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Surprising Word Choice Proves Revealing

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

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

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

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

 

Joining Yet Another Group

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

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

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

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

 

Colleagues Learning from Colleagues

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

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

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

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

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

 

There’s a Lesson (or Two) in There

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

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

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

Couple relaxing on bed

Doing Versus Being

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

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

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

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

 

Examples for Legacy Families

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

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

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

 

Feeling Well and Doing Good

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

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

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

That’s often way more important than money.

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.

From the Backyard to Twitter

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

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

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

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

 

Acrobatic Squirrels

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

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

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

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

 

The Twitter Cartoon

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

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

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

 

 

And the Thought Bubble Said…

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

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

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

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

 

Isn’t That a Bit of a Leap?

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

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

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

 

Your Family of Birds

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

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

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

 

What About the Cartoon Squirrel?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t Do It “Bass Ackwards”

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

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

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

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

Both Are Needed, But Not in the Same Places

So many issues that families face in transitioning their wealth from one generation to the next come down to questions around timing.

You’ve got people from different generations, so you automatically have different realities relating to their current life cycles, which naturally make them feel certain urgencies that others might not appreciate.

Somehow things often go better after everyone has had a chance to share their viewpoints in ways that others can suddenly understand, but that doesn’t happen often enough, so let’s talk about that here.

 

The Bigger Picture: An Upstream View

Most of my blogs are “evergreen”, meaning that they can be consumed at any point in time, because they don’t depend on current events or seasons.

I’ve diverged a bit this year, thanks to the pandemic that had me refocusing topics this past Spring, and lately there’s been lots of focus on my summer weeks at my cottage.

One advantage to a nine-hour drive to my cottage is the time it affords me to listen to audiobooks, which are my favourite way to make the drive productive and enlightening.

On my last drive there, I listened to Upstream, The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath.

It was great and I recommend it, because it actually gives some great perspective on Systems Theory, and an appreciation for how important it is to look at how things are connected.

 

The Time Element in Systems Theory

If this is feeling a bit like a déjà vu it might be because I wrote From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz a couple of months back, and there are only so many “stream” blogs one can write.

That blog concluded with my suggestion to get moving early on eventual transitions, and that segues nicely with this week’s message.

Towards the end of Upstream, Heath has a great line about where to be patient, and where to be impatient, which bring us right back to our timing issues.

He tells us to be:

 

       Patient for Outcomes, and Impatient for Actions

 

If you’re like me, you’ll want to pause the recording for a minute and make sure you got all of that.

Pre-Digested Wisdom

Well, this isn’t a recording, it’s a blog, so you don’t have to stop listening, rewind, grab a pen, and make sure you got it all, because I already did that work for you.

Plus, now I’m going to spell out the key take-away, which I’ll gladly do because Heath, who’s written and sold quite a few more books than I have, is saying something really important, and it also happens to fit right along with stuff I’ve been saying too.

Here’s the simplest reworking of this advice into my own words:

     “Hurry up and get started, but don’t be in a hurry to finish”

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, There Is No Destination, which was inspired by a quote I had recently read, “There is no destination, it’s ALL journey”.

 

Being Impatient for Actions

Procrastination is probably the biggest enemy of successful wealth transitions in families. Put simply, people wait too long to begin the work.

It’s funny because work itself is not usually something that families who’ve been successful in building a business are “allergic” to; they’ve typically got a strong work ethic, which is how they got to the point where they’ve accumulated enough wealth to make a difference in the lives of all family members.

I’ve stated this plenty of times, going back to my first book in 2014, SHIFT your Family Business, in which the word SHIFT is an acronym, where the “S” stands for Start!

It’s impossible to start too early.

 

Being Patient for Outcomes

Transitioning wealth is not an event, it’s a process.  And while some processes are better to rush through, this is one that is better when it takes longer.

The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.

