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The Essential Element Required

It can sometimes be difficult to explain the work I do to those who don’t happen to belong to a family that runs a business or owns assets together.

There are at least three interdependent sub-systems at work, between the family, the enterprise (businesses/wealth/assets), and the ownership group.

Just about every enterprise is in constant contact with outside experts for a variety of services from the outset.

But the family and the ownership typically take on more of a “behind-the-scenes” role and get much less attention.

The family circle happens to be where I do most of my work, and I’ve been developing a bigger appreciation for its overlap with the ownership group lately.

Focusing on “family ownership” and how important it is for the future of the enterprise is the focus of this week’s post.

For those in the know, you won’t be surprised that we’ll be talking about the essential role of a family champion.


Their Nebulous and Misunderstood Role

I first wrote about the concept of family champions back in 2019, in The Unsung Role of Family Champions.

Recently, I had the wonderful occasion of spending a day with a number of people who play such a role in their families, even if they weren’t all sure that they “qualified” for such status.

I led the opening discussion, where I shared the origin of the term and just how essential having at least one such family member has been for all of the families featured in Dennis Jaffe’s study of 100 family enterprises that had endured for at least 100 years

See Jaffe’s book Borrowed from Our Grandchildren

But just because Jaffe and Joshua Nacht, one of his researchers, came up with the term, that doesn’t mean it’s well understood, even by those who play this role in their enterprising family.


Will Every Family Eventually Reach Its Limit?

While certain family members often play a starring role as the CEO and perhaps others are some kind of rainmaker, the family champion is typically much more low-key, and out of the limelight.

Few families are able to maintain family ownership over generations, often because they lack someone motivated and interested in doing the work of keeping the family focused and organized ahead of important transitions.

Eventually the family often grows bigger than the enterprises that are meant to support the people, and choices need to be made.

While these choices occur infrequently, the idea of discussing whether or not continued ownership by the whole family still makes sense is usually a scary notion that is not easily put on the table.

But when it is raised, you can bet that the family champion played an important role in setting the stage for it.


Forever Asking the Key Question

A family that owns an enterprise together will likely assume that it can and will and should remain that way, and for a certain period of time, which may be measured in decades and even generations, it’s often true.

At some point, though, most families need to ask themselves if that is still going to be the case after the next generational transition.

Hopefully, once they get to the point where hard choices need to be made, they’ll be able to figure out how to make the necessary changes in a way that leaves the family intact.

The result could be to prune the family tree or maybe sell the enterprise and have a liquidity event. See Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree and Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?

For someone like me, who considers himself a family specialist, my thoughts are always “family first”, and many families I know also adopt this attitude. 

There are exceptions, those who put the success of their business first, which sometimes has me shaking my head. I typically do not work with such families.


Who Is Looking Out for the Family?

So much focus is put on the business that the family owns, so it’s not that surprising that the family and the ownership areas sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

The business stuff happens at a much faster pace (see Varying Time Factors in Each of the Three Circles) and those who work in that area are put on the spot on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, though, there needs to be someone who is thinking about and talking about the family’s role in all of this, and who makes sure that the family and its ownership of the enterprise also get the attention they deserve.

A Road Well Travelled.

The idea of going to do your MBA in order to then come back and work in (and possibly lead) your family business has been around for a long time.

It has been repeated often with varying degrees of success over the past few decades, in many places, and probably in every industry, somewhere on the planet.

It can be the perfect next step to give an aspiring leader the extra tools, confidence, and respect from fellow employees that they’ll need to take that next step in moving up the ranks and eventually taking over.

And sometimes, well, not so much.

This week I want to look at 5 things that you should consider before taking that leap.

 

Learning and Growth, or Just the Letters, Please

Whenever anyone is making a big decision, like going back to school for an advanced degree in anything, I always encourage them to think the decision through, and especially make sure that they’re doing it for the right reason.

If all you really want are the letters “MBA” after your name, that probably won’t be enough to sustain you on your journey.

If, however, you are looking to learn and grow as a person and as a leader, then your chances of success, during your studies and long after, will rise markedly.

But please be honest with yourself during this reflection.

 

Is This the Missing Link?

