Not Every Family Needs “Full Service”

The past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at “connecting” with members of client families and then matching the solutions we have to these families.

All this made me consider one of the biggest questions that people often have for me when they learn about the kind of work I do.

The questions come in a variety of forms, but generally boil down to this: “Who ARE these families that actually do all of this governance stuff?”, along with “where do you find them?”.

If you stopped 100 random people on the street, you likely wouldn’t meet any people from such families, and very few would even have a personal connection to one.

However, if you shared the names of families who continually work on their governance, those names would be recognizable to most.

Are We “Exceptional”; Do We Even Want to Be?

Not every family is destined to be exceptional, and many don’t envision themselves as such either. 

For some families, just imagining themselves in this way is actually unnatural and even abhorrent.

Too often, though, professionals who serve families who’ve achieved a certain level of wealth creation begin to make assumptions about what these families should be doing to preserve that wealth.

Well crafted strategies to minimize taxes and keep financial wealth protected have become the go-to starting point for such families, because a whole industry of professionals exists to take care of these issues.

I’m always wary of situations where the tail ends up wagging the proverbial dog, and for me the “dog” is the family.

I prefer to help the family figure out what makes it exceptional and then plan for ways to grow and preserve that.

Once the family has set those priorities, by all means then let’s get the professionals involved to figure out the best strategies to employ to help accomplish that.

Many Varieties and Versions, and Ways to Make Progress

Some families will have an operating business that they wish to preserve, and finding ways to ensure that it continues to evolve and thrive with the economy, while still being owned by the family, might be their focus.

Others may have had a liquidity event, and are now searching for new opportunities, either through direct investing or philanthropy, or both, and incorporating the rising generation of their family into those projects will take center stage.

Still others may be searching for ways to recreate the entrepreneurial spirit and create a “family bank” that will allow their offspring and all of their human capital to thrive in their own ways.

There are so many possibilities, and the path chosen will vary from one family to the next.

No Two the Same = All ARE Exceptional

And because no two families are the same, they ‘re each potentially exceptional in their own right.

Too often, as advisors, we want to show how smart we are and we rush to get the family moving on our pet project for them, and that where we may be doing them a disservice, hurrying them into action.

A family is a system of many moving parts, and it takes time to engage all of those people properly, to the point where they even understand and believe that there may be a “family project” that will arise from the financial resources that have been created, by previous generation(s) of their family.

Vision, Mission, and Values Work

Some colleagues reading this will nod their heads and agree that helping the family identify its values and then figure out a vision and mission are great first steps, and in many ways I agree with them.

I’m advocating for more basic connection work in advance of those specific projects, which then become more clear with time. 

Discovery work with such families can take months before recognizing where we should actually begin to co-create a family project together.

Yes, the values need to be surfaced at some point, typically early on. But then the mission and vision need to be carefully considered in the context of where the family is now, and what its capacity is to undertake its first steps together in new ways.

An Iterative Process, More Journey than Destination

We’re talking about a family journey over the coming decades together, so there should be no rush to complete the plan in days or weeks.

It should be an iterative process; more about a journey than a destination.

Plenty of Sophisticated Sellers Out There

The family enterprise world continues to evolve and mature, and it feels like the supply side is way ahead of the demand side in most cases, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

There really is no single reason for this, nor anyone at whom we need to point the finger of blame, it just seems to be that way.

With time and a bit of effort, and a bit more evolution and focus on what’s right for each particular family client, this is already beginning to change, albeit ever so slowly.

Let’s jump in and look at the problem I’ve dubbed “solutions in search of families”.

The “I Have a Hammer” Syndrome

The simplest version of the issue is that many solution providers are pretty much a “one-trick pony”.

If I go to the barber shop and ask them if I need a haircut, unless I got one there the day before, I can already guess the answer I’ll get.

Likewise, if a family leader who knows that they need to do “something” goes to see a lawyer, they’ll be offered a legal solution; if they start with an accountant, they’ll be offered an accounting solution, and so on.

For the simplest family cases, this is all “plenty good enough”.

For families with more complex situations, though, this is where we can end up with the tail wagging the proverbial dog.

