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My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice

Family Business Legacy

Class Assignment

(This week’s post is the slightly edited text of a class presentation that I made this week at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. where I just completed my first year in their Post-Graduate Training Program.)

 

According to what it says on my business card, I’m a “Family Legacy Advisor”.

My beliefs, which I’ll share with you today, are very much about how I see that work, and how I’m becoming inextricably tied to it.

More and more, it’s becoming who I am, and not simply what I do.

Here are three of my foundational beliefs:

  • I believe that Family Harmony holds the Key to a Family’s Legacy
  • I believe it’s always worth making the effort to improve family harmony
  • I believe working on family harmony is a lot of work, and, it all starts with working on self

 

How did I get to this point? 

I had my calling 4 years ago, doing the course work in a program called Family Enterprise Advisor

There, we learned the three-circle model, Business, Family, and Ownership, with each circle representing a system.

It dawned on me that for the first 4-plus decades of my life, I’d been led to believe that the Business circle was the only one that mattered.

As my studies progressed, I soon began to understand that the Family circle was more important, and it was often neglected, and that I was naturally more attuned to the important work that often needs to be done in the family circle.

So, I began working on myself, with coaching training, mediation courses, and facilitation programs, including an entire suite of courses in a program called Third Party Neutral.

And of course I began training in Bowen Family SystemsTheory.

 

How has my Bowen work contributed?

Well, starting with two years in Vermont, in their program, and this year here in DC, my Bowen Theory work has helped me in a number of ways.

It has:

  • Sharpened my focus on the effort involved
  • Emphasized the work on self,
  • And continuously reminded me that this work is a never-ending pursuit

 

Challenges

My calling came along with a desire to “help” people and families to deal with issues that I myself had dealt with in my family.

My mistakes, my parents’ mistakes, and the ones that I discovered when I married into another business family, were all there as experience that I wanted to transfer into wisdom to be shared.

But as WE all understand, telling people what they should do doesn’t work so well, so transforming myself into someone who “does Bowen” was an idea that I thought would be useful.

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

I’ve since discovered that you can’t just “do” Bowen, you actually have to sort of “be” Bowen. Not Dr. Bowen, but maybe be a “Bowenite”.

Learning a new way to “be” so that you can lead people, and model behavior for people, takes time, practice, and effort.

One huge challenge that I’m just now starting to comprehend is the difference between HELPING people and being a RESOURCE for people.

The difference sounds subtle, but it’s actually quite stark.

You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, and trying to help them is quite often counter-productive.

 

Moving Forward

My way forward is to become a resource to people who want to improve their family harmony, and in order for me to “be” that resource, I need to continue to make the effort to understand myself.

My Bowen training has helped me understand many things in a new and improved way, and I feel like I’m miles ahead of where I was just a few short years ago.

But, my understanding of self, and my work on differentiation, feels like it has so much further to go.

 

Understanding Self and Others

As I understand myself better, I understand others better as well.

These efforts are worth it, for me, for my family, and for whichever families seek me out as a resource for their own work on harmony, as part of their desire to preserve their legacy.

And so I added one more belief:

I believe that I can actually help more families by acting as a resource to them, instead of trying to help them.

5 Things you Need to Know: Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry Lessons and Advice

Sibling Rivalry is a subject that has been around forever, yet despite that, it has somehow not been one that I have tackled in this space over the four-plus years I have been writing this blog.

Following my post “5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance” from November, I have decided to return to that format and devote this week’s installment to Sibling Rivalry.

If you have suggestions for other topics that you would like to see me address here in this same format, please let me know, I love reader feedback and input, as well as a challenge. My idea is to have the “5 Things you Need to Know” become a semi-regular feature.

Without further ado, here are my…

 

5 Things to Know: Sibling Rivalry

  1. It’s “Built In”

Where there are siblings, there is potential for rivalry. Mom and Dad will usually try to minimize it, but truth be told, as soon as the second child is born, the rivalry is on.

In fact, depending on the age of the older sibling, the rivalry can begin as soon as they learn that Mommy is going to be delivering a new bundle of joy, that will undoubtedly compete with them for love and attention.

So if it is built in, the best we can do is to try to be aware of it, and understand what is going on so that we, as parents, can best deal with its fallout. Pretending that it doesn’t exist in OUR family is not very helpful.