When you’ve started early, you give yourself time to change course, slow down as needed, and be flexible, (the F in SHIFT) without having to start from scratch.

 

Adjusting your Timing and Re-Calibrating

This is truly a process with no real end, because even after the elders have left this earth, their wisdom will remain, to be passed to successive generations.

And we should never be in hurry to finish that job.

From Paddling Hard to Going with the Flow

Summer is in full swing and with it come some activities that we look forward to because we haven’t been able to do them for a while.

For me, one of those is kayaking on the tidal river at my cottage in New Brunswick, where I get in touch with nature while lazily paddling around looking at the sky in search of the occasional bald eagle.

Having recently arrived here, I received a text message from a friend asking me if I was enjoying myself, “floating downstream” on my kayak.

Regular readers won’t be surprised that something so simple would become the inspiration for a blog post.

 

Tidal Rivers and Delayed Gratification

While I’m no expert in tidal rivers, I can tell you that sometimes this river flows towards the ocean about a kilometer away, and then a few hours later it will flow in the other direction.

When heading out from the dock for a kayaking excursion, I always make sure to go into the flow of the current, so that I can coast back home, going “downstream”.

My wife and I learned this lesson the hard way years ago, when we went rollerblading, not realizing that we had the wind at our backs, only to turn around to go back home and quickly realize our misfortune of having a strong headwind to deal with.

It’s a simple example of delayed gratification, which I love to preach. See Marshmallows and Filet Mignon

 

Climbing the Hill and Coasting Back Down

The flowing river metaphor is similar to the uphill / downhill one that we hear about when talking about where people are in their life cycle.

Older people are described as “over the hill” while the younger ones are continually “climbing” towards the top.  Getting to the top and remaining there are the goal, we’re led to believe, and in many ways that makes sense.

But in the same way that I like to save the coasting part of my kayak trips to the end, why don’t we look at life the same way?

And if we’re part of a business family, isn’t there a way that one generation’s trip down the other side of the hill can serve as a boost to the next generation’s rise?

 

Capitalizing on the Strengths of Each Generation

The “rising generation”, as people like me have been referring to them for some time now, typically have more energy to devote to building their lives and careers, while their elders will normally have more experience.

Similarly, the younger members of a family will be more comfortable with technology, while the senior family members will often have a lot more contacts and long-standing important relationships that they can leverage.

Smart families figure out how to make the most of these complementary strengths, which takes a certain amount of self-knowledge and understanding, along with the ability to set egos aside for the common good of the family.

 

Stepping Away from the Top Spot

The ego component varies from one family to the next, but seems to be rather prevalent in cases where it’s the business founder who wants to remain in charge well past the point where their leadership is what’s best for the business.

Somehow once we get past that first generation transitioning to the second, it’s less of an issue when going from G2 to G3, and then G3 to G4 and so on.

Playing with this hill metaphor in my head, I’m picturing someone stepping off the top of the hill while pulling on a rope, which in turn is helping someone make their way to the top.

I guess there’d need to be some sort of pulley or rappelling device at the top for this to make sense.

 

Many Years in the Making

I don’t want to give the impression that generational transitions should take place quickly.  In fact, properly planned and executed changes in leadership will often take years.

That’s because while we think of these situations as singular events, there are actually transitions happening at several different levels.

There needs to be a lot of coordination to properly transfer all of the knowledge of the retiring leader, as well as the authority, which all takes time, and we haven’t even begun to talk about ownership.

So it’s best to get started early, and be sure to check which way the water’s flowing before you take off.

Capacity vs. Capability

Sometimes when two words start with the same few letters, people get them mixed up, not noticing the nuances in their meanings.

A couple of words that certainly fall into that category are “capability” and “capacity”.

This week I want to explore them a bit, from a business family perspective.

 

From Ability to Capability

Before we even get to “capability”, we should probably back up a bit and start with “ability”, to make sure we grasp that simpler concept first.