Even if you do realize that you need some more learning and growth in order to increase your chances of success, is the MBA route truly what’s missing for you to advance to where you want to get?

In many cases the answer is still YES, but there are lots of other educational opportunities that may be more suitable to you, depending on what strengths and education you already have, what industry you are in, and what type of role you hope to grow into.

 

What Role Likely Awaits You?

And that brings us to the role you are looking to occupy. 

Since we are looking very long term here, you need to think about not only the next role you hope to grow into, but also any subsequent ones.

You may see roles that interest you now, and it may seem clear that they seem tailor-made for you (and you may be right).

But please, before making a big decision like going back to school, make sure that you have a number of discussions with other family members who are above you in the business hierarchy before you make any commitments.

 

Podunk State Vs. Harvard/Stanford/Wharton

Assuming you’ve thought through it all, discussed it with all important stakeholders, and are ready to take the leap. You need to figure out where to set your sights.

There’s a huge variability in the quality of the programs out there, their cost, their ease of qualifying, and time commitment and distance.

Assuming that you could qualify everywhere and cost is no object, it may well be worth reaching for the top schools for a better quality experience, as well as interacting with a higher level of other students.

That may not be realistic in most cases, so a detailed evaluation of schools and programs is worth the effort, which in this day and age is so much easier than it was decades ago, thanks to the web and Google.

There are even a number of schools that have specific offerings for those coming from family businesses, which didn’t exist when I was beginning this journey in the ‘80’s.

 

Build Your Network Too

I alluded to this above when noting the “higher level of other students” but no matter where you might end up, do not neglect the opportunity to create a network, not just of friends but of future colleagues on whom you can lean when you will need them.

Schools that emphasize family business education may be preferable for just that reason, as you are more likely to meet and get close to others whose career situation will better resemble yours, and with whom continued contact may be mutually beneficial.

 

Aren’t MBA’s “a Dime a Dozen”?

Doing my MBA was a rewarding experience for me, even though we sold our family business soon after my return.

These days, there are many MBA’s out there, and the experience can still offer a lot.

But think it through before committing.

A Country Song Sparks a Blog – Again!

Whenever I get an idea for a blog post that allows me to link back to things I’ve written about here in the past, it gives me an extra incentive to try to pull all the pieces together somehow.

Of course, a decade of writing weekly gives me lots to look back on, and sometimes posts I thought were recent turn out to be much older than I recalled.

So a few weeks ago, when I heard a country song on the radio that sparked this week’s missive, I was amazed to discover that it’s been over 6 years since I’ve been inspired that way.

Back in 2016, it was Humble and Kind, which I had heard while driving to a family business function in Atlantic Canada. When that song came on again during my drive back, that sealed it, since so many of the FamBiz folks I’d met were both humble and kind.


Inspirational Simplicity.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a big fan of country music, but I have to admit that most of the lyrics are quite simple, and I find that inspirational for a number of reasons.

As someone who regularly tackles subjects that are quite complex, I am constantly trying to write about my ideas in ways that are easy to understand.

When you can already sing along to a song the very first time you hear it, you know that the writer has done something well.

When I wrote Blame it on Cinderella back in 2013, the lyrics of that country song had painted such a vivid picture in my head that I needed to write about the feelings it evoked.


Another Long Drive, Lots of Switching Radio Stations.

So here I was in July 2022, killing time between a conference in Denver and running a family meeting in Denver, with a handful of days in between.

I decided to rent a car and managed to cross another 4 states of my list to visit (48 now, only missing North Dakota and Alaska).

Over those few days, I tuned into lots of different radio stations, and I was not surprised that many of them played country music.

I lost count of how many times I heard Dierks Bentley ask the rhetorical “What Was I Thinking?”, from that 2003 tune.

I’m pretty sure that I’m one of the few listeners who immediately thought about Bowen Family Systems Theory every time I heard it.


Being Driven by One’s Feelings.

The song is about a fellow who ends up in some interesting situations, that make him ask himself the question, “What was I thinking?” each time.

The understanding is that he was clearly NOT thinking, because a thinking person presumably would never have allowed himself to get into all those situations.

In fact, in the line just before that question, he says “I know what I was feeling”.

