

The first key is for the coach to see themselves as a servant of the entire family, not simply the one who hired them, or the one who pays their bill, but the group as a whole.

And then there’s another key that goes with that, and that’s the fact the to truly serve the family, it’s much easier when that coach is not serving an institution whose logo is on their (the coach’s) business card.

Family members are interdependent, and coaching them on their family journey is a special role with a unique skillset.

In fact, it’s more than just coaching, it’s also a bit of facilitation and lots of guidance.

 

Guidance for the Journey, Not the Destination

The term guidance is one that has grown on me lately, as I’ve re-branded my services and now call myself a Family Legacy Guide.

Part of the appeal is that I want clients to realize the importance of the journey they are on together, as opposed to any particular destination they’re trying to reach.

This is bringing back memories of a piece I wrote in 2018, There Is No Destination, the title of which is the first part of an expression I had recently discovered then, which is completed by “It’s ALL Journey. All. Of. It.”

 

The Individual – Togetherness Dichotomy

When working with various family members I also need to keep in mind the “familiness continuum” that exists, and how each person sees that.

Every member of the family is trying to find the right balance between their own individuality and the togetherness of the group, and that’s also a moving target.

By alternating my interactions from 1-on-1 calls with each of them to meetings with the group, I can stay on top of how this balancing act is evolving.

It’s during the group meetings that I notice issues that I can then take up with them individually.

 

Interdependence and Moving Targets

Most families underestimate their level of interdependence, as well as the importance that learning how to work as an interdependent system will have on their ability to transition their business or wealth to the rising generation of their family.

A few months ago in Planning your Family’s Declaration of Interdependence we looked at the fact that there needs to be a realisation that they are in fact all dependent on each other, in all directions, in order to make true progress.

The family is on a long journey that they are all on together, and so having someone come along with them, at certain strategic stages, can make all the difference in the world.

Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference

The ideas for these posts come from all over the place and from people who hail from many different locations

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the past year or so, a bunch of them have come from webinars or other virtual settings.

This one comes from a webinar hosted by someone I never met, but whose two guests are both friends of mine, even though I’ve only actually met one of them in person.

It was yet another instance where upon hearing a certain sentence, I immediately jotted it down so that I could properly recall it for use as inspiration here.


Not an African Proverb

One of my favourite posts here over the years, which I also recorded as a video, was If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone; If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.

The lengthy title there is also an African proverb, which served as my inspiration. This week my inspiration comes from Africa once again, but it was from a story told by Nike Anani, a friend I’ve yet to meet in person, from Nigeria.

Nike was a webinar guest, along with Mitzi Perdue, who I have met, and she was relating an early experience of hers as a member of her family business.

Nike had recently returned home to join the business, after working in the corporate world in the UK.  Her return to a smaller, less professional work environment required some adjustment.

 

Questioning Everything

As she put it, soon after arriving, she began “Questioning everything”.  She elaborated, making it clear that her attitude in those early days was less than ideal, and she was not simply asking questions.

While noticing the self-awareness required to recognize this in retrospect, I also made sure to capture the spirit she was conveying about her feeling of superiority based on her corporate experience, and how she was dismayed by how things were being done in the FamBiz.

With the benefit of some hindsight and added maturity, she now realizes how important it is to ask questions, grounded in genuine curiosity, rather than “questioning” how everything was being done.

 

Different Kinds of Questions

Courtroom drama fans and politics junkies are familiar with many techniques of asking questions that are really more about getting their point across.

When thinking about this I also flash back to days when my own kids were much younger and also employed dubious questioning techniques of each other.

I distinctly recall exchanges including, “What? I was only asking a question!”, to which I’d reply “Yes, I know, but ‘why do you always have to be such an A-hole’ is also ‘Just a question’ too”.

I suppose that in many ways that was in fact a rhetorical question on my part, but I digress.

 

Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement

I’m pretty sure that if pressed, Nike would admit that most of her “questioning” in those early days was also accompanied by a whole lot of prejudgement, where she had already assumed that she knew better than the person to whom she was addressing her comments.

