Posts

Family Business Decision Making

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part II of II)

Family Business Consultant - Family Meeting Facilitation - Wealth manager

Writing this blog every weekend is truly cathartic for me, and I love doing it, but it offers its share of challenges too.

Last week’s post ended a bit abruptly for my liking, as I was trying to complete my point about consensus being impossible without consent, but realized that I was leaving too many important things unsaid.

Being my own editor and publisher has its advantages, though, so simply adding a “part 2 of 2” is an easy way out.

We left off looking at how getting the consent necessary for family consensus can be tricky and time consuming, but if you care about this subject at all, you probably already know that.

This week I want to add three key aspects to the ideas already put forth. They are: Offering an Informed Choice, We > Me, and Progress > Perfection.

 

Informed Choice

If I ask for your consent to do something minor, and you already trust me due to some prior common experience or interaction, chances are good that you will quickly go along.

If we change that from something minor to something major, it is more likely that you will take your time before consenting.

If we now add in some complexity to the equation, hesitation on your part will surely increase further.

As I wrote in 2014 in “The Importance of Offering an Informed Choice” very often families will have their lawyers draft extensive documents to formalize family structures, but the families never actually sign them. The most frequent reason noted is disagreement, but that usually masks a lack of true understanding.

If you want me to sign an agreement, you better make sure that I am comfortable doing so, and that means, first and foremost, that I acutally understand what I am agreeing to.

If I don’t feel informed or if I don’t feel like I had any choice, my reluctance will skyrocket.

 

We > Me

Now we are getting into a whole different area, but a doozy nonetheless.

As I covered last year in “Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?”, it is important for all stakeholders to have a say in matters.

Ideally, the family figures out what THEY want (They, plural!) and then “Once they know what they want to accomplish, they THEN engage the advisors to fine-tune the details of HOW they will write it up.

Somewhere along the way, everyone needs to come to the realisation that there is no “Me, or I” in family continuity, it is all about We.

If you don’t get past this one, well, good luck with building consensus.

 

Progress > Perfection 

This point is very much related to the conclusion of last week’s piece, in that all of the questions of building consensus for lasting inter-generational family continuity require patience, realistic expectations, and time.

As long as it is more “Two steps forward, one step back”, than “One step forward and two steps back”, consider it progress. If you are expecting perfection AND getting it done quickly, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

It is not because your advisors are no good, or not trying hard enough, this stuff is complex AND important, and we are dealing with emotional subject matter.

Now, if you feel like you are blocked, it is high time you bring someone in from the outside to help bring some perspective and an unbiased viewpoint or to kickstart things forward again.

Last fall, as I wrote in “Understanding AND Agreement, you need everyone to understand things, AND agree to them. If either is missing, there will be a problem.

 

Recap

Getting consensus is not easy and it takes time. People need to be fully informed of what the stakes are for them, and there needs to be an overall understanding that the WE of the family is more important that any one person’s stake.

Lastly, if you are hoping to wrap everything up quickly, you are surely fooling yourself. This is not a straightforward process, it never is. But you can get through it, and it is worth it in the end.

 

The Value of a Trusted Family Business Advisor

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part I of II)

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.

 

 

I Can See CLEARLY Now…

Empty road with motion blur

…the rain is gone.

Jimmy Cliff was not an advisor to business families, but he certainly put his finger on one of the bigger issues that families are faced with as they try to figure out how to make sure that their legacy makes it to following generations.

It has nothing to do with making the rain stop, and everything to do with CLARITY.

This all sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that making things clear is what you need to do, and if and when you do that, the rest is easy. Well, as important as achieving clarity is, it is rarely easy. But it is an essential first step.

OK, so what are we talking about here? Maybe I need to be more clear. True enough, because I could be talking about a whole lot of different things here, right? Well, yes, and maybe I am.

We are talking about business families, or UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth) families, or legacy families, and we are talking about when they get to the important decisions that need to be made surrounding the passing of their wealth to their succeeding generations.

The senior generation and the rising generation each see things from their own point of view, and a good deal of what they each feel is important will often remain undiscussed.

Let’s now add in the professional advisors to the family, from the accountants and lawyers to the wealth managers, bankers, insurance people and tax specialists.

Each of these trusted specialists also tends to see things from their own professional perspective, and since each one is armed with their own specialist hammer, they will often see every family’s issue as being just their kind of nail.

All of the parties are well meaning, competent, and intent on arriving at the best possible result for the family, because they all know that while it is not easy to beat the odds, this family has just what it takes to pass on their wealth for many generations to come.