Murray Bowen came up with his Family Systems Theory (BFST) starting in the late 1950’s and continued to work on it until his death in 1990.

When I began working with business families about a decade ago, I kept hearing about BFST and how it was a great tool to try to master if you are planning to work with families.

One of the most basic concepts in BFST is “Differentiation of Self”, where the idea is to become better at following your thinking rather than your feelings.


Family Situations Evoke Strong Feelings.

When looking for family leadership among members of any generation, you will often discover varying levels of differentiation, where some members are guided by thinking and others are more driven by feelings.

Dr. Bowen would encourage any family to put more faith in those who use their thinking brain more.

He also supports the idea of consciously trying to work on oneself to try to act less based on our feelings, and more on our thinking.

He talks a lot about the subject of anxiety, and the ability to function well even in anxious situations, where it’s clear that being able to remain calm and keep a clear head are hallmarks of the emotional maturity required to be successful.

Families with lots of drama can be extra tricky. 

Great family leadership is essential.


Interdependent Wealth.

If you’re interested in BFST and how I use it when working with families, please pick up a copy of Interdependent Wealth on Amazon.

Human Insights from a Family of Geese.

When people ask me about my favourite place to be, and I want to be really specific, I mention sitting on my kayak, on the Chockpish River behind my cottage in New Brunswick.

I’ve written posts about my time here over the years, notably Stuck in the Mud? Don’t Wait for “MayDay” about an incident that has stayed with me for a long time, as well as From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz in which I raised some wealth transition lessons from a natural phenomenon.

But today I’m writing this post after a fresh experience that I had early on a Monday morning as I paddled along and came upon a family of geese.

Most of my blog writing occurs on Fridays and Saturdays each week, so for me to be working on next week’s post this early, you know that something resonated with me.


Just Minding My Own Business.

I woke up early and decided that the combination of the weather, the tides, and a light calendar of Zoom calls offered me an opportunity to get out there an explore the river just after sunrise.

It was a rare trip already when I met an oncoming canoe in the first 10 minutes, and I jokingly mentioned to the couple and their dog that I didn’t expect so much traffic.

Little did I know at the time that I was foreshadowing lots of honking!

Onward I went, minding my own business, when I approached what shall henceforth be called “Goose Island” heading south.


Mother Goose Shows Wisdom – Father Goose, Not So Much.

A family of Canada Geese were all on this small island, and one of the adults, who I assumed was Mom, saw me coming from afar and began heading to the far side of the island and into the water.

She was eyeing me the whole time, and seven of her brood slowly got up and followed her into the water, heading away from me, the oncoming perceived threat.

Nicely done, mama goose, I thought.

Then a moment later, I notice another adult, Father Goose, I assumed, who saw me a bit later, and who had three of their youngsters in his charge.

I had hoped that he would lead them away from me as well, but if that would’ve happened, there would’ve been no goosebumps nor story to tell.


Honk, Honk, Honk, He Bellows.

Father goose, with his three offspring, Tom, Dick, and Harriet, all enter the water on the side of the island where I’m trying to simply glide past them so as not to cause any unnecessary fear.

The incessant honking has now begun, as father goose is likely trying to scare me and also alert the mother of their goslings that there’s a danger in their midst.

They continue swimming south, trying to outrace me, and the honking gets more aggressive.

I’m trying to speed past them to put any fear at rest, but instead I’m seen as more of a threat as I accelerate.

I try widening my distance, but the narrowness of the river prevents me from doing so.

At one point, Dad even starts flying to get further ahead of me.

And then, suddenly, something changed.


The Rising Generation to the Rescue.

I looked down at my leg and noticed goosebumps, and was struck by the irony that they were caused by a goose, which I guess gives me a story to share if ever I’m on Jeopardy.

Suddenly one of the goslings, likely Harriet, decided to do a 180, and began swimming northbound, you know, the other way!

Her brothers did the same, I was finally past them, and Dad finally gave me a final honk, which sounded to me a bit like “honk off!”


Some Morals from this Story.

Aside from the fact that the gender attributions I made are mere guesswork, and that the whole affair didn’t last any more than a couple of minutes, I do have some take-aways.