The best questions, as she now realizes, are founded in true curiosity, and in fact include a complete absence of judgement.

Here I’m addressing not only “prejudgement”, but also any judgement when one hears the answer.  See Judgement, Not Judgement.

One of the first big takeaways from my coaching training is that “listening without judgement” is the first thing you need to practice and train yourself to do to be successful.

 

The Family Governance Angle

As we move to wrap this up, I want to look at this topic from the other angle, i.e. the ones who are on the receiving end of the questions, or the questioning, as the case may be.

Most families have what I call an “information asymmetry”, where there are certain members who are in the know and who control much of the day-to-day activity, and others who act as “interested bystanders” much of the time.

The “bystanders” will often have questions, and the insiders do typically “owe” them answers, in many respects.

Insofar as the insiders are able to provide coherent answers, they will also minimize and forestall the potential for questioning from these other stakeholders.

If the attitude of “how dare you question me” is replaced by one resembling “of course you can ask”, that is a recipe for more harmonious relationships going forward.

No question about it!

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

One place I turn for information and inspiration in my professional world is LinkedIn.  I find so much useful content and plenty of blog ideas there every week.

I’ve also “met” some great new colleagues there over the years, many of whom I’ve yet to actually meet in person, but most of whom I have met over Zoom.

Recently I saw a video by a local family business leader who, along with his daughter, shared some ways they were adapting to the reality of this pandemic-stricken world.

One of the take-away messages they shared was around the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, resulting in an A-Ha moment for me, and the impetus for this post.

 

There It Is, Again

The Kintsugi angle was already on my radar, but due to sloppy note-taking on my part, I don’t recall where I was first exposed to it.

When I saw that video, I quickly made a note this time, to properly contextualize my blog about it. I also took it as a sign that this post was now due to be created.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been inspired by something from Japan before, having shared Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital in 2019.

So what is Kintsugi?

You’ve likely seen some version of it before without realizing that it’s a style of art, from Japan, where a pot, dish, or bowl is broken into pieces and then reassembled.

The art is in the way it’s put back together, with glue-like substances, enhanced with gold or some other “fancy” elements.

The result is a reassembled piece, which is now more beautiful and special than the original.

 

And the Family Business Angle Is…?

Of course there’s also a resilience angle here, which is quite topical thanks to the lingering pandemic.

Almost everyone has faced, or continues to face, some sort of breakdown, and it’s important to normalize that.

Additionally, we need to realize that after a challenge, it is possible to emerge stronger and more beautiful than before.

There are also some other business family angles I’ve thought of that could fit into the Kintsugi metaphor.

Some may seem to be a stretch, and that’s OK too; I’ll just use a bit more of that “golden glue” on those to make them work.

 

Family Members Aren’t All Equal

We all know that family members are not equal, as each person has their own strengths and desires, making each one’s contributions unique.

There are often some who experience challenges in life, which may be completely involuntary or for which they are mostly to blame.

Regardless, they remain members of the family, even if they might be slightly “broken”.

One of the strengths of some business families is that they have an uncanny ability to help those “broken” family members, and even put them back together and make them stronger, finding ways to make them contributing members of the group.

 

Family Narrative with All the Warts

Another place where I think Kintsugi might apply is in the family narrative.

Story-telling seems to be all the rage now, and creating and sharing the “family narrative” has become a valuable exercise for many families.

It’s crucial to share the failures and recoveries, not just the successes, when sharing the story of the family’s path to their current status.

For more on this, please have a listen to this podcast I recently hosted. The Family Business Myth and the Hero’s Journey

 

The FamBiz Wind-Down or Wind-Up

I’ve got one more possible business family Kintsugi metaphor to share, and it involves situations where the family business that created the wealth is no longer part of the picture.

When a family business is sold, and there’s a “liquidity event”, the family can sometimes struggle to define reasons for them to stay together to continue to manage their wealth and assets.

I’m picturing the business as the pot or vase that was broken, and the family’s work to create ways and reasons to stay together as the gluing things back together in a stronger and more beautiful way.

