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It’s Usually a Slow Journey to the Top

As the world returns to more in-person events, I’ve been playing catch up with occasions to be with like-minded colleagues. I’ve just returned from New York where I took part once again in the Institute for Family Governance’s annual conference.

I also got in some family time with my sister, my nephew, and my son, so that was a nice bonus.

Since family governance is about improving relationships among family stakeholders, this opportunity of combining the conference with personal family catch-ups was a big plus.

When thinking about a subject like family governance, I normally like to look at it from each individual family’s perspective, since no two families should approach it the same way.

However, meeting with colleagues who all work somewhere in this space allows me to also take the pulse of the professional community to see how the subject is understood and received in general, and I’m left with mixed feelings on that score.


Caring Enough to Understand

Some of those who showed up didn’t seem to care enough to try to understand the family relationship aspects that actually create most families’ governance challenges.

Perhaps I was jaded by some interactions at my lunch roundtable, but the subject of the families and their challenges in establishing some sort of governance seemed far from the radar of many colleagues.

Having self-selected to come to this conference and sign up for a table to discuss “Family Considerations when Designing your Family Office”, I had assumed that they’d care enough about it to try to understand better.

Or maybe they didn’t understand enough to care; maybe some of each (?).

Enough about the negative, because as usual, the presentations contained many positive nuggets worth remembering and sharing.

Some Random Nuggets to Share:

Josh Baron kicked off the morning discussing Owner Strategy for Family Enterprises, and he reminded us all how important the owners of any business are and the roles that they can and should play as owners.

The group of owners is much more than whatever it happens to say in their shareholder’s agreement, and he was encouraging them to work together with intentionality.


What Does the IRS Have to Do with This?

A panel after that shared a couple of nice take-aways, notably that it’s important not to let the IRS decide things for you. 

This underscores the need to make plans in advance of anyone’s death, although I suspect that for many, those plans are actually precisely about making decisions that are very much driven by the desire to deprive the IRS of any of the family’s dollars!

They also noted that there’s a serious lack of role models for generational stewardship for families to learn from. 

I think this is largely true, and hopefully changing for the better.

On Family Business Boards:

Brendan Wall then shared his lived experience in his eponymous family enterprise, discussing How to Design and Implement an Effective Family Business Board.

Keeping the Board fresh by rotating directors on and off was noted, as was the need to put the right people on the Board in the first place.

He also mentioned that the qualities of who should be on a Board differ widely when looking at outside independent directors versus family members who sit on the same Board.


A G5 Keynote to Remember

Matthew Fleming’s keynote on the Importance of Family Values was fantastic, as he shared stories from the heart about his family, who are now in G5 (the fifth generation of his family), and how their multi-family office maintains their family’s values at the center of the work they do with all the families they serve.

He shared their model of the Four Pillars of Capital, and also left us with an existential question:

        “Is your family office becoming a bigger problem than 

                      the problem it was designed to solve?”

Hmmmm, as any family office heading towards a generational transition knows, this is an important thing to consider, as a need to evolve to serve the rising generation will emerge at some point.

More Nuggets:

After lunch we were treated to some wonderful examples of families who Use their Family Fortune to Serve their Community, as well as trip down memory lane for sailing fans, featuring a member of a three-generation family who repeatedly won the America’s Cup.

Next years IFG Conference in NYC is set for May 3, 2023, and I’m looking forward to being there once again.

I hope we’ll all be a few steps closer to the top of the family governance mountain then.

Expect the Best, Train for the Worst

Friends, colleagues, and regular readers of my newsletter (same $0 as this blog subscription) know that I recently participated in a training program that was off the beaten path for those in my field of practice.

It’s taken me over a month to reflect on the experience and share it here, because there was so much to absorb.

Everyone with whom I spoke about this opportunity, before I went and since I returned, has been intrigued by the fact that I attended, and curious about what I gleaned from the experience.

This week I’ll share the salient highlights, along with some surprises.

 

“Intro to Crisis/Hostage Negotiation for MHP’s”

Before diving in, the only reason this possibility came to me is thanks to my social capital, i.e. the relationships that I’ve built and maintained with the fantastic people in the community I’ve encountered, via PPI, FFI, and FEC.

Being involved in various capacities with these peer networks has resulted in many cherished relationships, and with relationships sometimes come unique invitations.

So it was when Amanda Koplin, founder of Koplin Consulting, reached out to me and asked if I’d like to fill one of the extra spots in the upcoming training program she was organizing for her team.

She’d mentioned this weeklong program during our work together on a PPI committee, and I guess I sounded intrigued enough for her to extend this generous offer to me.

I still recall her initial idea: “In a hostage situation they send the cops, because it’s a crime; but it’s actually a mental health crisis”.

 

Role Plays and Playing Roles

So there I was in Nashville, surrounded by mental health professionals – “MHP’s” — (which I’m NOT, but trying to fit in) all being trained by ex-FBI folks.

Meanwhile, we were all learning the material these trainers normally teach to law enforcement officers.

There were some official “role plays” along the way, but I was also quite pre-occupied in playing the role of not sticking out too much.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you step out of your comfort zone. And yet, it was not nearly as uncomfortable as expected.

 

Key Takeaway Message

As I’ve shared with many since then, the most important learnings were about the attitude and demeanor one needs to adopt when presented with a crisis situation.

Not surprisingly, the ability to remain calm is fundamental to becoming a resource to those in crisis. 