Parents don’t always make the best decisions for their families.

What is perceived as a threat is not always a threat, and I was riled up by this too, as I did not want to get goosed!

Sometimes a well-timed move by one family member can end up benefitting the whole family, and often that member is part of the rising generation.

Later, as I passed Goose Island on my return, they all just watched me intently, with nary a honk. Phew!

A Key Question you NEED to Ask

Many of the professionals with whom I interact in my work with enterprising families are specialists in a particular domain, with decades of experience providing solutions for these families.

In many ways I admire these people because the work that they do is relatively easy to describe and ends up with a clear “deliverable” for the families for whom they toil.

When the result of that work actually ends up being useful to the family in question, it must be very validating for them.

Unfortunately, in many instances the output of those efforts never gets implemented into the family’s plans.


Ideas Are a Dime a Dozen

The question of “great ideas” recently hit me and had me searching for the quote that brought home the wisdom around how ideas are insufficient in themselves.

Google was quick to respond with the nugget I was searching for, courtesy of Mary Kay Ash, an ultra-successful U.S. entrepreneur in the last century.

 

                                    “Ideas are a Dime a Dozen

                                 People who Implement them

                                              Are Priceless”

 

Families who’ve accumulated a certain amount of wealth eventually face the challenge of transitioning that wealth to the rising generation of their family.

There are hundreds of ideas that can be useful to these families, and thousands of professionals who are expert in wielding them.

And yet the question of whether or not the family will actually implement them rarely gets asked in advance of the work being done.


MBA School Flashback

I’m now flashing back to my days in MBA school, a little over 30 years ago. 

It was one of the top business schools in the country, and they were quite sensitive to ensuring that the freshly-minted MBA’s they were shoving out into the workforce were actually delivering what their new employers were hoping for.

Lo and behold, they had discovered that in some ways, they were missing the mark.

The school had been great at producing experts who could analyze any business situation, produce alternative solutions, and recommend the best course of action.  There was no doubt about that aspect.

Where this school (and all others) was falling short, was in producing people who could actually implement the proposed solution.

You know, the priceless ones.


Bricks, Mortar, and a Mason

Regular readers recognize that metaphors and analogies are some of my favourite ways of communicating complex ideas.

I’ve borrowed the one about the difference between the bricks and the mortar from others, because it nicely illustrates the distinction between the two main physical components of a brick wall.

I also like to add in the part about the mason, or bricklayer, in whose absence no wall will be built.

The one who builds the wall actually “implements” the bricks and the mortar together to create the desired wall.


Stop with the “You Should Do This”

A few weeks ago, in Some Woulda Coulda Shoulda’s for Family Enterprises we looked at part of this question, and I suggested that instead of telling families what we think they should be doing, we might instead help them think about what they could accomplish together, and what the other family members would be up for trying to do together.

This gets right to the heart of what the family is actually interested and able to work on, as they think about the wall they want to build together, and hopefully has them working together to co-create something they will actually implement.

They will certainly need some special bricks supplied by experts along the way, and many of those will include important elements that they should be incorporating.

But the bricks are only a small part of the wall, and the experience gained by the family in building it together will have been priceless, as Mary Kay Ash suggested.


Another Flashback to a Different Analogy

Writing these missives every week is so useful to me because quite often I don’t know where they are going to take me before I begin writing each post.

For instance, I had no idea that I’d flash back to a blog from almost 4 years ago as I wrote this.

But Building a Bridge Versus Buying One instantly came back to me just now, and it’s the perfect place for this piece to land.

Going back to the title of this post, “Can the Family….”, I recognize that another verb, “Will the Family…” poses an equally valid question that should also be asked!

Please ask both!

Searching for the “Goldilocks Zone”

These weekly missives have been inspired by a variety of sparks over the years, and this one is sort of a “mish-mash” because it comes from a number of places.

I’ve long wanted to incorporate a great quote from a colleague into a blog, and I’ll finally do it in this post.

I love it when some social media interaction on one of my posts creates a new spark, and that’s also the case here.

And, when I speak with potential clients about situations that concern them, that also makes me want to share my ideas here too.

So let’s dive into the deep end and look at some liquidity issues for families (see what I did there?).


