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Some New Ways to Look at Conflict in Families

Anyone who’s ever been involved in a family enterprise knows that the potential for conflict is never far away. 

Those of us who work in an advisory capacity for such families have seen every sort of denial and attempt to pretend that “our family is different”, yet those are actually quite rare.

There isn’t necessarily anything new under the sun for me to share here, but I did come across a couple of new angles on this question recently, and I thought they were worth writing about, if only to spur more discussion on the topic.


A Recent FFI Session on Conflict

The Family Firm Institute hosted a recent half-day webinar on the subject of conflict, and since two friends and colleagues of mine were among those presenting, I thought I’d check it out.

They did a nice job of covering the territory and the feedback was great. My take-away tidbit, though, came from a comment from another experienced practitioner in one of the break-out rooms.

She’s someone who not only works with business families, but has also lived the family business experience, having followed her father into this work.

She recalled a quote of his, which was the initial inspiration for this post:

           “We don’t run from conflict. We dance with conflict”

“Ooooh, I like that”, I thought, as I jotted it down. “This will turn into a blog post”.  (Thanks KSM)

Something Good from Social Media

The second different angle that came my way followed in short order, when I wasn’t expecting it, from social media.

I love LinkedIn and have found many treasures there, initiated plenty of relationships there, and swear that there’s nothing else like it for business.

But my go-to “regular” social media is Twitter, which I use mostly for news, sports, and politics, because I’m a bit of a junkie for those subjects.

But every once in a while, I get a great nugget there too, and this was once such case.

I follow Dan Rockwell, a.k.a. LeadershipFreak, and he shared a tweet about conflict that included this magic line:

                         “Conflict Is a Leadership Opportunity”

If you go to stevelegler.com and use the “search” function and type in “conflict”, you’ll find blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. that discuss conflict in various ways.

But I’ve never, ever, heard it put this way, and it struck me.


One Plus One Equals Five

So now we have a couple of elements to work with, and you may already see where I’m going.

We’re talking about dancing and leadership, and when people dance together, ideally, in most cases, someone takes the lead, and it helps when their partner is a good follower.

This metaphor actually has some legs, and the feet at the end of them are wearing their dancing shoes!

And we haven’t even brought in the dance teacher yet, who, if they’re any good at their job, will always play the appropriate level and speed of music so the dancers can succeed.


Willing Partners as a Starting Point

In order for any family to deal with their conflict, they need to acknowledge that it exists, and then someone needs to have the courage to take the lead and put it on the table and insist that it’s high time that the family face it and manage it.

Notice I did not say “make it go away”, because that’s usually not a very realistic expectation and can be a bridge too far.

It’s rare for conflict to completely disappear, but acknowledging it can usually allow people to discuss it in ways that they can learn to make some changes in order to be able to manage it.


Or Maybe You Need the Teacher First

It’s great when the participants are ready to discuss the conflict and try to dance with it by themselves, but sometimes there’s an unwillingness to engage from someone, usually caused by a fear of making things worse.

In such cases, it can help if you find yourself a “dance instructor”, who can then convince the other party that you can learn how to dance with conflict together.

Or even if the parties aren’t all ready for the dance lessons, the motivated party might begin searching for someone who can hopefully lead them to some agreement down the road. 

There are opportunities for leadership whenever there’s conflict. Who will step up in your family?

Plenty of Reasons to Make Such a Move

What used to be an obscure corner of the world of wealthy families has begun to go more mainstream over the past decade or so.

Whereas the term “family office” has existed for a long time, it used to elicit raised eyebrows of confusion, which nowadays have given way to nodding heads instead.

In many cases the confusion remains, but more people have heard the term and hence think that they know what someone is referring to when they hear it used.

Let’s dive in and look more deeply at this, from the perspective of the family who should be at the center of any family office, rather than the view of the professionals who work for such enterprises.


“If You’ve Seen One Family Office….”

Confusion about the family office space is compounded by the fact that no two family offices are alike, nor should they be.

They exist to serve a family, and every family is different and therefore has different needs, plus these needs evolve and change over time, meaning that they’re in a regular state of flux (or at least they should be).