 

  1. It brings out the WORST in people

If we think about sports rivalries involving our favourite team, we can often recall events that took place during games where opponents did things that are memorable for the wrong reasons.

There is an added layer of intensity when rivals meet, and sometimes people do things that they would never dream of doing in a similar circumstance but with different particpants.

For siblings who have been in competition with each other for many years, most of their interactions can be positive for years on end, but one never knows when something that has been festering beneath the surface will finally blow up.

 

  1. It brings out the BEST in people

Rivalries are usually based on some sort of competition, but what is actually at stake can vary greatly from sports trophies to love, power, and money.

But isn’t competition good? Actually, in many if not most cases, yes. And it is when the competition is healthy that it can do just that.

The trick is to get the conditions right for the competition, and hence the rivalry, to be “healthy”. All or nothing situations, fight-to-the-death scenarios, one-winner/many-loser set-ups are unnecessarily rivalrous.

Healthy competition is often set up as a Win-Win situation, in finding ways to make the proverbial pie bigger, in creating ways for each participant to excel in their own way, and having everyone contribute to the common good.

 

  1. Blame the parents!

In the previous point, I used words like “conditions”, “situations”, “scenarios”, and “set ups”, which relate to the context within which siblings can be exposed to rivalry with each other.

Who creates the context in which the family lives, if not the parents? When parents create conditions for rivalries to bring out the worst in their children, the parents should bear their share of the blame.

Sometimes it is done subconsciously, and other times because they think that they are doing what is best, but in truth, many unhealthy rivalries can be traced directly back to the parents.

 

  1. DON’T blame the parents!

Wait, what? Didn’t I just say the opposite? Well, yes, but just because the root of the rivalry can be blamed on the parents, that doesn’t mean that100% of it rests with them.

When the offspring become adults themselves, at some point they must assume responsibility for themselves and cannot forever blame Mommy and Daddy for “loving Johnny more”.

Where you are today is the result of everything that has happened to you in your life thus far, including the way your parents and siblings interacted with you.

Where you go from here depends on what you do starting today.

Sibling rivalries are all around us and are not necessarily bad or good.

If you are involved in one as a sibling or parent, what can you do to help make it “less bad”, or “more good”?

 

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance

Family Inheritance Advice - How to avoid problems

Family Inheritance

While few people actually relish thinking about the details of the inheritance they will leave their family when they die, most do spend at least some time wondering how to make sure that things will go well among their heirs.

We’ve all heard of families where relationships were harmed, sometimes beyond repair, as the result of how this important question was dealt with. If you do not want to be one of THOSE families, please read on.

Also note that these are five things everyone should know and understand, but that doesn’t make them an exhaustive list of important considerations, or even a “top 5 list” for every family situation. This blog should never substitute for legal advice for your unique family situation.

 

  1. Big or Small, the same issues arise

You don’t have to have a net worth in the gazillions to be affected by the potential negative fallout from poor decisions in this area.

Siblings have been known to never speak to each other again as the result of parental decisions that were made that surprised everyone, even in cases where the inheritance barely covered the cost of the funeral.

Rule 1: Don’t assume that there isn’t enough to worry about

 

  1. A WILL is Key

It should go without saying that every adult needs a will. Unfortunately, statistics show that many do not.

Many people who don’t likely assume that they have plenty of time to take care of it, you know, “later”. There are cemetaries full of people who guessed wrong on the question of exactly when they were going to die.

You need a will, and it really should be current. A good rule of thumb is to review it every five years.

Rule 2: Make sure you have a legal will, no excuses!

 

  1. A Will is NOT Enough

Now if you have your will in place and are thinking you are in the clear, well, sorry, we still have (at least) 3 more items here!

You have decided to leave certain assets to certain people in a certain way, and it’s all written up legally in a will. Here is the important question: do the people who will inherit your assets KNOW what they will be inheriting?

At least some form of basic communication is absolutely essential. If you haven’t already done so, please make sure that everyone understands what is going to happen. If you can let them all know together, at the same time, even better.

Letting them assume, and having different people understand different versions of it is a sure recipe for trouble.

Rule 3: Your heirs should know what is coming

 

  1. “Pre-Mediation” Can Make Sense

When a dispute goes into mediation, parties are brought together, and along with a neutral third party, they examine everyone’s interests and work towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The idea of pre-mediating is to put the scenario on the table with the parties before it actually comes into play.

The main point is that if you leave things to your heirs in the way you planned, AND that will cause problems after you are gone, why would you not want to re-adjust while you still can?