An Old LinkedIn Post Gets a “Yeah-But!”

My social media folks schedule regular posts from my accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter, which weave in both my new weekly posts along with plenty of “recycled” content from days gone by.

I continuously create regular content, which I enjoy, but if you only post and repost the same piece several times over and over each week, it may not be as well received as when you share more variety.

Recently, a post about liquidity from a few years ago sparked a comment that seemed to take an opposite view to one of the points I made. See Liquidity Events in a FamBiz – Pros & Cons.

They took issue with the fact that I suggested that it can make sense to not share too much liquidity right after a business is sold, for a variety of reasons.

The alternate viewpoint is also quite valid, of course, as there are cases where a family has plenty of wealth and yet most family members will wait years or even decades before they will see any direct benefit from it.


“It’s Great That We’re Wealthy, But…”

This made me recall that great quote from my friend and colleague Travis Harms, another guy who regularly creates great content for this field.

He shared with me the way one family member put it to him: 

                    “Yes, thanks, it’s great that we’re wealthy. 

                         But, can we also have some money?”

Bang! Drop the mic! What a great way to summarize the way so many rising generation family members feel.

Imagine living in a town where everyone knows that you are part of the family that owns an extra-large enterprise.

Everyone knows that you’re wealthy, and yet they look down on you because you appear “cheap” more often than not.

Little do they know, you may own a portion of a large asset base, but you’re still working your butt off each week just to pay the mortgage on your modest house.


An Apple a Day – And Then the Orchard!

That brings me to a family I recently heard about, where the parents were quite wealthy yet were successful in keeping secret the extent of their wealth from their sons.

One son was being modestly supported to a certain extent due to some personal difficulties, yet he would eventually stand to inherit way more than he could reasonably spend in his remaining lifetime.

As I thought about a metaphor for this, I landed on getting an apple a day from your parents, because they didn’t want to spoil you.

You ate that apple every day, kept the doctor away, and then after the parent’s funeral, you discovered that you now own an orchard!

All along, you knew they had a few apple trees in the backyard, and assumed that was the extent of it.


Lots of Planning, Lots of Sharing, Lots of Transparency

The “answers”, if there are any, to these situations are never simple.

However, when there is a lot of planning, a lot of sharing, and a lot of transparency around what the leading generation is hoping to accomplish with the decisions they make, things generally go better than when the opposite track is taken.

When there’s no planning, no sharing, and no transparency, it’s a recipe for disappointment, mistrust, confusion, and conflict.


Taking Advice Versus Co-Creation

Too often, such parents blindly rely on the advice of certain professionals whose viewpoint is conflicted by their desire to remain part of the picture in managing the wealth of the senior generation.

Once the offspring are mature enough to understand what will eventually be coming their way, I recommend they also become involved in co-creating their future as stewards of the family wealth.

Overdue 4-D Connections at FEC Symposium

So Refreshing after Years of 2-D

Far be it for me to declare an end to the Covid pandemic, but it sure feels like we’ve entered back into the land of face-to-face connections with colleagues and clients, both new and old.

I’ve just spent a few great days in Vancouver at the Family Enterprise Canada (FEC) Symposium, and I’m more energized than I’ve been in a long time.

The reasons for my positivity are varied, but mostly stem from so much pent up demand within me and others to actually spend time with other like-minded people, in each others’ physical company.

I can’t tell you how many times I shared face-to-face conversations with familiar people who I had only ever seen on Zoom, in two dimensions (2-D).

I even got so tired of my own joke about this, “So nice to see you in 3-D” that I decided I needed to go a dimension further, but you’ll need to stick around to the end for that punchline.

 

Let Me Count the Ways

FEC brings together two major constituencies, members of enterprising families, and advisors to such families who’ve completed FEC’s family enterprise advisor (FEA) designation. There are now over 400 FEA designates, and our numbers at this sold-out Symposium were well into triple digits.

I got reacquainted with several colleagues whose hands I’d already shaken in years past, and also to finally size up some people I’ve known for a while but whose height I’d been unable to assess thus far.

Not that that’s crucial, but more than one person told me that I’m taller than they expected from our online encounters, where Zoom is the great height equalizer.