This topic could take up an entire book (and it has) and I’m trying to hit a sliver of it in a blog post, so let’s get to the question in the title, “Why would a family even consider setting up a family office?”


On Inflection Points, Evolution, and Leadership

I’ve written on this subject before, notably in Putting the Family in the Family Office, for my site, as well as for other websites, for example, Don’t Forget the Family at the Family Office.

For a family to suddenly decide it needs a family office, there’s usually a catalyst, and the most frequent one is a liquidity event. 

For readers unfamiliar with that term, think about a family that owns a business worth $100 million one day, but then sells it and suddenly has $100 million of “liquid assets” instead.

Such a family suddenly has a new set of priorities and needs, and a family office can be the ideal way to address those.

Other families create a family office when they reach various inflection points as they evolve, often when there’s new leadership in the family, thanks to a generational transition.

But let’s never forget that the family’s needs should be driving everything (although this is often the exception rather than the rule).


After the Why – When, Where, Who and How

The Why and the When are typically connected, as the event kicks things into motion, bringing up other questions.

I laugh when I see articles about the best places in the world to set up a family office, focused on jurisdictions that are advantageous for tax and investment reasons.

Regular readers know my penchant for focusing on the family’s human capital over its financial capital.

The Where may become a factor as things evolve, but is rarely a huge concern at inception, unless there are billions of dollars involved.

The main questions I suggest families focus on are all about Who and How.


Don’t Forget the Family!

I’m a firm believer in having some family members involved at some level, because the family office will be responsible for a huge amount of the family’s net worth, and like any family business, the owners can and should play an important role.

If no family member is qualified to play the top investment role or handle other important executive functions, it becomes paramount for someone from the family to at least become quite conversant and comfortable with these subjects.

There’s certainly at least an oversight role that needs to remain in the hands of competent family members.


One Person at a Time: Grow with the Flow

One of the most important parts of the How is the question of timing.

I almost always advocate for a “go slow” approach, because you really want to get the culture right.

Hiring a person and making sure they’re the right fit takes time, and when you set up a family office, you’re truly playing the long game.

You need to find competent people to fill the roles that you can’t handle within the family.

When you add more people, you want to make sure they all fit well together too, and that’s not something to rush through either.

And since they’ll all be serving your family, you’ll want more than one family member involved in the selection process too, maybe several.

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.

When Two Words Arrive in the Same Sentence

This week we’re going to do a bit of “freestyling” in this space, and see where it goes.

Regular readers are likely familiar with my penchant for taking some seemingly arbitrary topics or words and trying to weave them together into something useful and entertaining for those interested in the family enterprise space.

I’m writing this during the Christmas holidays, so it feels right to just reflect a bit and see what comes out. Thanks for joining me.

 

A Coaching Session as an Inspiration

As a coach, I think it’s important to also work with my own coach too, because it really helps to underscore how much one can gain from this kind of relationship.

It would feel pretty disingenuous if one of my clients asked me about my coach and my reply was “Who?”.

A few weeks ago during one of my sessions with Melissa, I uttered a sentence that contained “observe” and “absorb”.

Now you may not think that that’s noteworthy and I wouldn’t blame you. But as someone who writes 52 blogs every year, I need to find my inspirations wherever I can.

 

Observation is an Obvious One

When I work with members of a business family, one of the biggest things that I bring to them is an outsider’s perspective on what they’re living.

Lately I’ve been using an aquarium example to illustrate this, and I think it works pretty well.

I have a 90-gallon aquarium at home and a 55-gallon tank in my office, so this inspiration is never far away.

I know that the way I observe the fish in my aquariums is quite different from the way they observe each other.

The fact that I’m outside the system gives me an ability to see the bigger picture, and it allows me to have a much wider perspective of what’s going on within the system.

I need to constantly remind myself, though, that I need to work at staying out of the system, or else I’d quickly lose much of the objectivity that my outsider status affords me

 

And What About the Absorbing Part?