If this idea scares you, then that is a sign that yours is actually precisely the kind of situation that could most benefit from this.

Rule 4: Play out the details while you still can

 

5 “Surprise” is NOT a Good Thing 

I have heard Tom Deans (author of Willing Wisdom) speak several times. He describes the sound that many lawyers tell him they’ve heard from at least one surprised heir at the reading of many a will.

It is difficult to convey in writing, but imagine a gasp with an audible “aaargh” or “euhhhh”.

That surprised sound from any of your heirs is NOT what you should be going for.

Rule 5: Let your family grieve and celebrate your life, not shake their heads in disbelief.

 

If you know someone who should be thinking about these questions but may have been avoiding them, please feel free to forward this to them. You will both be glad you did.

 

FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

Miami: FFI at 30

I am currently in Miami, having just spent the past three days at the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference, during which attendees were continually reminded that the organisation is 30 years old.

I recall that CAFÉ, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise recently celebrated its 30th anniversary as well.

Also early in its fourth decade is the Three Circle Model (Family, Business, Ownership), co-created by John Davis of Harvard. Davis received what amounts to a lifetime achievement award from FFI at the Gala dinner last night.

I finally got to meet him in person and shake his hand afterward, and gave him a belated thank you for not only allowing me to quote him in my book a couple years back, but mostly for replying to my emailed request for that permission within an hour, which surprised me at the time.

Having now met the man, I am no longer surprised.

 

Conflict comes standard

FFI conferencs are filled with so many people and learnings, and I was reviewing some of my notes last night trying to decide on this week’s blog topic. I settled on Conflict is NOT an option.

But I met yet another experienced practitioner this week who happily noted that he rejects 90% of potential client families who come to him in full blown conflict mode. He doesn’t need the aggravation and much prefers to work with families in preventative ways.

But the potential for conflict in family business situations remains ever present. If this sounds familiar, you may have read something similar in this space a few short weeks ago. (FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it, or manage it)

One breakout session that I attended was moderated by one of the authors of Deconstructing Conflict, mentioned in that blog. She repeated that in any situation where family and business overlap, conflict is NOT optional. It will always be there, by default.

 

Even if you don’t want it

Go back a few decades and think about buying a car. Do you want power windows and power steering? Air conditioning? There were lots of options available that you could choose to add or not, depending on your wants and needs, and your budget.

These days, (almost) all cars come with all of those former options, and many more, as standard features.

And so it is in a family business, conflict comes standard, and you cannot even opt out of it! Recall the days when you could have an unlisted phone number, but that cost extra, to not be listed in the “standard” phone book (these days, what’s a phone book? Ask Grandma…)

So assuming that you accept that conflict is built in, what now? My take is that you acknowledge it and always be on the alert for where disputes might flare up, and try to get out in front of them.

 

Carving a Safe Space: Art vs Science

A common term for mediators and group facilitators is the “safe space”. An independent and neutral outsider comes in and creates a safe space for all parties to be able to share their concerns, wants and needs.

One of the panelists in the conflict session artfully pointed out that his task is always to “hand carve” that safe space. You cannot buy such a space at IKEA and assemble it out of the box.

This carving analogy fits quite nicely with my own assertion, which I made both in that post a few weeks ago and during the FFI session; there is much more art involved in facilitating group process than there is science.

 

Who I Am vs What I Do

Organisations like FFI are great at helping this young industry develop and share the science part of family firms, but the art in mediating conflict often comes down more to the “who I am” of the neutral third party than the “what I do”.

The work that one needs to do to become an effective third party is very personal and “internally driven”.

For me, coaching courses, mediation and facilitation workshops, and even Bowen Family Systems Theory training, have all been integral to my becoming more than simply competent to do this work and conduct these group processes.

They say, “practice makes perfect”, and while perfection seems too lofty a goal, practice certainly does make one “better”.

 

FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?

Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

depositphotos_78072006_m-2015

In any family business, conflict can occur quite naturally, and often does. “Oh crap, now what?” is one of the thoughts that can often go through one’s mind when they first get wind of family members not getting along as hoped.

This subject is potentially huge, and not necessarily something that one can easily tackle in about 700-words, but there are a couple of points that I want to make here, while being far from exhaustive.

Entire books have literally been written on this subject, and one, called Deconstructing Conflict, came out recently and I read it this summer. I even reviewed it (with a five star rating) on Amazon.com, which was a first for me.

