Posts

Coaching and Podcasting Combine for Lessons

Ideas for these blog topics come from anywhere and everywhere for me, and often they just seem to combine thoughts from one part of my life with something from a very different sphere.

And so once again I’ll write about how some seemingly random discussions have come together for me in a way that allows me to share ideas that can be useful to families and those who advise them.

Regular readers will likely be familiar with the fact that I’ve done coach training and certification, that I’m a huge fan of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI), and that I have also been on a number of podcasts, on both sides of the mic.

All of these will come together this week in this piece.


Listening Without Judgement Is Where It Begins

Whenever people ask me about the coaching training that I did years ago with CTI, I almost always end up sharing the importance of listening without judgement, because that’s one of the two main takeaways from that whole training. 

(The other is “being with”, for the record.)

Of course knowing that you need to listen without judgement and being able to actually do it does require a LOT of practice, but that’s a whole other post. 

(Perhaps Skills vs. Knowledge in Family Enterprises?)

Being able to listen to someone speak, while suspending your own personal judgement about what you are hearing, is not as easy as it might sound, and for some people it’s almost impossible.

But if you want to be a resource for people who work with their family members, or who own assets together with their siblings, you won’t get far without that ability.


It’s Much More Than Just Listening

At first I really only thought about the listening aspect, but I had a recent A-Ha moment that put this subject back on my radar.

During one of the recent weekly Tuesday Thought Leader webinars hosted by PPI, the guests were Sandi Bragar and Cammie Doder, who co-host a podcast called Money Tales, where they interview guests about the role that money has played in their lives.

Having been one of their guests, I joined this webinar with added interest.

During the webinar, Sandi noted that it was important not to judge people as you interview them, and I naturally thought to myself “yeah, listening without judgement strikes again”, but then it hit me.

They’re interviewing people, so they aren’t only listening, they’re also asking!


Asking Without Judgement

So many of our conversations contain questions and answers, therefore much of the listening we do comes in response to our questions.

As you work with people with the goal of helping them through situations, you need to ask about a lot of subjects. 

If you want to truly understand someone, which is pretty useful when you are trying to make their lives better in some way, it’s kind of important for you to get their true thoughts.

It should not surprise you that I think that what you ask them, and perhaps even more importantly how you ask them, can be pretty important.

Of course as mentioned last week in Yes, AND… Don’t Neglect the Follow-Through there is no magical “secret list of questions”

And even if there were, you need to know how to ask them (without judgement).


Being Curious for All It’s Worth

The good news is that once you realize how key it is to park your judgement at the door, it actually gets easier with practice.

Engaging and flexing your curiosity muscles can also be a big help, and if you truly want to be a trusted resource to a family, you really should be curious about what makes them tick.

Of course simply being curious doesn’t necessarily force you to ask less judgemental questions, it could actually take you even further in the wrong direction if you get too “inquisitive”.

I’m flashing back to when my kids were young and I can hear my son objecting to my dirty look with “What? I was only asking her a question” after an exchange with his sister.


Judgemental Family Members Are the Norm

It’s actually quite normal for the members of a family to judge each other; many have been doing it for decades.

We can’t expect them to change much after getting so much practice.

And that’s an even better reason why we, as the outsider, need to offer them something different.

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.

 

 

 

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.

It’s not often that I go out on a limb right off the top of these posts, but I suppose coming out against the importance of efficiency could certainly qualify as going against the tide when talking about business.

Of course I don’t typically deal in true business subjects, since my preferred domain is that of family business, where my emphasis is on the family aspects.

Getting things done quickly and efficiently seems like a laudable goal of course, with some notable exceptions.

The main exceptions I’d like to note here are those where you need to bring in the entire wisdom of a group of people, and where it’s important for everyone to feel heard.

Such situations abound in the family circle part of family enterprises, or, said better, enterprising families.


When Finishing Faster Isn’t the Key

I’ve dealt with certain examples of this before, notably in Going FAR? Go TOGETHER, which deals with a scenario involving a group of siblings in the rising generation of their family, preparing to eventually take on leadership roles, both in the business and in the family.

In recent months I’ve been involved in two group processes where I’ve truly embraced the idea of throwing efficiency and speed out the window, with positive results (so far).

The first example took place in a professional organisation I’ve been involved with as a volunteer for the past few years, as part of a committee charged with an important role in putting on our annual conference event.

The second example is ongoing, and has me playing a facilitation and mediation role with a sibling group who share ownership of some legacy assets together.

 

Professional Development “Live Case” Opportunity

In the first case, my role had recently changed from simply being a member of the committee to now leading it. I had the benefit of following in the footsteps of someone who had done a great job before me, but that also gave me big shoes to fill.

There are always challenges in putting on an annual event in the summer but having to make most of the planning decisions months ahead of time, and these are only magnified by the pandemic’s uncertainty as to what will even be possible regarding large groups six months out.