The part about absorbing might be a bit less obvious, but let’s see if we can make it make sense here. Whereas the observation part was more about the space aspect (i.e. big picture, outsider) the absorbing is more about time.

This is where thinking about a sponge can be helpful. When a sponge is completely dry, it has a lot of potential to absorb liquid, but it can’t do it instantaneously. It takes a few seconds to be able to take everything in.

And whereas the observing is typically something done with the eyes, the absorbing involves the heart and your emotions, and is more of a full-body experience.

Absorbing Anxiety from the Emotional Field

As an outsider to a family system, a great deal of my focus is on observing the emotional field of the family when they’re together.  It’s amazing to note the difference in baseline anxiety levels from one family to another.

Some families have a “modus vivendi” of being together that’s very easygoing and free, while with others you can almost feel the tension. See Family Governance, More than a Modus Operandi

You can guess which families are more fun to work with, and they also seem to have more success in transitioning their business and wealth to the next generation.

When working with a family where there’s some tension, part of my role is to absorb some of it, almost like taking a sponge and soaking up some of the extra and trying to keep things tidy.

 

Family Members Assuming Their Roles

Naturally the observing and absorbing are not limited to the outside coach or facilitator, as each family member is also doing some of each.

Families with whom I work have typically already recognized a certain level of interdependence that they have with each other, and they are therefore part of a system where there’s a good deal of focus on all of their one-to-one relationships as well.

When the family members are able to make factual observations about each other, that’s usually a sign of progress.

At the same time, they’re hopefully acting in ways where there is less “absorbing” going on.

When all family members have adult-to-adult relationships and everyone becomes a resource to everyone else, you’re really in business. I love to observe that.

 

What Are We FOR as a Family

Let’s Point in the Right Direction

It can often be way too easy to concentrate on things we don’t want, and some personality types are really good at finding fault and complaining.

While strictly speaking the negative and positive are simply two different sides of the same coin, I find that accentuating the positive can make a huge difference. 

This is true with individuals, but especially with groups of people.

Families who are trying to find ways to continue to work together over the long haul, i.e. into the next generation (and beyond) would do well to heed this advice.

 

Reframing to the Positive Angle 

Of course it’s fine to talk about what we don’t want, for a time, because sometimes that’s actually much more clear.

Eventually, as you work with someone who is looking to grow, improve, or change in some way, you need to focus on what they do want, and what they need to do to get that.

And as I mentioned, with a group, this takes on an even more important role.

Negativity can be contagious, and if a group of people are supposed to be working towards a common goal, one nay-sayer can quickly enroll others and creating positive momentum will become more of a challenge.

 

Start with One Person

The good news here is that it really can all start with one person.  

A family’s values or vision begins by asking each person to share their own values and vision, and then working with the group to try to shape some consensus on common vision and values that they can all agree on and get behind.

When things bog down, either in such exercises or other scenarios involving a family working towards some common goal, the way through is typically achieved when someone feels strongly enough to verbalize some strong feelings.

The leadership that such a family must exhibit almost always channels some positive view of what they see FOR the family, as opposed to what they don’t want.

 

Look for Exponential Magic

That leader can be the spark that the family needs to make progress. But, one person can only get so far all alone.

As I detailed in The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration, if that person can find another family member to see the light, they can really begin to make progress. 

And once they enroll a third, they can start to roll forward with some momentum.

Not that any of this necessarily moves quickly, but there is usually a certain natural progression involved.

 

Important Support Along the Way Too

Because this can be a frustrating and lonely time for that family leader, sometimes called the “Family Champion” (but typically only in retrospect), it can be important for that person to have some outside support.

As I wrote about a few months ago in Coaching for Current & Future Family Leaders, coaching is really made for situations like these.

Furthermore, coaching is also made for times like these, and by that I mean during a pandemic where so many things are up for discussion and the future is as uncertain as it’s been in a long time.

Coaching Only One Family Member Works Too

One of the things I’ve recently noticed, since doing my coaching certification last year, is that a coach can help a family make a lot of progress, without ever meeting them.