I even had a chance to meet a former client in attendance, who brought me up to speed on their family’s progress since I last saw them a few years back.

I also slipped out of the hotel briefly to meet with a current BC-based coaching client who happened to be in Vancouver at the same time.

Thanks to CC who alerted me to his presence and for inviting me to their work meeting; it was so cool to see a group of advisors in the same room together working to develop solutions for a complex family situation.

 

Fun Being Back Up Onstage

By far the key element of my time there that created the most lasting memories was the fact that I had been recruited to co-MC the event over the two main days.

Getting mic’ed up and going up onto the stage to introduce all the wonderful session facilitators was an honour and a pleasure.

Getting to know my co-host, Keita Demming, and developing the rapport required to pull that off relatively seamlessly is a testament to his flexibility in dealing with my “Costello” to his “Abbott”.

The kind feedback I received from so many people, friends and strangers alike, will keep me pumped for months to come.

Something about being in a room full of family business types makes me feel like I’m in my element and that I’ve found “my people”.

 

True and Authentic Sharing of Experiences

The format of Symposium included a few breakout sessions where the family members and advisors went to separate sessions, but the majority of the time was spent together in plenary sessions.

There was lots of magic in those, because of they way they’d been ingeniously set up, which was quite well received.

The main room sessions were mostly panels moderated by seasoned family business advisors, where the panelists came from family enterprises.

The result was so much valuable sharing of true, lived family business experiences, which benefits both family attendees and the many FEA’s in the room.

 

So, What About that “4th” Dimension?

Alright, so what did I mean earlier when I teased about the fourth dimension? Well, so many of the people I’ve met working in this field during the past decade are more than just colleagues, they have become true friends.

And like many friends, when I see them for the first time in a while, hugs are exchanged.

It’s tough to replicate a hug in an online meeting.

Thanks to Covid, we now need to make sure a hug is welcome, and most were.

I’m looking forward to more 4-D encounters later this year, at the PPI Rendez-Vous in Denver in July, and FFI in Boston in October.

We All Know What Happens When We Assume

For me it was Mr. McGee, a High School teacher, who first shared the dangers of making assumptions. I cannot recall the context of this lesson from circa 1980, but I distinctly remember him writing the word “ASSUME” on the chalkboard.

He then said, “You know what happens when you assume?”

The class waited for the punchline. He then drew two short vertical lines, before and after the “U”, leaving three distinct words:

A  S  S   U  ]   M  E

“You make an ASS out of U and ME

That was over 40 years ago and it’s still with me, so let’s just say the message stuck.


And We Are ALL Guilty of It

I’m pretty sure most readers will have heard some version of this tale somewhere along the way, and if not, feel free to borrow the one from Mr. McGee.

And, not surprisingly, all of us are also certainly guilty of making assumptions, because, well, you can’t not make them sometimes!

But what if there were an antidote that we could dream up that could help us minimize those occasions where we risk making an ass out of each other, especially with important people in our lives, like our family members?

Well I’ve got good news, there is one. And we all have some of it in us, and we can improve with practice.

My title has already given it away, but for those of you who already got lost in my prose (and I don’t want to assume that you recall the title of this blog) it’s curiosity.


A Coaching Webinar as Source

The idea for this post came a while back when I was watching a webinar about coaching, and presenter said, “The greatest resistance to curiosity is assumptions”.

I jotted that down because I felt like there was some juice to be squeezed from it.

But as I thought about it from many family business contexts with which I am familiar, I decided to turn it around and focus on the assumptions that too many people make about family members.

Rather than looking at “resistance to curiosity”, I want to concentrate on using curiosity to overcome the many problems that come from not having enough curious conversations.


It Comes Down to Attitude

My guess is that senior generation family members are typically guilty of this a bit more often, but I’m sure it happens in every generation.

It typically stems from an attitude of believing you know things you just never bothered to verify.

“Of course the kids will want to work in the family business” comes to mind for me, personally.  In my case it also came along with a healthy dose of not leaving me any choice.

My Dad knew what was best for me, or so he surely believed. Of course his plans for me also happened to be what he thought was best for him.