One key learning from the book is that because conflict occurs so naturally in family business, we should not try to resolve it, but just manage it.

The idea, as I understood it, is that if you try to resolve it, one of two things will likely occur:

  • You will spend a lifetime trying, and you are bound to be disappointed, or,
  • You will believe that the conflict has been resolved, but you will later learn that it was not truly resolved.

 

Let’s just resolve it

Well, I am not that skeptical, and I think that making an effort to try to resolve conflict is often worth it, and it certainly feels better than just acting as if you can’t ever get rid of it.

This week I attended a course that is part of the Third Party Neutral program in Ottawa at the CICR.

Interestingly, CICR stands for the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. So clearly the people who named this organisation believe in the possiblity of resolution.

And there is also an entire field called ADR, which stands for “Alternative Dispute Resolution”, so there must be some hope of actually resolving conflicts.

Or maybe a “dispute” is just a subset of a conflict, and you can resolve a (minor) dispute, but not a (major) conflict?

Of course we can’t forget that family business situations are often ones in which truly resolving all conflicts can be next to impossible. So now what?

 

Process versus Content

Well conflict management skills and conflict resolution skills are really quite interchangeable, as you might well imagine.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up in my ADR training as well as these TPN courses that have really stuck with me.

The first is that there is a huge difference between Process and Content. Sounds obvious, I know, but something struck me this week that drove it home even further for me, and even scared me a bit too.

The neutrality aspect of facilitation and mediation (i.e. bringing in someone from the outside) was what drew me to this type of training when I entered the advisory side of the family legacy field, because I fully understood that an external, unbiased person was an absolute requirement to tackle any family conflict.

 

Is Process Enough?

I have learned and practised a number of techniques and processes, and filled my toolbox with ideas that I can use in a variety of difficult situations.

There is a lot of “art” to all of this, and the idea of “who I am” in this work, as opposed to “what I do”, is not lost on me either.

Now I want to share the scary part, but let’s just keep it between us, OK?

The scary part is that in order to help a business family work through their conflict(s), it is more important to know about conflict resolution and management processes than it is to know anything about family business.

In fact, there was one roleplay I did this week, in an area in which I had zero knowledge, and it was actually liberating to be ignorant. My lack of understanding of some issues helped me focus on the process only, without getting into the content.

Of course if you just want the conflict resolved or managed, conflict “process” people can help a lot.

If, however, you want to build a strong family base going forward, get someone who does conflict well, AND who understands family legacy.

 

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Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part I of II)

The Value of a Trusted Family Business Advisor

Sometimes things that are right under our noses are the hardest to see. Few people are immune to this, although many act as if they are.

In the interest of leading by example, I usually cherish the opportunity to share things that strike me, but which seem so obvious in retrospect that I am actually nearly ashamed to admit them.

This week’s post is about how business families make decisions together. When the founder starts a business, it is not unusual for most decisions to be made in the six inches or so between the founder’s ears.

One of the “fun” parts of family businesses, and the business families who own and manage them, is that as the business makes its transition to the following generation, the number of decision-makers often increases.

And therein lie many of the major issues that these families face, as they wrestle with how the group of people who own and manage the business will decide together, communicate, and solve problems together, as the business and assets of the family move from one generation to the next.

With large groups of people, voting is frequently an option that gets explored, and is often adopted in one form or another. This works well in politics, sometimes.

In a family business, or in any family that co-owns and/or co-manages assets together, voting has a lot of potentially negative consequences. Advisors to families in these situations will usually recommend that the family work toward more of a consensus model instead.

Now we are getting back to my embarrassing admission. I always assumed that consensus meant a decision that everyone agreed to. While that is not completely wrong, it is far from being a good definition.

If I were explaining it to a kindergarten class, it might fly, but I usually deal with a crowd that is a little older, and better educated. Interestingly, my epiphany came on a college campus.

Ever since I began doing college campus tours with my son these past few months, I have heard many college admissions folks talk about what makes their institution unique.

We sat in on sessions at some small Pennsylvania colleges that have a Quaker tradition, and during one of these (Haverford, if I recall correctly) they spoke about the consensus method of decision-making on campus.

The presenter explained that consensus is working on finding a decision that everyone could and would consent to, even if it weren’t their first choice.