After listening to a variety of ideas from their trusted advisors and even the members of the rising generation of their family (who will play instrumental roles in seeing the plans through), the leading members of the family who must ultimately decide on various courses of action are often hesitant to act.

The finger pointing can now begin. The rising genration can point at their parents and blame them for not trusting their children, the lawyer can blame the accountant, the insurance person can blame the tax guy, and Mom can blame Dad.

All along, the missing ingredient was clarity.

Here are just a few of the items that were probably not made clear, either because everyone assumed the answers where understood and agreed upon, or because they required discussing issues that are just no fun to talk about.

  • What are the main goals for the family; to run a business together, to run a foundation together, to share use of the family real estate, to raise future stewards of the family legacy, or for everyone to do what they love and happily gather as a family at holiday time?
  • How important is it to minimize the amount of taxes that the family will have to fork over to the government when each person passes away?
  • Do the people who are expected to play key roles in carrying out the plans actually know what those plans are, understand those roles, and agree to carry them out?
  • Are there other family members who may be expecting to play certain roles who are being left out?
  • Is anyone being conveniently blind to poor relationships that exist, and hoping that when these people inherit assets that they are to manage together, they will magically become great business partners?

Now I never said that making these things clear was simple, and I guess after looking at these questions it is easy to understand why these things get overlooked in the name of action, any action.

But as professionals helping families, we have to do a better job of helping families “see all obstacles in their way”.

 

 

Progress of family business

Progress vs. Perfection

ProgressCropSS

This week I was in Denver for conferences by the Purposeful Planning Institute, one of my favourite organizations. I’ll attempt a recap next week.

On Tuesday I noted the expression “Progress is more important than perfection” during one of the sessions. “Oh, I like that one, I’ve even used it personally”, I thought to myself.

Trouble is, due to the number of presentations and my less-than-stellar note-taking, I completely forgot the context in which it was raised, so I am kinda flying blind here.

So instead, I will share the contexts in which I have heard and used the concept before, and then get to its importance in the realm of transitioning family business, wealth, and legacy.

Now it also brought to mind another, seemingly contradictory expression, and I wrestled with that, so I will try to square that circle too.

 

Coaching courses

When I began taking coaching courses years ago, the idea of simply trying to help people get “unstuck” really resonated with me. Just making a bit of progress and overcoming inertia can be huge, because when you feel stuck, anywhere but where you are seems like a step up..

In contrast, you aim for perfection, but spend so much time with aiming the rifle that you never actually fire any shots. (I’m not a big fan of guns, but I just spent a week in the Wild West, please forgive this analogy).

We all know people who put things off forever, waiting for the perfect time to act, which never arrives.

Zig Ziglar had some great schticks about this, talking about people who live on “Someday Ilse”, and giving people a round piece of cardboard with “To It” written on it, so they could finally do all of the things they promised to do when they “got a round ‘to it’”.

 

Family transitions

Families who are looking at how they are going to transition their business, wealth, and legacy to the next generation will often fall into this trap too. It is rarely the “right time” to begin doing this work, so delays in getting started are quite common.

A proper, well-thought-out transition will usually take years, so that “perfect state” is really far off, and the time it takes to see the finish line can discourage families along the way.

Good advisors are constantly reminding their clients of how far they have come, that they are moving in the right direction, and how important realistic expectations are.

On a personal level, I’ve used the progress/perfection concept to keep myself motivated in my own long-term project, that of getting to a healthier weight.

Neither family transitions nor weight loss will typically follow a straight line, so being satisfied with some progress can be a huge element in encouraging “stick-to-it-tive-ness”.

But then I thought about this other expression: “Don’t let ‘good’ be the enemy of ‘great’”. Hmmm… I like that one too, but it feels like a contradiction to “progress vs. perfection”.

 

Action orientation

Good vs. Great is more about being satisfied with something mediocre and therefore never trying to get to something great. The big differences to me are the time element, and the sequence.

In a static situation, good/great is about being satisfied with something sub-optimal and being too lazy to try for something better. The family is getting along “OK”, so why try to improve things, we may just make them worse? You’ll never get to a better state, due to inertia and fear.

In a dynamic context, like a project, it is no longer about getting started, it is now about not getting discouraged into stopping along the way. “We’ve tried to get the kids to work together well, and they still aren’t doing great things together, so why bother?”

Well, if they had not even been on speaking terms for years, and can now be in the same room and speak to each other civilly, can we agree that that’s an improvement?