Interdisciplinary Work Towards Custom Solutions

I have long been a fan of families working with a variety of different specialist experts in order to come up with a custom solution for their particular needs.

While it might seem expensive to involve so many highly compensated experts in such planning, the synergies the family gets almost always far outweigh the additional time and cost they absorb on the front end.

The field of such experts continues to evolve in this direction, as professionals learn to work together in the best interests of the families they serve.

As the pendulum continues to swing in this direction, I recently had lunch with a colleague, after which I had a bit of an “A-Ha” moment.

And it had little to do with the fact that I had just eaten the most expensive soup I’ve ever had. (Yes, it was delicious.)

Everything Is Available; Everything is Affordable

I’d been invited to lunch by a colleague from a large multi-family office (MFO) to discuss ways that I might be a resource to them and to the families they serve.

My original title for this post was “Beware Solutions in Search of Families”, because I had the “I have a hammer, so everything looks like a nail” idea in my head.

But the lunch with my MFO friend revealed another version of the challenge, so I rejigged the title to “Matching Solutions to Each Client Family”, because our discussion revealed a different challenge.

I heard about clients who could afford any and every possible “solution”, but for whom the “problem” to be solved had yet to be clearly identified.

I also heard about a firm that was positioned to be the resource to supply and/or coordinate each solution as needed, but, despite having their shelves fully stocked with great stuff, felt at a loss to figure out where to begin.

Crawl Before You Walk, Walk Before You Run

It became clear to me as I digested my soup and my seabass that both the supply side and the demand side of this equation, despite having met and decided that they were a good fit, were still at a bit of a loss to figure out the first steps.

Admittedly, I was hearing about some relatively new potential clients of this MFO, which for me is always the most interesting time, because there’s so much to discover.

My mind works on a much slower timeframe than most (thanks, Dad).

My advice was to proceed slowly, one step at a time.

You want to run with it, but you should walk first, and perhaps even crawl before that.

Taking Time to Properly Connect, First

If this has a familiar ring to something you read here recently, kudos for paying close attention.

Just last week, in Relationships Support Structure, What Supports Relationships, I wrote:


            “If you are privileged to work with families,

      and you want to solidify your relationships with them,

             it is well worth spending time and effort 

                on your deeper connection with them.”


I recognize that many advisors don’t feel like they have that luxury of time to build this connection.

My suggestion is to find the time, because it’s usually worth it.

Striving for the “All AND Nothing” Inheritance

So Much Better Than “All OR Nothing”

I’ve written around 500 blogs over the past decade, and sometimes I convince myself that I’ve shared all the gems I’ve ever heard, somewhere along the way.

And sometimes I find out I’ve missed some.

This past week, I was invited to be a guest on a podcast, and the host asked me for three to five things that all parents strive for as they imagine the inheritance they will leave.

I quickly recalled a nice blog post that dealt with three of them, The “Family HUG” We’re All Looking For, and then began to wonder which two others I could suggest as a good complement to those.

“Oh, I know”, I thought to myself, “let me find that blog about David York’s ‘All or Nothing’ concept!”.

As you may’ve guessed, I realized that I’ve yet to write that one, even though this nugget goes back a couple of years for me.

So, belatedly, here we go.

A Familiar Resource Once Again

Maybe it’s because I’ve shared York’s wisdom before, notably here: Great Expectations in Enterprising Families and Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two?, among others.

The “One or Stick Two” part of the dynamite one was probably what fooled me into thinking I’d already shared this week’s take-home message here.

Nevertheless, when you know of a thought leader like York, who shares good stuff regularly (and not just the same stuff over and over again), you know that you have someone worth paying continued attention to.

Just make sure you credit them for their ideas, and don’t try to claim them as your own; because this is a relatively small world, .

So, after all this build-up, I must be building up to something worthwhile, right?

They Can Handle It All

The first half of York’s two-part inheritance scenario is familiar to many.

Parents who have accumulated significant wealth will often worry about the capacity of their heirs to “handle” everything that they might possibly inherit.

As I wrote here, in Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom, they don’t want their offspring to screw up the wealth, and they also don’t want the wealth to screw up their family members.