He could have been much more curious about what I wanted, but he never allowed himself to go there, just in case he’d learn something he didn’t really want to know.


Someone from Outside the Family as a Spark

So how might one go about sparking the kind of curiosity that I’m talking about here?

When the group of people is always exactly the same, it’s easy to get into a rut, and there isn’t much room for curiosity.

But what happens when an outsider shows up with the group, and that person is curious and begins to ask questions to satisfy their curiosity?

This could be just the right way for some new subjects and ideas to land on the table for consideration.

There are many things I should have pushed back on with my Dad, but I did not, for all kinds of reasons, many of which are more clear to me now than they were decades ago.

Could a well-placed and well-meaning outsider have helped spark certain discussions that could have been started, so that I could shine a spotlight on some of the many assumptions he had made about me?


Recognizing That Something’s Amiss

Sometimes you know that something is amiss and if you take the time to ask what you’re assuming, you’ll likely be onto something.

If you can then get curious and actually ask questions so that you can learn, you’ll be going in the right direction.

Entering Uncharted Territory

This week we’re entering some new territory, in a number of ways. First off, I took up this topic based on a suggestion from a reader I’ve never met.

I received a LinkedIn message a while back asking me to talk about addiction and the role it plays, and was intrigued.

I also realized that this potentially huge topic can be a pretty big deal for some families who are trying to create and pass down a legacy, and yet I’ve yet to discuss it here, despite having written over 400 posts.

That all changes now, as I want to share my thoughts on what is also “uncharted territory” for many families, who are often unprepared for how they should respond when a family member has an addiction.

I decided to revisit a version of the “5 Things” blogs I’ve done over the years, much to the dismay of my wife, who wonders aloud why it’s always five things, and never four or six…


1.  You Cannot Change Someone Else

As much as we’d all like this to be different, you cannot change someone else. You can try, and many do, but true change really only occurs when the “changee” does the work.

This can be the most difficult realisation of your life, especially as a parent. 

When they have young children, parents can and do manage to create many of the changes they hope to with their offspring. 

Unfortunately, at some point, this ends. Then, the more a parent wants something, the less likely their children are to acquiesce.

If your instinct is to simply insist more forcefully, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

2. Look to Provide Help, Not to Punish

An initial reaction to a family member’s addiction might be to use some form of punishment to try to curb the unwanted behaviour.

Punishment, whether simply threatened or actually enacted, will often backfire and make matters more difficult to fix.

Nobody sets out to become addicted to anything. 

Yes, there’s often some behaviour involved that’s less than desirable, but by the time they reach the stage of addiction, it’s no longer an easily-solvable problem.

Offering help, in the form of support and understanding, will go much further, and hopefully get the addicted person to cooperate, as opposed to rebel, which is what punishment will often engender.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

There’s no magic wand that will make an addiction disappear overnight. 

These situations all vary, of course, based on what the addiction is, how long it’s been going on and how deeply affected the person is, and whether this is the first time or not.

Giving the whole situation the time required to be satisfactorily resolved is what I suggest, and it’s better to err on the side of planning for things to take more time (months/years) than less (days/weeks).

4. Work on Organizing the Rest of the Family

While the addicted family member seems to take up a lot of time and focus, you shouldn’t neglect the rest of the family.

In fact, I think it makes sense for most families to organize themselves to survive for the long term as if the addicted person will never get over whatever their particular affliction may be.

This is a variation on “plan for the worst” but also hope for the best.

If the addicted family member is putting the enterprise at risk, finding ways to minimize and eliminate those risks should quickly become the focus, and that means having different people assume certain key roles.

Making a plan that you can all work on together to get through this makes sense and should be a priority.

5. Bring in Outside Help to Manage It

Few families are well equipped to deal with such issues on their own.

Bringing in outside expertise makes sense for dealing with the addicted person, of course, but may also make lots of sense for the rest of the family as they deal with things in a new way.

I hold himself out as such a resource for families, so this suggestion shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone reading this, of course.

But an addicted family member creates emotional reactions that need to be managed.

You need to reduce the “reactions” and instead focus on a constructive “response”.

Ignoring the issue and hoping it will disappear rarely works out well.