OMG, you mean consensus comes from consent?!? Aaaaaggghhhh! Had it really taken me 52 years to figure this out? Well, yes. But I am really glad that I did, and not just because I got a blog subject out of it.

The devil, of course, is in the details. It is all well and good for me to talk about how much better consensus decisions are, but if families don’t understand what is really involved in achieving them, how much good will come of it?

Interstingly, most of the conclusions I will now present are ones that re-occur frequently in my blogs and my discussions with families.

Here goes:

Simple vs Easy

Consensus is simple to explain, especially with my “revelation” that getting people’s consent is how it works. But simple does not equal easy, as in “easy to do”.

 

Happens by Itself, NOT

My oft-repeated “things don’t just happen by themselves” applies here too. It may be easy to get everyone to consent to the idea of making decisions by consensus, but that will often be the last decision on which consensus comes quickly.

 

Communication

A common thread in families where things run smoothly is good, frequent, clear, open communication. Enduring consensus is nearly impossible without it.

 

It Takes Time

Everyone always seems to be in a hurry. But good, lasting decisions take time. Time to talk, time to think, time to listen, time to reconsider, time to caucus, time to research, time to sleep on it, time to invite outside opinions.

The decisions that last generations are the ones that all stakeholders have consented to.

We will look into some of the details in Part II next week.

 

 

Objective. Neutral. Compassionate?

Business families can often benefit from bringing in outside consultants or advisors to help them with certain matters. In addition to taking advantage of the expertise and experience of these resources, there is usually something else that is being sought.

The key feature that such an outsider brings along is an objectivity that people within the family just cannot have. Family members enjoy a deep connection and history, and while a lot of good comes out of these deep relationships, there can also be a downside.

When you think about the word objective, it is normal to contrast it with its cousin, “subjective”. To me, subjective conjurs up “subject to”, as in “subject to MY feelings”, as opposed to the more factual and objective, “how things really are”.

The word neutral is one that has slightly different connotations for me, as it brings up the part about not being partial, biased, or swayed by one side or the other, in a situation where people are in disagreement.

As someone who enjoys helping families sort through many of the “family issues” that arise around their businesses or wealth, being seen as neutral is one of the most important things I need to do to be successful.

Being perceived as “Dad’s guy”, hired to come in to deliver his message to the kids, has been the kiss of death for more than a few outsiders brought in to deal with intra-family affairs.

This fanatical desire of mine to work on my own neutrality has seen me search high and low for tools to achieve this goal, even while questioning whether true neutrality can ever be attained.

I am now halfway through the Third Party Neutral program (TPN) offered by the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR), having just completed my second of the 4 weeklong courses.

One of the things that has struck me thus far is that there is general agreement that becoming truly 100% neutral is an almost impossible goal. You would likely need to find a robot if you absolutely needed to find a completely neutral outsider.

The TPN program realizes this, and so their focus is on training people to become custodians of a neutral process. It is not the person who is neutral, but the process. The person serves as a guide, or facilitator, and works at getting the parties to follow the neutral process through to a resolution.

My favourite realisation regarding the neutrality of the process instead of the neutrality of the person comes back to my passion for this field.

I entered this field a few short years ago, in my late forties, in response to a calling to help families, because I have seen and heard too many stories about families who have made avoidable mistakes around their inter-generational transitions.

As the only son of an entrepreneur who built a business, and now the parent of two teenagers, I truly have seen both sides of things. Empathy is one of my strengths, but the problem in my head was how do I square the empathy with the neutrality.

The answer, which is slowly becoming more clear to me, lies in two areas.

The process: The process is neutral, and as the custodian of the process, I need to do my best to remain unbiased by one side or the other.

The family is the client: This has been on of my principles from day one, having learned it during the Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) program. (www.IFEA.ca)

With a neutral process and the family as my client, I am now free to use my empathy and my passion without trying to hide them or feel the need to apologize.

One of the veteran instructors in the TPN program stopped by our class this week and spent a bit of time meeting all of the current students. I introduced myself to her and explained how I came to this field, which she referred to as “peace making”.

When I finished my intro, she summed me up in two words: Compassionate Neutral. It may sound like an oxy-moron to some, but you know what, I think it fits, and I like it.

 

Steve Legler “gets” business families.

He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.

He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas. He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.

His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.

He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).

He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Hard versus Soft? Or Hard versus Harder?

It honestly makes me laugh sometimes when I hear people speak about the hard issues, like dollars and cents, as if they are so much more important than the soft issues, like relationships, emotions, and just getting along.