Many professionals who advise such families have heard these concerns ad nauseam, to the point where an entire industry has sprung up to provide hundreds of structural “solutions” to this dilemma.

However, according to York (and other enlightened advisors), these parents should be working towards making sure that they have raised their offspring to be able to handle all of their wealth.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that after you’re gone, the wealth you leave your heirs will be well taken care of, because you raised them to be capable stewards?

Sounds Great. Okay, What’s Part 2?

And, if you do prepare your offspring to be able to handle the wealth that you plan to leave them, there’s actually an important side effect.

Chances are good that those who’ve been raised this way would actually also do just fine if ever you decided to leave them nothing.

That’s the second part of this, in case you hadn’t already guessed it.

Everyone thinks wealth is all about the money, but it’s really all about the people. Wealth comes and goes, sometimes remarkably quickly, in families.

The difference is rarely about the size of the pile, it’s more about the people entrusted to look after it.

Preparing Them for Either Scenario Is the Same

What if you did leave them nothing?

Let’s be clear, this is not a suggestion that you not leave anything to your heirs, that’s not it at all.

People do that for various reasons, and some famous ultra-wealthy people have publicly stated their plans to leave modest sums to their progeny. That’s a whole other discussion, perhaps for another post.

My point is that raising your offspring to be self-sufficient and independent is something everyone should strive for, regardless of how much financial wealth is at stake.

If they’re prepared to receive nothing, they’ll also likely be prepared to handle everything.

Which One Should You Aim For?

This is a bit of a “chicken and egg” question, which makes it intriguing.

If you have significant wealth, being concerned that it’ll be too much to handle is normal, so parents sometimes resort to warning their children that they’ll get nothing.

Preparing them for nothing AND for everything will probably work out better.

Either that or preparing them for everything AND nothing.

Go for AND, not OR.

Five Key Considerations

Once a family has accumulated a good deal of financial wealth, at some point, it becomes wise for them to shift their focus from making their proverbial pie bigger, to figuring out how to preserve the pie and transition it to future generations.

This is typically a bigger challenge than expected, and despite having access to high-caliber experts to assist them, families often stumble here.

Many speak of family legacy (including me), but this week I’m pivoting to a related concept, to answer another question, i.e. “How do you build a family dynasty?”

Here are five important things to consider when thinking about this complex subject.

1. Families Grow Exponentially

As soon you mention the word “dynasty”, my mind quickly goes into “multi-generation” mode as a basic assumption.

We’re usually talking about wealth creation that began with one generation and then continued through at least one or two more generations.

Something that creeps up on families trying to stay on top of this is simple math. 

As you add each generation of offspring, you’re adding people (or households, sometimes a simpler way to count) at an exponential or geometric rate.

If you take an example of three children per family, you go from one household to four, as the three leave the nest, and then if each of the three have three offspring, that’s already nine more.

I’ll stop the math there, but once you add that next generation, it quickly skyrockets.

2. Will the financial wealth grow at the same pace? 

That takes some work, and usually lots of luck too!

  • What Got You Rich Won’t Keep You Rich

Wealth is often created via an entrepreneurial venture that becomes a family business, or more recently by success in entertainment or sports, or having shares in a unicorn business that goes public.

Those occurrences do not typically happen or repeat often, and so the odds of them showing up in the same family again within another generation or two are low.

My point is, the skills that got you rich are not the same ones that will keep you rich

That realization doesn’t always come quickly to the one who caught lightning in a bottle and then believes they have some special power and invincibility.

3. It’s More About People Than Money

I know that almost everyone thinks it’s mostly about the money, but that isn’t typically where things go sour.

Having lots of money and then staying rich isn’t that difficult if you’re only trying to satisfy one person, or one household.

When you consider a family that’s growing exponentially (see #1, above), making sure there isn’t a revolution, as they work to stay wealthy and become a dynasty family, you begin to realize it’s the people that you need to pay attention to, even more so than the dollars.

4. Family Governance Is Key

Long time readers of my work won’t be surprised that this post is now pivoting towards a pontification about family governance, because that’s a hobby horse I ride quite regularly.

Every dynasty family will continually need to work on answering three main questions:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate effectively?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

When people hear the term governance, in relation to family issues, they typically make an unpleasant face, and I get that. 