 

Kintsugi as a Team Sport?

I used the word “create” above, and perhaps I should have used “co-create” instead.

Business family continuity is truly a team sport, and it must involve a number of people if there is any chance of it “sticking” on an intergenerational basis.

The more people involved in piecing it together, the better it will work, and look. It truly is an art.

This week we’re going to go over some old ground, and cover some things that are brand new to this space.

There’s an “A-Ha Moment” involved, as well as a new way to attack an old problem.  

One thing most regular readers will recognize is that we’re once again visiting the wonderful world of “family governance”.


Never Start with a Constitution

Let’s set up the family governance part off the top.  Back in 2018, in Behind the Flawed Family Constitution we talked about the fact that for some reason, having a “Family Constitution” had become a really cool thing that families thought they needed.

Or at least, there seemed to be renewed interest in such a deliverable, likely caused by some professionals who discovered the idea of possibly selling this idea to their family clients.

I’ve also since met with families who’ve come to believe that a family constitution could be an appropriate thing for their family, and I usually try to get them to back away from the idea, once I realize that they’re still very early in their family governance’s evolution.

 

Start Small, Let It Evolve

I’ve tried making this point in various ways over the years, with families as well as with other advisors who are a bit newer to the area of getting families they work with on a proper path to governance.

Then recently, form an unexpected place, I got the killer line I think I’ve been looking for to seal the deal.

I was watching a WBECS coaching webinar recently, where David Burkus was talking about working with teams in businesses and other organizations in work situations.

A big part of such teams’ success stems from getting to the point where they understand the value of teamwork. Then he said the magic words.

“I want them to make a Declaration of Interdependence”. 

It hit me right between the eyes.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

You see, back in 2015, I wrote a blog titled Independently Wealthy VS INTERdependently Wealthy, in which I first shared this notion about families being interdependent.

And, as most of you hopefully already know, in 2019, I published my second book, which happens to bear the title Interdependent Wealth.

But I had never thought about using it in an expression like “Declaration of Interdependence”.  But of course that ends now.  

And a little bit of knowledge of U.S. history also leads to a way to use it in the context of families, especially when they think they might want a family constitution.

 

A Time Lag of Measured in Years

Even though I’ve lived my whole life in Canada, it’s all been spent within an hour’s drive of the U.S. border, and there’s been a constant American cultural barrage, first over the TV airwaves and more recently over the internet, that most Canadians have become quite used to.

So I know that the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.  

I also hear about the U.S. Constitution on a regular basis, especially since I’m kind of a politics junkie.

I admit I had to Google the date of the Constitution, because it’s less well known. It was signed in 1787 and then had to be ratified by the 13 states, which took another few years.

 

The Family Governance Version

So now, whenever anyone talks about a family adopting a constitution, I’ll ask when they signed their declaration of interdependence.

Now, I need to clarify how I look at this, but it’s certainly not far fetched.

You see, while the U.S. was declaring itself independent from Great Britain in 1776, whether they admitted it to themselves at the time or not, they were simultaneously declaring themselves interdependent with each other.

And that’s the most important part for any family to realize.

 

Families and Wealth – Intention and Commitment

When I work with a family it’s usually understood that they have twin goals of keeping both their wealth and their family together through the generations.

That work takes some intention and commitment, because, as I love to remind them, that stuff doesn’t just happen all by itself.

This is where all the governance stuff comes in, along with working on engagement, alignment, and clarity.

And while some families will end up with a Family Constitution, eventually, there are more important things to take care of first.

Understanding and accepting that all family members, from all generations, are truly interdependent, is the first key step.

Don’t you Mean Continuity Planning?

One of the most popular topics in the area of family business is always succession planning. I’ve known this for a while, yet I rarely use that term in my writing, especially not in the headline.

So in order to prove that I can “zag” as well as I can “zig”, I did it this week. Why the change?

I’ve just spent several weeks refreshing my website, and my “web guy”, who is really good at what he does, told me that I needed to write about succession planning, because that’s what a LOT of people are searching for.