Their brains are filled with anxiety and therefore not functioning in an optimal way, so just by being there and remaining calm, you can already add lots of value.

Perhaps my lack of discomfort with this aspect stemmed from the fact that I’d been down this road in previous training programs, notably those in conflict resolution and Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST).

It was underscored once again, and should never be forgotten.

 

Connecting with Those in Crisis – Not with their Heads

The second take-away was the importance of connecting with anyone in a crisis, and not just with their head. As noted above, their brain isn’t fully functioning in a crisis, so they’ll respond better to those who connect with them in other ways.

Getting someone to trust you in such situations comes down to connection at a deeper level whether you call it heart-to-heart, at a gut level, or having your souls connect.

Please note that these are my interpretations of what we learned, and these words were nowhere in the course materials.

In fact, I attended in search of learning to better connect with members of families I work with, so don’t be surprised that my learnings fall here.

 

Surprises Since My Return

Since coming back home, many people have asked about the experience, and so many of them get hooked on the hostage aspect, and not the crisis angle.

Indeed, some family enterprise situations do feature folks who do feel like hostages, but that’s really a whole other subject, because those are usually more “chronic” as opposed to the “acute” situations we learned about.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that colleagues also seemed curious about the “what to do” in a crisis angle, whereas my experience was more about “how to be” in a crisis.

Like many life situations, much of it comes down to a negotiation of some sort, which isn’t rocket science by any stretch.

Keeping a cool head always helps.

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.

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?

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?

On Rules, Relationships, Rebellion, and Respect

Connecting the Dots on all these “R-words”

Regular readers (thanks!) know that my inspirations for these weekly musings are varied and eclectic. I’ve had a number that’ve come from listening to the radio while driving, and this is another of those.

This week I’m delving into something I heard that made me look for a place to pull my car over, so that I could jot down the exact words I heard before I could forget them.

I didn’t have to go that far, because thankfully I hit a long enough red light to grab a pen and piece of paper to get the key words down.

I think you’ll like what I heard, because although the words were relayed in a sports context, they also apply to the world of family enterprises and the relationships therein.

 

Who Makes the Rules?

There’s a search feature on my website that I’m certain I use more than everyone else combined, because after writing hundreds of blogs over the past 8 years or so, there are few topics I haven’t touched on, at least tangentially.

So I searched “rules”, and noted that I had used that word in a blog title just a few months back, see On Rules of Engagement for FamBiz

The rules we’re going to be talking about here are slightly different, because they refer more to how people relate to each other over the years as they work on the details of how they govern the business of owning and managing assets together.

See Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide for more.

 

A Basketball Coaching Relationship

Back to the radio quote. Jack Armstrong is a TV broadcaster on NBA games in Canada, covering mostly the Toronto Raptors.

He also does radio hits a few times a week on various sports radio stations, where he chats with the local radio hosts about goings-on in the world of basketball.

On this day a few weeks ago, he was talking about a team that had recently gone through some turmoil due to a coach who was probably acting a bit too “old school” with some of his key players.

This prompted the quote that I rushed to jot down:

 

Rules without Relationships = Rebellion

 

Rules with Relationships = Respect + Results

 

So that means that the key to making rules work for you, as opposed to against you, is the existence of quality relationships with those you are trying to “rule over”, or even “rule with”.

 

Making Rules for Working with Family

When thinking about rules in a family context, we normally imagine scenarios where parents make the rules for their children.

This is natural and works well enough as long as the children are young enough to accept being “ruled over”, and quickly loses effectiveness as they begin to want to assert more control over their choices.

That life stage rarely lasts as long as the parents would like, forcing them to change how they interact with their offspring as they mature.

When you think about it, it’s all about adapting your relationships to the situation, which need to evolve over time.

When my kids were young teens, it was much easier for me to “make them” do something or “forbid them” from doing something else.

Now that they are young adults, if I would like them to do something, my approach needs to be much different. I have also learned to adjust my expectations accordingly, but that’s a whole other topic!

 

The Need for Self-Control and Autonomy

Family business contexts by their very nature typically involve plenty of situations that have some rules inherent in them, due to the hierarchy in the business.

When you look at other family situations where there is a certain level of financial wealth present, with or without a current operating business, the family rules can be a bit trickier to impose.

As the rising generation family members mature, they have a natural desire and need to exert as much control over their lives as possible.

Too often, their parents resist this and unfortunately tend to revert to ways to use their financial resources as a way to enforce their preferred outcomes.

 

Respect Over Rebellion

If you are a parent who wants to have the respect of your offspring, and you want to avoid the pitfalls of rebellion, the secret is to work on your relationships.

Easier said than done, of course, but therein lies the key.

 

Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference

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

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

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

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


Not an African Proverb

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

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

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

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

 

Questioning Everything

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

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

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

 

Different Kinds of Questions

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

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

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

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

 

Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement

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

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

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

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

 

The Family Governance Angle

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

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

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

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

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

No question about it!

If it Ain’t Broke, Break It?

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

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

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

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

 

There It Is, Again

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

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

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

So what is Kintsugi?

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

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

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

 

And the Family Business Angle Is…?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Family Members Aren’t All Equal

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

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

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

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

 

Family Narrative with All the Warts

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

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

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

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

 

The FamBiz Wind-Down or Wind-Up

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

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

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

 

Kintsugi as a Team Sport?

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

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

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

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.