Ability is about what you can do, which you know that you can do because you’ve already done it, at least once. 

Capability is more about potential to do something, and as we all know, even though you once were able to do something, that doesn’t mean that you’re still capable of doing it again now.

 

Ready, Willing, and Able

In some ways, capability can be summed up by the expression, “ready, willing, and able”. If I’m ready and willing to do something, plus I feel like I can muster the ability, then I at least believe that I have the capability to do that something now.

So if you know how to do something and you add some effort to that ability you’re now essentially ready to test out your capability, and can hopefully demonstrate that you can accomplish a task with a certain regularity.

With practice, you can hopefully get pretty good at it, to the point where others recognize that capability in you.  You’re off to the races, right?

 

What About Capacity?

I think that there’s another level that you’ll want to get to that’s higher than simply developing capability, and that’s to increase your capacity to do important things.

The part of the definition of the word “capacity” that I think we should concentrate on when thinking about this is the “volume” aspect.

When talking about a container, whether it’s an aquarium, an airplane, or a football stadium, we can ask about what its capacity is, when we want to know how much it can hold when full.

 

From Capability to Capacity

So if we go back to the capability discussion, we were getting good at doing something over and over, and now we want to see how much of it we can do.

But we don’t want to do this for everything, we really need to pick our spots and develop our capacity for doing things that are truly important.

And when we’re talking about business families, what’s more important than everyone knowing how to get along and work together?

Families who have succeeded in growing their businesses and wealth AND in transitioning them to the next generation have almost always developed that capacity to work together somewhere along the line, whether they realized that that was what they were doing or not.

 

Contagious Capability Grows to Family Capacity

The great thing about a family is that every member has different skills and abilities. 

It might not always be obvious how some family members can contribute to the business family, but if there are family members who are ready and willing, there should always be some effort made into finding a place for their abilities to contribute.

When you take the individual abilities, work on them so they become true capabilities, and then bring the people together with the right attitude to collaborate, you can develop the capacity for long term success.

The overall capacity of a family comes from the combination of all of its members’ capabilities, and that capacity can be way more than the sum of its parts.

 

Practice, Resilience, Guidance

Families who have succeeded at this almost never just stumble into that success.  Working together with family members can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating too.

It takes effort, and plenty of practice to get it all right.

There will be plenty of trial and error along the way, so the family will need to develop its resilience.

And, importantly, few families get this right all by themselves; they will almost always have someone from outside the family to guide them, especially at key stages.

Whether it’s a family business consultant, a facilitator or coach, it really doesn’t matter, and ideally it’s someone who combines these skills.

Successful multigenerational families have all developed their capacity to work together over time.

Can you?

When listing problems that business families face, communication is usually one of the first things people mention. 

 

Because it’s seen as a “big” problem, many people think that it requires a “big” solution

I beg to differ.


“100 One-Minute Conversations”

The initial idea for this post came from something I saw online recently, that talked about “100 one-minute conversations”, which in most cases are a better way to go than just having one, long, 100-minute discussion.

I wish I’d saved it so I could credit the source, because Googling it didn’t help me solve the mystery.

In any event, it lines up nicely with some of the other things I’ve talked about before, notably here: The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

 

Clearing Up Any Illusions

My favourite quote about communication is from George Bernard Shaw, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

Let me spell it out just in case you didn’t get it.  

The biggest problem for people communicating with each other is when the person who says something believes that the receiver heard and understood them, and they’re wrong, but they assume they’re right.

Why did I take the time to spell that out? 

Because if I continued this blog while assuming that you understood what I meant, but you didn’t, then I would have been committing the exact faux pas that I was trying to explain.

The Art of Conversation: The Key to Family Communication

Conversations as a Subset of Communication

Of course communication comprises much more than verbal discussions, which are in fact only a small fraction of the entire communication “platform” that any enterprising family uses.

These families need to share lots of information to remain united enough to properly manage the assets they own together.