 

Yeah, But….

When I explained that there’s a better term that people like me now use, “Continuity Planning”, he patiently nodded his head and reminded me that if people are searching for one thing and you continue to call it something else, many of those people will never find you.

Alas, I acquiesced.

It kind of feels like I went back to build a worse mouse trap, hoping that the world would now beat a path to my website.  I guess we’ll soon see if new folks find me.

 

So You Want to ACE It

 

So in the spirit of writing something newish, catchy, and useful about family business succession planning, I decided to share a mnemonic way of thinking about it. 

A few months ago, in Family Engagement and Family Alignment – Chicken and Egg I shared the idea that engagement and alignment were two sides of the same coin, and two of the most important aspects of getting a family’s planning and governance on track.

Since engagement starts with an “E” and alignment starts with an “A”, I knew I had the makings of something. A good mnemonic should be something that spells a short word, so vowels carry a premium.

I just needed the right consonant to hold everything together.

4 aces in a deck of cards

Clarity to the Rescue

After kicking around a number of other options, I finally settled on “clarity” to complete my catchy word, “ACE”.

I was tempted to use “communication”, which would have given me the same word, and communication is, of course, crucial to family business success over generations.

But bringing things right back to the “succession planning” angle I was going for, I thought that clarity was a better word.

So let’s look at how this ACE holds together.

 

Does the Order Matter?

What I’m hoping people take away from this post is that family business succession planning can be a success IF you concentrate on the three items in the ACE mnemonic: Alignment, Clarity, and Engagement.  That’s it.

Now, are they in the right order? 

No. Or Yes. I’ll settle for a hard Maybe.

Does it matter? Definitely not.

Succession planning is not an event, it’s a process. And because it is a complex process, it’s definitely NOT linear.

You don’t do “Step 1” and then “Step 2”, etc. 

 

It’s NOT an Estate Plan

Some people may want to argue this, and I think that most of those folks are probably confusing family business succession planning with a related process, that of estate planning.

Estate planning is a specific subset of succession planning, and it can certainly be much more of a “linear” operation.

When we talk about family business succession planning, there’s a LOT more at stake, and it MUST involve those who will be expected to play future roles.

 

Engaging and Aligning, with Clarity

Whereas an estate plan is mostly about who’ll be the legal owners of specific assets after their current owner passes away, a succession plan is more about who will do what.

It’s about how a group of people will interact and decide things together, for the common good of the whole family.

That means that these people need to be aligned in their thinking. They also need to have a common and clear understanding of everything that’s at stake.

This stuff definitely doesn’t just happen by itself, which is why you also need to have everyone engage in the process.

 

Incremental Iterations Work Best

You need to constantly go from engaging to aligning, and back again, while making sure to always strive for more clarity.

This happens over time, as the family members learn to work together and understand that they are interdependent.

Small gains add up over time, and incremental is a good word to keep in mind.

Keep at this over time, and you will ACE it.

Surprising Word Choice Proves Revealing

Regular readers know about my penchant for word play and finding lessons in unexpected places thanks to vocabulary, grammar, and translation issues.

If that kind of blog is up your alley, you should enjoy this one since there’s some of each of those on tap this week…

A few months back in Social Capital in the FamBiz World we looked at the human need for connection

Since then I’ve realized the importance that social interaction plays in my life, and I’ve also developed a new level of gratitude for the social capital that I enjoy.

 

Joining Yet Another Group

I’m a member of a number of groups, mostly with peers, that get together over Zoom from time to time for various forms of discussion and interaction.

Most of them actually pre-date this pandemic, so I feel like I had a head start on many people in learning to get the most out of this way of meeting.

I recently joined a new group, and one of the first meetings we had was the source of inspiration for this week’s post.

Unlike all my other groups, this one conducts its business in French, which is my second language, but being a lifelong Montrealer, I’m sufficiently fluent, and I speak it both professionally and socially on a daily basis.

 

Colleagues Learning from Colleagues

Our facilitator, Jessica, was setting up a discussion and at one point I thought I knew what she was about to say but then she went in a different direction and it threw me off a bit.