That’s when I share those three questions as my definition, which is easier for most to grasp.

5. The Work Is Never Done

Family governance itself has a few key characteristics that make it special.

  • It’s less about formal agreements, structures, and mechanisms
  • It’s more about informal agreements and ways of being together
  • You cannot simply buy it off the shelf from an expert
  • You need to co-create it as a family
  • It needs to evolve as the family and its needs evolve

For those reasons, plus the fact that each of the growing numbers of people also continues to evolve, this is never a “one and done” or “set it and forget it” situation.

Yes, there are some family dynasties around, but not that many.

If you look at them closely, you’ll probably see that they fully understand the points I’ve shared here.

Can it be done? Yes.  

Will it be easy? No. 

Is this for your family?

A Shortcut for “In the Moment” Challenges

Most of what I write about each week focuses on issues on the far end of the spectrum of the “long-term vs short-term” continuum.

I’m referring to the loooooong term, in case that wasn’t clear.

I work in the intergenerational wealth transition space, which typically concentrates on years, decades, and lifetimes, not hours, minutes, and seconds.

However, just as each year contains many hours, each of us runs into challenges on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes a little “life hack” will come in handy.

So this week, for a change, I’m focusing on the other end of the continuum, the very short term.

“Oh Crap! Now What?”

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter was charged with organizing an event over a weekend, which involved a few dozen people coming together, indoors, for an inter-collegiate competition.

It happened to be a curling bonspiel, for the curious.

Thanks to COVID, all of last season had been wiped out, and this was the first tournament of the new season, so there was plenty of uncertainty. 

It was also the first time she’d been in charge of such an event.

When I spoke to her by phone on Friday evening, things were going fine.

Alas, I awoke Saturday to a text from her that read, “Please call me whenever you get the chance, thanks” and the time stamp was 7:09 AM. 

I also noticed that I had missed her recent call, because my ringer was off.

Daughter in Need = Dad as Hero?

If you have very independent young adult offspring like me, you learn to relish any opportunity to feel needed in their lives, so this could be a rare chance to play hero.

I called her right away, got a quick “I’ll call you back in ten”, and my mind went to work, wondering how best to be a “responsive, reliable, resource to her.

How I would frame all my experience and wisdom for her, I began to contemplate.

  • “What’s your ROLE here?”, I thought, would be a good place to start to help her clarify whatever the challenge was.
  • “What’s your GOAL, in that role?” would be a great next step to help her think through.
  • “What is actually within your CONTROL?”, I considered adding, lest she begin to worry about things over which she had none.

Proud Wise Dad, Ready to Serve!

Well, wouldn’t you know it, when she did call, I never got to share this wisdom, as the issue had already been settled.

One player had a close contact with someone who’d tested positive for COVID, so he needed to declare himself ineligible, and they were able to find a replacement. 

It turned out to be a very wet firecracker for Dad to help her out with.

But wait, I write a blog every week, and am constantly on the lookout for ideas to write about.

Now, how do I turn this into something that affects enterprising families, as I typically do?

The Meta Version!

Well, I imagine that many parents of your adults face similar challenges of how best to be useful to them, without over-functioning and jumping in to fix things for them.

Maybe I could apply this Role/Goal/Control hack to myself and see what happens. 

Here goes…

My role could be summarized as follows

  • Resource; thinking partner; coach.

My goal

  • Get her to a place where she feels confident that she can handle the situation; without being too directive; so that in the future she will readily reach out to me again

What can I control

  • My tone; my positivity; my brief words of encouragement to her.

Wrong Answers Only Version

Role: “Wise Dad” with all the answers.

Goal: Get her to listen to my wisdom.

Control: Well, this is where it falls apart, doesn’t it?

In reality, I’m not the one running this tournament, as much as I want it to be a success, I have no say in anything, and all I can really control is my interaction with her, which will likely only last a couple of minutes.

Take-Away Wisdom

While I wasn’t able to try out my life hack “in the wild”, I still like it and will keep it handy.

I hope others find it useful, especially those of you who over-estimate the sphere of your control.


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.

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?