But while everyone can see what’s written in a family newsletter or on their Facebook page, I contend that it’s in the smaller groups, and the quicker, more regular conversations, that the most important communication actually happens.

Yes, you need to have the big formal, structural communication platforms, but, and it’s a big but, if that’s all you have, then there’s a lot missing.

 

Heart to Heart

The simplest way to make this point is to consider the expression “Heart to heart”. 

What makes family businesses different from other businesses is the family element.  Plain old communication might be sufficient for “regular companies”, but for a family business, being owned and run by a family, there needs to be a lot more heart.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about “heart to heart communication”, by I know I’ve heard people mention a “heart to heart talk”, or “heart to heart conversation”.

 

The (Lost) Art of Conversation

Speaking of expressions, we’ve all heard about the “art of conversation”, and I contend that in some ways all of the technology we’ve been using to communicate has made conversing together a bit of a lost art.

But here’s the good news, and I even just Googled it to make sure it makes sense.

You can get better at it, with practice. Yes, I just searched “do you practice art” to make sure, and I got plenty of hits.

Whether it’s playing music, or painting, or sculpting, one improves the more one practices their favourite art.

And so it is with conversations.

 

Small Groups, One-on-One

Conversations can happen all the time, mostly in small groups or even simply one-on-one situations.

They don’t necessarily have to be structured, scripted or planned in advance, and in reality, the more natural and free flowing they are, the better.

Sometimes the hardest thing about them is just making them happen, especially now that simply picking up the phone to call someone seems to rarely happen these days.

 

Conversations With Your Coach

One of my favourite ways of actually putting some structure to conversations is to have them be regularly scheduled.

I have a call over Zoom with my coach every week, and I have calls with my coaching clients typically every other week, which seems to work well.

Having things “on the calendar” might be the best way to make sure that you’re staying in touch enough.

 

Seven Years Later

Way back in 2013 I wrote Having Conversations, Not Just Communicating. And I guess it’s still just as valid today as it was back then.

Which Came First?

This week we’re looking at one of those “which came first?” situations, so as you’ve probably guessed, it’s kind of a trick question. 

The good news is there’s no wrong answer!

I’ve written quite a bit about family alignment in this space, most recently in On Family Alignment and Family Alliances last fall.

But this’ll be the first time I’m dealing with family engagement, and in some ways it’s long overdue.

 

Coming Up Again and Again

Maybe it just feels overdue because the idea of alignment and engagement being two sides of the same coin came to me a couple of months ago, and ever since, it keeps on jumping up and hitting me in the face, seemingly at every turn.

I’m working with one client who’s drafting her family’s first ever “family charter”, which will essentially be the first written version of the guidelines for their “family council”, which doesn’t really exist yet.

The “writing it down” part is all about the alignment, but the work my client has been struggling with is in getting input from other family members, because she wants to make sure she’s capturing things correctly, and that’s all about engagement.

 

Getting the Rising Generation Interested and Involved

Another client with whom I’m working has taken a family business he bought from his father and grown it significantly, and he’s now working out the details of how to get his children and nieces and nephews interested and involved.

This is the type of engagement issue that lots of family businesses face at various stages in their evolution.  

But they can quickly go from low engagement to high, and then suffer from issues around their alignment, because the people who just got interested all see things in a different way.

All of this is quite normal, and possibly a good problem to have.

A Regular Governance Problem: Balance

You may have encountered the same issue in other, non-family governance situations, whether it’s the board of a non-profit or even a committee that you’re a part of.

I’ve seen it up close in each of those situations, although I really noticed it more recently, since this idea began to crystalize in my head.

But like I said, it’s a good problem to have, and there’s no wrong answer.

You can start working on one, and it’ll help you with the other, and it works both ways.

 

Leadership and Collaboration

Before I get to a couple of examples, I want to highlight that a similar idea hit me a few years ago and has stuck with me.