There is a huge disconnect in the family wealth industry over the relative importance of these issues.

Maybe it is because there are a lot more people working on the “hard” side of things, the things in found in the “business circle”, than on the “soft” side, which deals mostly with stuff in the “family circle”.

Maybe it is because the people working on the investment side, the securities, asset allocation, and Wall Street stuff seem to be paid much more than the folks who worry about the family harmony and communications.

Maybe it’s because it is often the Dad who works really hard and makes a pile of wealth for the family, while Mom worries about the kids, and tries to make sure that all the kids are treated fairly so they will always get along together.

In any case, hard business stuff seems so much sexier than the mundane soft family stuff.

I don’t know if it is because hard and soft are antonyms, and because another antonym of hard is easy. Something tells me that is part of it, but of course is all speculation.

The people who specialize in the soft side of things will all assure you that soft and easy are NOT synonyms.

Of course now that I brought up the word “easy”, I have to share with you one of my favourite sayings around the word easy.

Some people love to throw around the word “simple”. Losing weight is simple. Eat less, exercise more, and you will lose weight, it literally is that simple. Simple and easy are NOT the same.

To me, simple is about easily explained concepts, while easy is more about things that just about anyone can do, regardless of intelligence, experience, or effort.

This week I met with a man who works with his son, and the son has been slowly trying to force Dad out of all decision-making functions, and treating him like an over-the-hill impediment.

I have yet to meet the son, and there are always two sides to every story, but the person I spoke to did not seem like he was ready to be put out to pasture.

When I made a couple of suggestions to him about what he could do, the response was, “But it is so hard, because it is emotional”. I resisted the temptation to correct him and tell him that we were talking about something considered soft.

I think that there is some good news on the horizon for those of us who like to specialize in the family circle issues. The amount of research that shows that family wealth is more often destroyed due to family issues than money issues continues to multiply.

When you couple what is finally being acknowledged and understood with the demographics of baby boomers and the transitions that have already begun, I cannot help but believe that we are on the front edge of a wave here.

It may still take years before views like mine become mainstream, but that’s okay. The movement has begun, and it will continue to grow.

Those who want to continue to serve families of wealth by only dealing with the hard issues and continuing to ignore the soft issues (or, as you may have already concluded, the ones I consider the harder issues) do so at their peril.

Families don’t have a shortage of places to invest their wealth, or people who will help them do so.

What is missing is providers of holistic solutions that take into account the hard and the harder. Enlightened families are demanding help to make sure their wealth survives generational transfers.

If you want to help them get that right, you can’t just hope it happens by itself. There are emotional issues around family wealth in every family. Those who help their family clients navigate them will be the winners.

Driven to Commit Patricide (Part 1 of 2)

There was a court case in New Brunswick (Canada) last year that really attracted my attention. It was a murder trial, the result of the bludgeoning death of a high profile, wealthy man, just one province away from my home, and not too far from our family cottage.

What also raised my interest was that even though the murder dated back to 2011, the arrest was only made in 2013, and the trial was finally set to begin in September 2015.

Since I work with business families and families of wealth, the fact that the man being tried was the victim’s only son also piqued my curiosity. A person driven to commit patricide, wow, you don’t see that every day, certainly not in small town New Brunswick.

Instead of recounting the background details of this case, here is a link to a National Post story from Christie Blatchford, who has covered her share of newsworthy trials.

Trial of Dennis Oland, accused of murdering millionaire father, reveals dysfunctional family

This news account came after the first day of the long awaited trial, so it sets the stage nicely without giving away the ending.

I began following the trial on Twitter when it began in September. There were a handful of local journalists who attended every day, and they gave their followeres a blow-by-blow account of every courtroom interaction, day in day out, week after week.

Then one day in November, I was at my cottage, and I decided to take a two-hour drive to check things out for myself. I had no idea what a surreal experience I was in for.

I told myself that I needed to take this trip, as sort of a research project, because how many more chances would I get to have a front seat at a murder trial making headlines.

The trial that day was set to begin at 1:30 PM, so I left the cottage to make the drive to St.John around 11 AM. I parked my car around 1:15, having underestimated the time the drive would take.

I hurried to the courthouse and suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was going or even whether I would be allowed in. I noticed a small group of reporters outside, waiting, with cameras, for the arrival of the man on trial.