We were talking about choosing the kinds of things advisors might decide to specialize their practices in, and as she was listing ways to make such choices she began to mention “Dans quoi on est…” which translates literally to “In which one is…”

My mind jumped ahead and filled in “bon”, which is French for “good”.

Of course, we want to choose to do things that we are good at, right?

But then, instead of saying “bon”, she said “bien”, which means “well”.

 

There’s a Lesson (or Two) in There

Jessica was making the point that we should concentrate on doing things that we’re “well” at, or, as a better translator might say, things that make us feel well.

Could she be on to something, suggesting that things we can feel good about doing and that make us feel well and good is even more important than concentrating on things that we are good at, i.e that we execute well?

And although we were sharing ideas amongst advisors to family enterprises, what are the implications of such a “discovery” for the members of the families we work with?

Couple relaxing on bed

Doing Versus Being

This is all about the difference between “doing” and “being”, which are two really different yet related ways of looking at oneself. 

And, interestingly, the way they interrelate evolves over time. The more you practice doing something, the more it becomes part of who you are.

Of course this also brought back memories of a piece I wrote last year, Ikigai: a Four Circle Model of Human Capital

That was about finding the true sweet spot of things we do well, things we like to do, things the world needs, and things we can get paid to do.

 

Examples for Legacy Families

While reflecting on these questions is important for professionals who work with families, they can take on even more significance for members of those families.

And, they give rise to another aspect of belonging to such a family, as I noted earlier this year in Where Do You FIT in your Business Family?

I think it’s interesting that I noted at the beginning of this piece the importance of social interaction in my life, as I continue to figure out where I fit in this wonderful world of working with enterprising families.

 

Feeling Well and Doing Good

Being part of this evolving field and making whatever contributions I can makes me feel good and I think that I’m doing a decent job.

Members of legacy families can often minimize the importance of finding activities for which they get paid, by virtue of the fact that they may have other assets off which they can live.

When I work with families, part of what I’m hoping I can help them achieve is that each person can do some good for the family while also feeling good about their place within the group.

That’s often way more important than money.

Since 2014, one of the highlights of my year has been a trip to the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute each October.

It recently wound down for this year, and for a change I didn’t have to fly anywhere or check into a hotel. Alas, it was held virtually for the first time, and I’d be lying if I said it was virtually the same.

Oh well, all we can do is do our best, and I was still able to consume a huge amount of content relevant to those who inhabit the family enterprise space like me.

 

Worldwide Leaders Coming to Share

This space can often feel like a real niche, and so in order to find a critical mass of others who do similar work, a global network is actually almost a requirement.

While family businesses dominate the economy of almost every country on the planet, the vast majority remain typically small enterprises, who don’t necessarily require much special attention.

At the larger end of the spectrum, however, where we look at multi-generational family dynasties, spanning several countries, held up by complex family groups, the needs of families do warrant special attention and specialized professionals.

Source: https://digital.ffi.org/ffi-global-conference/

The Rising Generation as a Focus

There were a couple dozen presentations over two days, and often two sessions running concurrently, so there was literally something for everyone present.

There were over 300 people registered, from dozens of countries and six continents, and while cultural variations in the family enterprise world exist, there are more common elements present, making global sharing worthwhile.

One theme I noted was a focus on the rising generation in families. There were sessions on family culture, family engagement and family learning, that all spoke to the importance of getting the younger family members interested and involved.

There was talk of “values based investing” that brought all generations to the table, and a focus on having younger family members get their “Operator’s Licence” to begin running things in the family business too.

 

Complex Family Dynamics Always at Play

Aside from the focus on a particular generation, there was also a good deal of discussion around complex family dynamics that never seem to be far away when talking about family owned and operated enterprises.

There were sessions on family meetings, ethical dilemmas in families, and mediation for families who have conflicts that are difficult to resolve.

There was even some reflection for advisors to consider how comfortable we are with conflict, so we can assess whether or not we are the best person to serve our clients in such cases.