I’d read a book about collaborative leadership, where the point was made that people who are collaborative are exhibiting leadership, and the people who are leaders are collaborating with their followers almost by definition. 

It’s almost circular.

It was one of those things that took a bit of time to sink it, but now that I’ve internalized it, it seems to be there for good.

And so it is now, with alignment and engagement, especially in the family business context.

 

Start Where You Are

Wherever your family is, start there.  Sounds obvious, but, like common sense that isn’t really common, it isn’t.

If a family is engaged, work on continuing to develop that, and you’ll quickly get to a point where some possible “mis-alignments” pop up.

Great, now you have something to work on that’s a bit different, solving that alignment issue.

If, however, the family seems nicely aligned, start there and “push” that further. You’ll likely hit a point where some might disengage, and then you can work on engaging them again.

In so doing, you’ll almost naturally find yourself tweaking the alignment again.

Incremental, Iterative Progress

The good news, again, is that this is all part of progress.

Families who hope to transition their business or wealth to the rising generation need to have engagement, and they need to be aligned, if they want things to work out right and to have the results be durable.

As you work on developing one, alignment or engagement, you’re also making progress on the other.

It may not feel like progress because it doesn’t move quickly. It’s incremental, one tiny step at a time.

And, as I hope I’ve shown here, it is also iterative, as the family keeps rolling along forward.

One hand washes the other, and two hands are better than one.

Some words in English carry either a positive or negative connotation for the most part, yet there are some contexts where this can be turned on its head.

The world of family enterprise seems rife with examples, making it a favourite target of mine here.

One such word is “surrender”, and regular readers won’t be surprised that I’ll look at some French translations along the way.

 

Surrendering:  Abandoning or Yielding?

So let’s start with the French translation we get from Google, where the first word we get is “abandon”. This was also my wife’s reply when I asked her how to say surrender in French.  My reply to her was, “Um, that’s not really what I’m looking for”. 

Of course after I told her that Google corroborated her answer, she gave me “the look”.  I guess that “abandon” has as much of a negative connotation as surrender does.

The second option from Google was “céder”.  For those like me who learned to drive in Quebec decades ago, we know that the triangular yellow road signs we see when merging used to say “céder/yield”.

I’d contend that “yielding” does not carry as much of a negative feeling as surrendering.

 

Negative Examples from Family Business

I’ve got a couple of stories that I can share on this just from the last few months, from families who’ve reached out to me.  I’ll change some details for obvious reasons, but I want to make sure that the feeling of surrender comes through.

Jack and Rhonda contacted me about their manufacturing business that they had started some forty plus years ago.  Their son Frank was now running things, and had been for the past half decade. Frank’s wife was also involved at a pretty high level in the operations.

Meanwhile, Jack and Rhonda had been slowly but surely marginalized into very minor roles, which at first they did not really mind.

It seemed that things were in good hands with the next generation, and they welcomed a more relaxed lifestyle.

 

On the Outside Looking In

The parents remained majority owners, but having now surrendered pretty much all of the day-to-day running of the company, they were having difficulty making progress with their son on the ownership transition, since he saw no reason why his sister should even be in the conversation.

The parents’ surrender in the operations was causing unintended consequences on the ownership discussions.

Let’s switch gears now to another family, where three siblings all co-own a company started by their father, who passed away a long time ago. The company has a full independent Board of Directors, on which the siblings all sit.

 

Surrendering to your Sibling?

One sibling, and not the oldest, happens to be CEO, while another is a VP and the third runs a separate division.

When things were going well, everyone was happy. When things began to go sideways, the siblings who aren’t the CEO had difficulty surrendering the running of the company to the CEO.

In theory, the Board should provide a buffer here, but when there are three equal owners who are also on the Board, that sometimes doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in theory.

 

Positive Surrender… Is that Possible?

As I think I’ve hinted above, there must be some examples of surrendering in a family enterprise that are positive.