The small steps need to be recognized and celebrated as important progress. Then you need to keep at it. Now that things are “good”, try to make them great!

Progress is good, but keep going for great.

 

Facts versus Opinions and Assumptions

Hand holding a Facts 3D Sphere sign on white background.

Opinions disguised as Facts

This week I was participating in a monthly online group meeting with colleagues who are all Bowen Family Systems Theory enthusiasts, and one of them made a statement that immediately struck me as “blog-worthy”.

She was talking about her family of origin (the one in which she grew up) and when referencing her father, she attributed the description “someone who stated a lot of opinions as though they were facts”. Wow, I thought, that sounds like my Dad!

This got me thinking about the characteristics that helped my father become successful, which included his “don’t take no for an answer” approach to life, his self-confidence, and his ability to size up a situation quickly and develop a plan of action.

When I think of what helped make him a great businessman, these are some of the attributes that made him who he was. Even though I am certain about them, that doesn’t mean that my assertions qualify as “facts”. They are, quite simply, my opinion.

I am less prone to act quickly, preferring to observe matters, take in various details of what I see and hear, and then take my time before deciding if any action is warranted. Perhaps it’s just my nature, or maybe part of it comes from the fact that I usually feel like I have the luxury of time to think.

Looking back at my Dad and his own upbringing and the circumstances under which he built his business, for the first 50-some years of his life, I doubt that he ever felt like he could afford to think about taking his time.

 

Important succession character traits

When business families start to look at the questions surrounding succession of their business and who should be involved, the ways that the different generations consider these issues start to come into play.

An entrepreneurial business founder who started a company, and against all odds built it into a sizeable organization, will likely have many of the traits that my father had, including an action-orientation that leaves little time to consider various opinions about important matters.

The character traits that will help ensure that the company and the family will continue to prosper into the next generation, however, are likely to be quite different.

If the number of people involved increases from one generation to the next, as it often does, then the ability to consider the opinions of all stakeholders will likely become a factor going forward.

Sometimes the hard-charging founder will have a child who is literally a “chip-off-the-old-block”, and they will usually be seen as the “heir apparent” early on, with the thinking that what was important for the business in one generation would continue to be key in the next.

The problems with that line of thinking include:

  • The skill sets involved in growing a business from the ground up, versus those of maintaining it, are sometimes quite different;
  • Technology changes over a few decades can be considerable;
  • The main group of concern may no longer be the company, but may well have shifted to the family.

 

Expert Opinions are still Opinions

There is no simple answer to these questions of course, but as an advisor to families who are faced with business and wealth transition situations, I can affirm that the most successful plans come after consultation with the stakeholders.

The leading generation often seeks the input of trusted advisors, all expert in their particular domain, like legal, tax, or accounting. These experts are also prone to offer up their opinions cleverly disguised as facts, which makes them seem incontrovertable.

When a family gets the experts involved before including the family, a plan is usually presented to the family after it has been made, as a “fait accompli” (note that “fait” is French for “fact”).

The opinions of those for whom the plan was made, usually the children, will not have been considered (at least not their true opinions). More likely the parents will have made assumptions about what was best for them, without asking.

When you look at how often “assumptions” and “opinions” get treated as “facts”, you can understand why so many family business transitions fail.

Stick to the facts.

Family Inheritance

What Are You Leaving Them?

1yWhat are you leaving your Family - Curling Game

Just about every parent gets to a point in their life where they cannot help but think about just what they will be leaving their children when they die.

Among the things that they think about are both the tangible, like money, property and other valuables, and the intangible, like life lessons, values, unforgettable life experiences and a true sense of their family legacy.

“What” is not the only question that comes up of course, there is also “why” and “how”. And let’s not forget the sub-parts of “what”, like “when”, “where”, and “who”, but they’re well beyond the scope of one blog post.

The “why” and the “how” are pretty important to work out, because they are so often the root cause of family conflict afterwards, when children are unclear as to why their parents arranged things as they did.

When I ask these questions of parents, the “what” is the easiest place to start, and I always begin with the tangible stuff. We are not ignoring the important intangible things, just delaying them until we get a better handle on stuff that everyone can see and agree on.

I’ve always been a sports fan, and maybe even a bigger fan of analogies, and plenty of sports analogies come to mind on the topic of “what you are leaving”.

In rugby, when a team scores a “try” (similar to a touchdown in football), they get to kick a convert for more points, but unlike in football, the spot of the kick depends on where the player downed the ball in the end zone.