Okay, so as I re-read that sentence, I realized that it can actually be taken in a couple of different ways, so let me unpack it a bit.

What I set out to say was that by working with only one person from a family, a coach can increase the effectiveness of that family leader to effectuate change and make progress with the rest of the family system.

The second way one could take that previous sentence is to note that a coach can work with a client without ever meeting them in person

Indeed, I have several clients I’ve never been in the same room with.

 

What Am I FOR, What Are We FOR

Circling back to the topic of the week, the coach will concentrate on supporting the clients as they work towards getting their family aligned towards things that they can all be FOR.

That family leader will already usually have some ideas of what they are FOR, individually, and with their coach they can then work on ways of strengthening the family relationships so as to get the family ready to embark on the journey as well.

There are lots of good metaphors that one can use to talk about things that happen in business families, and when I hear a new one it’ll usually make its way into one of these blog posts.

I often talk about the eclectic inspirations for my posts, and this one actually came during a meditation recording that I was listening to one morning recently.

The meditation leader was working listeners through a visualization, and began talking about untying a knot.  He then went on to the idea of starting on the outside, and working your way into the middle.

Hmmm, I thought, this could be a nice metaphor for a blog post, I hope I remember to note this idea when the recording is over.  (I did).

Another Bilingual Twist

Regular readers will also know that whenever I come across an interesting translation item, I love to flag it here as well, and if you like it when I do that, you’re in luck.

There’s a word that’s sometimes used in English, “dénouement”, which means “the final part of a play, or movie, in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.

People who know some French may recognize the root word in the center of “dénouement”, i.e. “noeud” (trust me on this one), which is the literal translation of “knot”, so it’s actually about untying a knot.  

Well I thought it was pretty cool…

 

Family Business Issues

The way I think about all this with business families, is mostly about how an outsider often enters into a system with many players, and immediately gets confronted with a confusing mess.

As I like to say when explaining the basics of family systems theory to people, yes, you need to look at all the components of the system, i.e. the various people, BUT, more importantly, you need to look at the relationships between the people, because that’s where all the action is.

I sometimes refer to this as each person being a “point” (of a triangle, for example) and the relationships being the lines that join the points into a shape (i.e. the triangle).

If we now turn these lines into pieces of rope, string, or wire, we get our proverbial knot.

 

Going from the Outside, In

So now let’s go back to the meditation idea that talked about starting on the outside and working our way in.  It seems only logical to proceed this way, right?

Well, as an outsider, yes, it is obvious.

If, however, you’re one of the people involved, and you are dealing with your sibling, parent, child, or cousin, how obvious is it?  And what if you add an “s” to each of those (siblings, parents, etc.) and what about changing the “or” in that question to an “and”?

Those are rhetorical questions of course, but my point is that when you are in the middle of a big mess, or knot, if you prefer, the idea of looking at it from an outsider’s perspective is rarely top of mind.

 

Neutral Third Party

When the members of a family business are stuck in a “knot”, I think it makes plenty of sense for them to reach out to someone on the outside, someone who is neutral, who won’t take sides.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of where a family might find such a resource, let’s think about what this person could bring to the situation.

The family members who are involved will surely have challenges with viewing things with the objectivity required to find a resolution, and so objectivity is clearly one of the greatest benefits an outsider can bring.

 

Calming Presence

But in addition to an objective, unemotional perspective, what this person can also offer is a calming presence, which should allow all participants some time to breathe and think more clearly.

The outside is definitely the best place to begin to untie any knot, and if you can find someone who is already on the outside, then you can be well on your way to starting to make some progress.

A situation may look difficult and drastic from the inside, but a neutral third party can be just what you need to work you all through to the dénouement you all need.

 

This week we’re back to an “A vs B” blog, which I love because the format fits so nicely with my way of explaining things and the nature of a weekly blog, where I share quick insights into various aspects of family wealth transitions.

There’s also a cool back story to the genesis of this idea, and, to top it all off, it involves a couple of tools that we don’t use every day.

Let’s get into the way this came up for me first, and go from there.