There was a great session on mental incapacity that left me with some great take-aways.

 

Repeated Messaging for my Own Good

As part of a number of different organisations that serve parts of this field, I’m privileged to cross paths with a number of great leaders who tirelessly share their thoughts in various forums every year.

The messages can feel a bit repetitive at times, but I’ve learned that even though I’ve heard someone on a subject before, I still learn something by attending again, because surely I didn’t catch everything the first time through.

The first example was Jim Grubman on mental incapacity.  I’ve heard Jim discuss it before, but this time something really stuck with me.

We’ve all known people who’ve begun to lose their ability due to age-related mental decline, and it can cause enormous complexity for a family to deal with.

Grubman highlighted part of the reason for this, and it hit home for me.

 

Legal, Medical, Business, Emotional, and Ethical Views

The reason they are so complex is that they are viewed differently through a variety of different lenses.

A person whose mental decline has begun raises issues in law, medicine, business, family emotions and ethics.

No wonder these things are so hard to deal with!

 

Dennis Jaffe Delivers Again

A few weeks ago I wrote about Dennis Jaffe in Legacy Families Rely on a Generative Alliance. He was the closing speaker at FFI, and even though I’ve seen him present many times, I still got something new out of it.

I was also pleased to have been featured myself, as Dr. Mariana Martinez and I kicked things off during the first day’s early morning session with Bowen: From Theory to Practice. Thanks to all those who gave me great feedback!

Looking forward to FFI 2021 in London next year; fingers crossed that it will be in person!

 

 

 

No Single Advisor Can Do It All

Thinking back to when I had my calling to this work with families, one of the first realizations I had was just how complex such work can be.

A family enterprise has lots of moving parts, especially as the family approaches an upcoming transition from one generation to the next.

Between the amount of wealth involved and the complexity of the family’s situation, there are important considerations that ultimately require the support and advice of a number of outside specialists who serve the family.

Getting these expert professionals to work together makes so much sense, at least in theory, so that the family client can get the best results.

 

The Theory Versus the Real World

Of course just because something makes perfect sense in theory, that doesn’t mean that it will work simply in the real world.

Thankfully, those who designed the FEA Program where I had that calling already knew about this “real world” challenge, and had purposefully included a team project into the curriculum.

For example, my project team included an insurance specialist, a CPA, a private banker, and me, who at the time was someone still trying to find his place in this field. 

I played the role of facilitator, and still very much enjoy that role today.

In fact, as my team came to learn, that role of coordinator and facilitator often turns out to me way more important than the other professionals ever imagined.

 

Many Challenges and Obstacles Remain

Such facilitators have a key role to play in how the actual collaboration will play out with the family. 

To many of the tactical specialists, we are often an “afterthought” because they haven’t necessarily been used to dealing with an entire family.

So many professionals have been accustomed to serving families more in theory than in practice, because they typically deal with only the head of the family or perhaps a couple.

Opening up the service offering to the entire family, which means at least two generations, means that there are many new considerations.

This poses certain challenges that can often be seen as more trouble than they are worth.

Rest assured though, that from the perspective of the family members from the rising generation, this difference is well worth the efforts in the end.

One Direction Only?

While the idea of collaboration is gaining wider acceptance and more advisors grasp the importance of working together, there is still much work to be done.

In fact, there seems to be a sort of “divide” that exists between the folks like me who specialize in the “family circle” and those whose practice involves the “business circle” and the “ownership circle”.

See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment (I’m referencing another blog from 2013, two weeks in a row!)

Whenever I have a client who needs something taken care of in those other circles, I always happily help them find the right resources and advisors so that they can be well served. 

Everyone else I know who works the family circle does the same.

There seems to be a general reluctance for those who specialize in the other two circles to return the favour.  Or maybe it’s just me.

 

Varying Degrees of Complexity Exist

Of course we aren’t talking rocket science here, and relatively simple family situations can obviously be handled by many advisors without the need to reach out for another person.

However, those whose entire career has been built on expertise in a particular domain aren’t expected to be adept and comfortable beyond a basic level of complexity and family conflict.