The idea for this came in a meditation recording I was listening to called “Learning to Surrender” (by Sarah Blondin; I’m a big fan).

The key to a positive surrender is your attitude, and an attitude of equanimity is what it really takes. See Equanimity: Yours for only $250 Million.

I’ll close with a story about a family I’ve been working with for a few years now.

 

Serenity Soon (If Not Now)

At a recent Family Council meeting, Dad informed his 4 children that he would soon be announcing that he would be stepping back from the Presidency of the business. 

He then added that a few months later, he planned to announce to employees that the rising generation were moving into ownership positions and more senior roles.

Their mother sat beside him with a proud smile, as they talked of plans to travel more while they could still really enjoy it, and to spend more time with their growing number of grandchildren.

I think we can all agree that this sounds like a positive surrender, one many others would love to emulate.

This week we’re going to look at something that’s a little bit further afield from many of the more hands-on topics that I sometimes cover in this space.

Of course I will still make an attempt to connect the discussion to the field of family enterprise and intergenerational wealth transitions, because that’s still the main goal here.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been meditating every day for almost two years now, so you shouldn’t be too surprised when I tell you that the inspiration for this blog comes from a meditation recording that I was listening to recently.

 

How Not to Judge Your Meditation Session

One of the apps that I use daily is 10% Happier, based on Dan Harris’ book of the same name.  One of his main meditation gurus, featured in both the book and on the app, is Joseph Goldstein.

In one of the recordings featuring Goldstein that I listened to recently, he noted that a mediation session can leave you feeling disappointed or confused at times, but that that’s alright and even to be expected. (I’m paraphrasing here)

His point was that you cannot judge your meditation by whether or not it is pleasant. Life has its ups and downs, which is to be expected, and so meditation should be no different.

The point was being stressed for beginners, in the hopes that they not give up the practice, simply because they do not walk away from every experience with perfect happiness and enlightenment.

 

Is It Any Different in a Family Business?

So now let’s think about this idea in terms of a family business, or, maybe even more specifically, from the point of view of various members of a business family.

Not everyone is going to be happy, all the time.  That’s to be expected, and there are likely cycles of ups and downs for the business and for the people who are part of the family, and part of the business.

I think it’s important for everyone to take stock of where they are from time to time and recognize that things can’t always be rosy.

 

Different Views from Different Generations?

Some people may think that one of the real variables here is the generation that you happen to belong to.  Let me explain.

When you’re young and working your way into the business, it may feel like you need to put up with things being a little bit tough for you, but oh, look out, when I get to be the one in charge, man, this is going to be awesome and everything will be great.

Meanwhile, the senior generation, who are stuck with their own problems and worries, may be looking at their younger relatives and thinking, “man, don’t they have it easy!”.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The reason that I decided to write about this topic was the idea that sometimes people working in their family business have unrealistic expectations about how much fun they will have and how great every day is going to be.

If you’re in such a situation, great, you’re doing better than most, more power to you, and may it ever be so.

There are probably more people who are in situations that are closer to the other end of that continuum, though.

I guess my suggestion to them is to occasionally step back and re-evaluate their decision to work there.

 

Was It Even My Decision?

If you’re one of those people who find working in your family business as a series of unpleasant circumstances, day after day, you may also be someone who has trouble with that last sentence, the one where I qualified the idea of working there as “their decision”. Ha!

If you’re like many people who are working in your family’s business, and you can honestly say that it was not your decision, or your choice, then my idea about stepping back and re-evaluating things may be even more important.

 

Something to Talk About

You’ve got a lot to think about, and hopefully sooner or later, something to talk about.

Talk with your family, talk with a coach, talk with your business partners, whether they are family members or not.

It may not be fun, but if you just keep going in an environment that you hate, how does that end?

These conversations won’t necessarily be comfortable, but hopefully they’ll be productive.

 

See: Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?