 

Searching for a Family Champion

About six months ago, I was looking for someone who fit the bill of a “family champion”, as I was planning, along with colleague Joshua Nacht, to lead a breakout session at this summer’s Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

I should probably direct you to a blog I wrote around that time on the subject of the Family Champion, which is a term that still is not as well known as it should be. 

See The Unsung Role of the Family Champion

It was as a result of our search for someone to join us at the conference to better explain and demonstrate this concept and role that we came upon the perfect specimen.

Because people from business families typically prefer not to be written about in random blogs, I’m going to refer to the young woman we found (and co-opted) simply as “Terry” (not her real name).

 

Champions Are Motivated

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that a family champion, like anyone who wears the title “champion”, not coincidentally, is typically a very motivated person.

When Joshua and I had our first Zoom call with Terry to start planning the details of our session, Terry impressed us both with her story about how she emerged and evolved into the champion role in her business family.

She shared some stories about how when she first began to ask questions of others in her family, and in the business, about how things were set up and how they were being run, she actually had a bit of a “sledgehammer” approach.

I love a great metaphor, so this one really resonated with me, and I made a note of it to make sure that she would mention it during the presentation. (I also made a note about it as a blog topic)

But the metaphor, as I would soon find out, was not yet complete.

 

Evolution to a Calmer Approach

As Terry continued to detail the progress she has made over the years at becoming a more effective family champion, she shared that she had to learn to soften her approach over time.

“Now, I find that the “chisel” can be much more effective than the “sledgehammer”” she said.

That combo metaphor just has to become a blog post, I thought.

Many Tools in Every Toolbox

My love of great metaphors is only enhanced when they also conjure up blog posts from the past, such as this one: The Tradesman and the Toolbox.

That blog was about how the person wielding the tool is usually a more important component in the success of the mission than the tools themselves.  And this is also the case for Terry.

It wasn’t that the chisel she was now deploying was sharper, or better constructed, it was that her approach to the task had her evolve to a place where she now recognized that using a chisel was a more appropriate tool than the sledgehammer that she had chosen at the outset of her journey.

 

One Tool Is Rarely Sufficient

This also brings up the question about the sequence and selection of tools.  Had Terry started out with just a chisel, we can be almost certain that she wouldn’t be where she is now, because at the beginning, the sledgehammer served its purpose.

Likewise, had she continued to swing the sledgehammer and never switched to a softer, more meticulous approach, I have no doubt that she would have run into different problems, and have only herself to blame.

 

Focus on the Process, Not the Content

 

She used different tools along the way, and will certainly need to deploy others going forward for optimal success.

Being proficient with the tools, and knowing when to use each, are more important than many realize.

 

Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

This week’s post was inspired by a recent Zoom call that I was on with a group of like-minded colleagues.  The group consists of people trained in Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), which became an interest of mine about five years ago.

Actually, I was more than just “interested” in BFST; I recently published a book about how it illuminates the field of intergenerational wealth transitions. (See Interdependent Wealth)

In the book, I also share my journey of learning and discovery of the fascinating world of BFST.

 

“Uncomfortable Conversations”

On that call, one colleague related a story about a recent meeting that she had had at her workplace, where some “uncomfortable conversations” took place.

She shared her reaction to the conversations, and how she was able to maintain objectivity towards the subject, not allowing her emotions to derail her thinking, thanks to her understanding of, and training in, Bowen Theory.

During the ensuing discussion, someone referred to that conversation, and dubbed it a “productive conversation”.

And suddenly in my head, there it was, “A-Ha!”, there’s definitely a blog post in this idea. 

I know that lots of business families face these issues around “tough” conversations all the time.

 

Of Productivity and Discomfort

In the example from above, that conversation was deemed uncomfortable, and also productive. My understanding of the productive aspect is that it likely resulted in an ability to move forward on some important matter(s).

If I frame this question around just the area of conversations, I might ask, “Does every productive conversation have to be uncomfortable?”

Or, turning it around, “Is every uncomfortable conversation productive?”

I think everyone would agree that the answer to both questions is a resounding “No”.