This is precisely where bringing in someone who has trained for this work make sense.

 

“Plays Well with Others”

Some professionals hesitate to bring in another advisor for fear of “losing the client”.

I can say with certainty that nobody is looking to “steal” your client. 

As children, we all got comments from our teachers that noted how we “play well with others”, and we get that the client family’s needs are what matter most.

 

What Do I Mean by “Win-Win-Win”?

And in case it isn’t clear what I mean with my “Triple Win”, the first one is the client family and the second is the advisor with the wisdom and courage to bring in another resource to deal with the family circle.

The third and final win is for that family circle expert who helps tie it all together.

From the Backyard to Twitter

In our backyard we’ve had a rather elaborate set-up of four bird feeders for the past few years, and my wife has assumed the role of the “bird queen”, regularly keeping them filled all summer.

We’re treated to almost daily sightings of cardinals and blue jays, among others.

Thanks to “spillage” the visitors make a big mess below, allowing some local rabbits from the neighbouring golf course to also feed on the seeds, which is a nice bonus.

Of course there are also other, less welcome, rodents.

 

Acrobatic Squirrels

Witnessing the efforts that squirrels go through to get their share of the bird food, you can only be amazed at their creativity.

They’re also cute enough, and certainly prove themselves worthy of the food they steal from the birds thanks to their work ethic. 

It’s been pointed out that without their fluffy tails they’re just rats that know how to climb, but they do have those cute tails.

So many people make the effort to feed only birds and not squirrels that there are literally hundreds of designs of feeders available that have been conceived specifically to thwart the squirrels’ efforts.

 

The Twitter Cartoon

Being a witness to the heroic efforts put out by both the squirrels and my wife to keep the feeders full for our avian friends, my antennae are attuned to stimuli relating to this constant battle.

Lo and behold while scrolling my Twitter feed recently I noticed a little cartoon that hit home.

The drawing featured a squirrel in a precarious position getting his fill from one of those feeders designed to keep him at bay, much like the one in this photo:

 

 

And the Thought Bubble Said…

The punch line was in the thought bubble, which let us in on what the little rodent was thinking as he feasted on the seeds:

     “This squirrel feeder sure wasn’t designed very well”

I had not seen that coming, and enjoyed the chuckle. 

And then I thought about how this lesson could be tied into the wonderful world of families who are preparing for an eventual transition of their business or wealth to the next generation.

 

Isn’t That a Bit of a Leap?

I mentioned my antennae earlier, and they’re attuned to this world 24/7/365, so it wasn’t much of a leap for me.

There are certainly some analogies and metaphors that I can derive from this cartoon, but I’m not sure that any are conclusive.

But we can have some fun kicking them around, so I hope you’ll join me here.

 

Your Family of Birds

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the birds that you want to feed are the family members.  You want them to have food so that they survive and thrive and keep coming back.

So who are the squirrels? This is where it gets more confusing, or maybe just more fun.

The squirrels could be all the other forces of nature that work against families who are trying to avoid the fate of families who succumb to the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”.

 

What About the Cartoon Squirrel?

We can’t hold anything against squirrels in general, because they’re just doing what their instincts are telling them to do, and they also need to eat.

But what about the particular squirrel from the cartoon, who actually thought that the food was being set out there for him?

I have an idea about who he represents and I need to be careful how I put this.

In my role guiding families through their intergenerational transitions, those families invariably work with other professionals who take care of the legal, structural and tax minimization details.

On occasion, some of those experts can take on a bit of a squirrelly attitude.

 

Don’t Do It “Bass Ackwards”

I suppose they’re also only doing what their instincts tell them to.  When families approach such experts not knowing what’s most important to them, priorities may get skewed and tax avoidance or limiting what heirs can do may end up driving things.

To me when the structures are put in place before the family has figured out what their legacy should look like, it’s kind of “bass ackwards”.

You really should figure out the family part first and then get the pros to draft the perfect structures to fit that.  

The priority needs to be the birds, not the squirrels.