So we definitely had a number of considerations, lots of moving parts, and a general lack of clarity around much of the information we needed to base our decisions upon.

We also on-boarded three new volunteers to the committee, and the admin person from the organisation was also new, and had never been part of our annual event.

 

Learning About How to Be with the Group

There was plenty of pressure on us to come to some final decisions but I resisted the temptation to push for some closure on some items that I knew could and should wait.

It was way more important to make sure we took the time to consider all our options, evaluate a number of ideas, and take advantage of the wisdom of all the members of the committee.

As the head of the group, an important part of my role was to set the right tone and pace for our deliberations. 

Weighing many interdependent considerations and allowing everyone to share their inputs was more important than the somewhat arbitrary deadlines that could have distracted us.

 

Getting a Family to Take Their Time

The practice I got from working with that group set me up nicely for a new client situation where I’ve used some of those lessons to good effect.

This sibling group is getting used to some new realities and are learning to work under a more democratic decision-making framework than they were used to.

That kind of adjustment takes time, not only in terms of minutes and hours spent together, but in the days and weeks that are needed for new realities and understandings to sink in to each person’s thinking.

When you combine that with a severe “information asymmetry” between insiders who’ve always played key roles, and those who have spent their lives on the outside looking in, it’s key to set a pace that allows everyone not only to be a part of the process, but to feel like they’re part of the process, on relatively equal footing.

 

That methodology isn’t the most efficient, but wasn’t it the tortoise who won the race?

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.

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.

University of Vermont Case Competition

Every January for the last several years, the college town of Burlington Vermont has become the center of attention for people from around the globe.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t (yet) a worldwide phenomenon, but, for students learning about Family Enterprise, this is the one place that hosts the annual Schlesinger Global Family Enterprise Case Competition (SG-FECC).

The University of Vermont (UVM) has been doing this for a few years (this was the 8th edition) and they have it down to a science.

This year it was held virtually, for reasons that don’t require much explanation, and that could have caused all sorts of challenges (and likely did) but you never would’ve noticed.

 

An Impressive Bunch of Young Leaders

The second part of my title references a movie featuring one of my favourite rock bands of my childhood, The Who, so perhaps I’m dating myself here.

But I really wanted to properly frame the “A-Ha moment” that I had this year, similar to the one I’ve had every time I’ve participated as a judge. If I’m not mistaken, this was my 6th time.

You may think that I’m talking about the competitors, who come from schools all over the world, every year.  And you’d be right, the students who compete in the Case Competition have impressed me every year.

 

It’s really nice to see the social aspect of the competition when it’s done in person, noticing that some of these undergraduate and graduate students are seeing snow for the first time in their lives.

 

A Huge Volunteer Undertaking by UVM Students

But it’s much bigger than just the competitors, it’s the entire organizing committee, which is composed of a few dozen students, who take care of everything from A to Z.

Yes, they are led by a few paid “adults” who work for UVM in various capacities, all of whom fall under the watchful eye of the brainchild and fearless leader of this project since Day 1, Pramodita Sharma.

But what impresses me every year is just how mature, competent, professional and diligent these young people are, and what they’re able to pull off, with only minimal supervision.

What they do have is structure and people who have done the job in previous years.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like many family businesses, and that’s where we’ll turn now.

 

Motivated and Aligned Young People

The young people of today, who many label as Generation Z, are so impressive to me, in so many ways.

I know that many business families can be hesitant to incorporate these youngsters into important roles, but from my vantage point, many of them are way more ready than the young 20-somethings of decades past.

They also benefit from having grown up with the latest technology, and with school systems that do a much better job of giving them practice at working together on projects from a young age.

Many also seem to be much better than their elders at harnessing the collective wisdom of the groups to which they belong.

They typically have plenty of motivation, so if you already have some structure and some vision, they can often handle way more than you might expect. 

 

Great Examples Abound

The recent Presidential Inauguration gave us another great display, as Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Poet Laureate knocked my socks off with her poem.

My own kids are 19 and 21, and I see so much promise in them and their friends too.  I see it in my clients’ rising generations and at SG-FECC every year too.

With the recent passing of Hank Aaron, I happened to hear his Baseball Hall of Fame speech, in which he said “A man’s ability is limited only by his lack of opportunity”

Amen.

 

Many Winners, Especially Wilfrid-Laurier and ESADE

There were many winners at SG-FECC this year, especially those from Wilfrid-Laurier University (Canada), who won the undergraduate competition, and ESADE (Spain) who took top spot in the graduate category.

I look forward to being back in Burlington for the next “in person” version, whenever that is possible.

Meantime, like so many other areas of life these past few months, we’re all adapting and realizing how much we can all still accomplish even in these sub-optimal conditions.

And with these promising young people taking on bigger roles all the time, the future is bright.