 

Avoiding the Tough Conversations

So if we’ve determined that “uncomfortable” and “productive” are simply two adjectives that can be used to describe conversations, and that even though there is some overlap of these groups, it is not a perfect overlap, what is this really about?

My guess is that it’s really about the fact that even though we know a conversation could be productive, it will often be avoided if it is expected to also be uncomfortable.

I know there’s no rocket science in that last sentence.

 

Necessary Conversations

In my notes to capture this as a blog topic that morning, I included the word “necessary”, because that word also came up for me as I considered the idea.

How many “necessary conversations” are being avoided, simply because they’re expected to be uncomfortable for someone?

Probably way too many to even begin to count.

 

Preparation and Culture

I want to share a few ways that we can have more productive conversations, that won’t necessarily be “comfortable”, but will at least be less “uncomfortable”.

First off, when people are prepared for a conversation, they can be more ready to hear things that they don’t always like to hear. When you can brace yourself before you fall, you won’t get hurt as badly as when you can’t.

Another important element that you can work on, is creating the proper culture for these conversations.  If you can be in the habit of creating a safe and supportive space, that can certainly help with the comfort issue.  

The more often you get together with people, raising some difficult issues and dealing with them positively, the more this can become a habit, and eventually part of your culture.

 

Make It a Regular Forum

In fact, one of the recommendations I typically make to families who say they really want to get serious about their planning for their eventual intergenerational wealth transition, is to begin to have regular family meetings.

These meetings don’t necessarily need to be held frequently (monthly or quarterly) but there should be at least one or two a year.

The important thing is to make sure that everyone knows that there will be an opportunity to have important conversations, around matters that will affect the whole family, over the very long term.

 

Start Slow, Add “Big” Topics Later

The initial few meetings can be used to get the attitude and culture right, hopefully dealing with simpler issues at the outset.

With time, some of the more sensitive topics will typically be added to the agenda, as people will have become used to working on important aspects around how things will evolve.

Hopefully, you can be productive, without being uncomfortable.

 

This week we’re going to look at a variety of subjects that are all connected to the same root word: presence.  Okay, it may be “cheating” a bit, but I’m also going to use related words, like “presenting” and simply “present”.

The other thing they have in common is that they all have to do with benefits families can get from working with a family business advisor.

 

The Presenting Problem

When a family calls in an outsider to work with them, it’s almost always because of some particular issue that they’re looking for help with.  Many people will refer to that issue as the “presenting problem”.

One of the gifts that a good advisor may be able to offer the family, after getting to know them and their situation better, is that he or she will also be able to offer new perspective on other issues.

It’s certainly not unheard of for families to think that they only really need help with something minor, and later realize that there are bigger issues beneath the surface that are more important, and need to be dealt with.

 

Dealing with What Is Present

An area that can be connected to this can be in helping the family deal with what is present.  When families are so used to being together and dealing with each other in the same old ways, an outside advisor can bring a lot of value to them by simply observing and indicating to the family members what they see, as an independent outsider.

Like the fish who doesn’t see the water or even know that they are swimmers, families can be oblivious to much of what is going on and how they are together, and that goes for the good as well as the bad.

 

Keeping you in the Present

A good advisor will also try to ensure that the family keep their focus on the present, with an eye to the future.

Families can dwell on the past way too much, to their detriment.  Rehashing old family stories and replaying past wrongs that one sibling did to another can be a huge time and energy drain.

A good advisor will work to limit the focus on bygones and keep the family in the here and now.

 

Who Should Be Present

Families in business are composed of a few interdependent systems of people: namely family, business, and ownership. See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

Because many of the same people are part of the various groups, some of these families have a lot of trouble making the distinction between the groups, which can create confusion during discussions.

A good outside advisor will help keep things clear, and making sure that the family members are there for family discussions, the business people are there for the business meetings, and the owners are present for when ownership is being discussed.

 

Presenting Alternatives

Returning to the fish analogy from earlier, often family members who’ve been working together for a long time begin to suffer from “groupthink”.  They’ve been over the same subjects many times and they all begin to see things in exactly the same way.