I approached the front door and noticed the security system, not unlike what you would see at any airport. I acted like I knew what I was doing, removed my watch and belt, and made my way through the metal detector. Once on the other side, I gathered my things, and while putting my belt back on, I saw a familiar face, a few years younger than me.

“Hey, who is that guy, he looks familiar?” I thought to myself. “Oh, that’s right, it’s the guy who’s on trial, that’s where I know that face from”. (WTF!?) The smiling man came through security right behind me, with his lawyer, and he politely said hello to the courthouse staff and headed for the elevator.

I suddenly realized that I still didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t want to ask, trying to look like I belonged there, not like some interloper. So without thinking about it too much, I raced for the elevator to join the party of two, knowing that the floor I wanted was also the one that they were going to.

A few hours ago I was at my cottage, and now I was riding in an elevator with an accused killer and his lawyer. The things I wouldn’t do to learn more about business families and the dysfunctions they breed.

The elevator stopped and I allowed them to exit ahead of me. I noticed a buzzing courtroom in front of us, and decided to try and find a bathroom.

During my visit to the facilities, I texted my wife about my surreal elevator ride, and she quickly responded, asking whether my “new friend” had been shackled and handcuffed. “No, but no worries either, he doesn’t have any reason to want to kill me”.

To be continued next week.

Brainstorming your Family Legacy

The word “legacy” can conjure up a variety of thoughts and opinions, because everyone has their own take on what it is, as well as what it should be.  When you add “family” to it, and raise the subject of “family legacy”, there is even more disparity in the responses evoked.

I recently took part in a training program at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution, during which we took turns leading a group brainstorming exercise. Given free reign to use the subject of our choice, I decided to pose the question “what is family legacy?” to see what I might learn from my small group.

As someone who thinks about (and talks about) this subject on a regular basis, I thought it would be interesting to hear what a group of strangers, most of whom did not come from a business family, might have to offer on the topic.

They were all between 25 and 55, most worked for the government (this was in Ottawa), and I am reasonably certain that none of them came from what one might term a “legacy family”.

The exercise was a success, insofar as I filled up five sheets of flipcharts and stuck them to the wall, with around 40 different words that came up from the group.

When brainstorming, one of the main rules is that there is no debating what is a good or bad suggestion, it’s just an open “brain dump” where what one person blurts out will hopefully tweak something in the brain of another, and spur even more ideas.

Some of the expected and positive words that came out were:

–         Traditions; Reputation; Loyalty

–         Money; Memories; Trust

–         Supportive; Caring; Community

Of course there were also some negative ideas that surfaced, such as:

–         Dysfunction; Limiting; Stressful

–         Gossip; Meddling; Conflicts

–         Secrets; Façades; Bullshit

A brainstorming exercise is normally just the first step in a longer facilitated process, designed to get people working together, overcome inertia, and put a bunch of the pieces of the puzzle on the table to get going.

The real work comes next, when you take the ideas gathered and start organizing them, debating their merits, and figuring out what you are going to do with that information.

Working with a real family, the follow up question, “what is OUR family legacy?” would have been an obvious next step.

There is a big difference between personal legacy and family legacy, but when the founder of a business family is still around, a large portion of the family legacy naturally comes directly from that person.

In order to create a true family legacy, the key is to start when the founder can still contribute, and in fact OWN the process.

The family needs to capture the major values, traits, and principles of that person and then figure out how to make sure that they are preserved and transferred down to the following generations. If this is done correctly at this point, the succeeding generations will then have the task of maintaining the legacy that has been established.

Of course none of this just happens all by itself.  Someone needs to care enough to first stop and think about it, talk about it, figure out what needs to be done, decide who needs to be involved, and get things moving forward.

In the long run, the family must also figure out how they are going to make decisions together, how they are going to communicate, and how they are going to solve problems together. All of this generally falls under the heading of “family governance”.

If you are the founder, what you do before you go is really all you can do. Once you are gone, it will all be in the hands of others. If you want to leave a family legacy, building the financial assets is just the first part, and some say the easier part.

Keeping the family together after you are gone, wow, that’s the tough part.  It can be done, but like I said above, it won’t happen all by itself.

Essentially, you need to stop working in your family business, and start working on your business family.  Intrigued?  Check out: www.ShiftYourFamilyBusiness.com. It is my #1 book recommendation.  I also like the website.

Need help getting started?  sl@stevelegler.com