An advisor who comes in from the outside can offer new perspectives to the family that they probably haven’t thought of, even though they’re often right under their proverbial noses.

The perspectives will almost always come with new alternatives for the family to consider.

 

Their Mere Presence

Sometimes the mere presence of that outsider, “someone with a different last name” as I often describe them, can do wonders for a family meeting.

When you were kids and there was a guest over for dinner, didn’t everyone behave just a little better?  It can be remarkably similar for business families when an outsider comes in to facilitate their meeting for them.

If this person is also trained in mediation, they will be able to work with all family members in getting the concerns and interests of everyone onto the table so that they can be dealt with.

 

Bearing Gifts?

When I arrive to work with a family I don’t come bearing gifts, at least not anything that is wrapped and with a bow on it.

I come armed with my skills and wisdom, and a deck of cards to randomize the speaking order.  Does your family deserve the gift that such an outsider can bring?

 

 

 

Your Response Is Your Responsibility

This week’s blog is a bit on the philosophical side, as opposed to practical. Then again, some people may think that’s just par for the course for me.

I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on things relating to one’s responsibilities in a business family.

I’ve been thinking about this piece for a while, I’ve got lots of ideas kicking around, and they’re coming at me from different places, so let’s get started.

 

Your Responsibility

The first place this came up for me occurred a few years ago while reading about some family members who expected to reap the benefits of being part of a family business, but who didn’t necessarily realize that there was another side to that coin.

That other side, of course, is responsibility, because you shouldn’t expect to get all the positives without contributing anything yourself.

Unfortunately, as often as there are next-generation members who expect something for nothing, there are just as many occasions where the parents never tried to instill that sense of responsibility either.

 

Respond, Don’t React 

I’ve also been writing about working on my personal ability to slow things down, and “respond” to a situation or comment, rather than shooting from the hip with a “reaction”.

I’m actually just waiting for someone to ask me for “my reaction” to something so that I can reply that I prefer not to share my reaction, but would rather take a moment to reflect so that I can provide “my response” instead.

 

Response + Ability = Responsibility

Taking things further, I recently saw a video on LinkedIn, where a speaker was explaining that each person should actually feel compelled to respond to situations to the best of their ability.

The man recounted that he and his wife had taken in several physically challenged foster children because they “were able to” so they felt it was their responsibility to do so.

While I applaud people like that, I believe that they’re truly very rare, and I know if suggested we all go that far, I’d likely “lose” a lot of you.

 

Strengths Finder

I’m a big fan of the Strengthsfinder tool that has you do a quick survey and then gives you your five greatest strengths.

I’ve completed it a couple of times now, a few years apart, and the strength of “responsibility” showed up as part of my Top 5 both times.

To me, doing what needs to be done, especially when you said that you would do something, is not something that is negotiable.

 

My Response

So let’s get back to the title of this post, and get into the “my response” part a bit more.

The particular scenario I have in mind is one most of us have seen before, and if you’re part of a family business or work with business families, you’re probably pretty familiar with this too.

Some family members who work together are having a meeting, or just chatting together when one of them gets triggered and “goes off” on the other.

What happens next can make or break the way this will go.

 

What’s My Part in This?

It would be so easy to “react” in the same old way that we always have, and likely ratchet up the anxiety level and make things worse.

Instead, what I’m suggesting here, is rather than sharing our reaction, we take a couple of deep breaths and instead share a response.

That simple pause, combined with a reflective “what’s my part in this?” can change the direction that this interchange seemed to be going towards.

 

Easier to Blame Others

True, it’s easier to blame the other person for everything that has ever gone wrong in a relationship.

But, if you want to change how things turn out going forward, you know that there’s really only one person that you can actually change, right?

We are each responsible for our own responses.

We can simply react like we always have, and things will likely keep going down the same path.

Or, we can try to refrain from quick reactions and instead offer up a more appropriate response

My favourite way to remember the key distinction is a medical one.

When the doctor says you’re having a “reaction”, it’s never good.

When you begin to “respond” to a treatment, it’s usually a good sign.