So if a player scores a try near the sideline, he (or his teammate) needs to attempt a much more difficult convert than if he scored in the middle of the end zone.

Moral: The details of what you leave definitely affect others and their likelihood of success.

In hockey, the difference between a good goaltender and a great one is often their ability to control rebounds. A good goalie stops the puck, a great goalie will not only stop the puck, but also make sure that it ends up in a location that makes it more difficult for the opposition to score on the rebound.

Moral: It is important to think not only about what you leave your loved ones, but also what you do NOT leave to others.

In billiards, a good player will sink the ball in the pocket, and then see what the next shot will be. A great player will plan her shot so that she leaves the cue ball in a good spot for her next shot, or at least not in a great spot for her opponent should she miss.

Moral: Sometimes you need to decide what to leave, without knowing what comes next.

In curling, you always know that your opponent will be throwing the next stone, and once again there is a huge difference between good players and great ones. Also, curling is the ultimate team sport.

A good team will make their shots and hope for the best with what happens next. A great team will always consider a number of things before even choosing which shot to attempt:

  • What is the score?
  • What are we trying to do with this rock?
  • What will the other team likely try with their next shot?
  • Where do we ideally want all of the rocks to be when they all come to a rest?
  • What happens if we miss, and how can we miss in a way that still gives us an OK result?
  • What are we planning to try on our next shot?

Moral: Complex decisions always entail a number of questions, and the best decisions come when the members of the team know each others’ abilities, trust each other, and have a clear idea of what they are trying to do together.

The curling analogy fits best for me, as each player contributes to each shot, and a great team needs to have great players and be well coached.

Your kids are part of your team, aren’t they?

Who is coaching your family?

 

Growing and sustainable family business

When your Greatest Desire is also your Greatest Fear

This week I was privileged to be invited to a lunchtime speech by David Lansky of the Family Business Consulting Group. Lansky is based in Chicago, but being a Montreal native, the good folks at Pembroke Private Wealth Management invited him to speak to their clients in Montreal and Toronto.

His presentation was entitled “Family Wealth Continuity”, and I went into it fully expecting to nod my head up and down throughout, and he did not disappoint. I am not a big “note taker” when I attend presentations, preferring to be fully attentive lest I miss something while I am jotting stuff down.

Occasionally though, someone will say something that I just have to write down, and then it almost always gets turned into a blog post.

So here is, from page 10 of his Powerpoint deck:

“What benefactors most want…they also most fear.”

Wow. I had never heard anyone put it that way. Let’s walk our way through this a bit.

People work hard to create wealth for their family. We all know many families who have done an extraordinary job of doing just that. We don’t often ask them why, because the answer seems so obvious.

They work for their wealth so that their family can be happy, have nice things, live in a safe place, go to nice places, have access to great healthcare, and lots of smiliar reasons.

They want their children to have a great life, and very often they don’t want their kids to have to work as hard as they did.

So far, so good. Somewhere along the way, though, especially in families who have done a really good job of creating more wealth than they could ever use in several lifetimes, some doubts creep in, and these parents start too worry about leaving their kids too much money

This brings back a memory of a great quote I recall from a CAFÉ Symposium a couple of years ago. Mike “Pinball” Clemons, a CFL Hall of Famer and winner of Grey Cups as both a player and head coach said, “Make sure that your family members are the beneficiaries of your family business, NOT its victims”.

Sometimes there is “too much wealth”, sometimes there are disputes between family members, sometimes both of these things are present, along with a host of other complicating factors.

Unfortunately, the fact that wealth can be a blessing or a curse will always be with us.

I have been running several questions through a model that I am working on to help explain and simplify things, and its basic elements are What, Why and How.

Allow me to try to demonstrate not only my thoughts on this important topic, but also use the three-stage model.

We start by looking at the What, i.e. what we are trying to do, in simple terms. We are trying to pass our wealth down to our children.

Now, we need to step back and ask ourselves Why we want to do this. So we talk about the things I mentioned off the top, having nice things, living in a nice place, making sure our kids don’t have to worry about money, etc.

Now comes the hard part, the How. At this point we have to look into the future and step forward and figure out all of the details around How we can do What we want to do, and have these details be aligned with the Why we want to do them.

My main point is that families can and do pass wealth down to their children without the fear that other families experience.

The major difference with the families who do that well and many others is that they are very careful with the How, and they take the time to talk with the entire family about the What, and the Why, and the How.

It is not always easy to have these critical conversations, but having them is what separates the successful families from the ones where the fear is justified.

It can be done, but it doesn’t just happen by itself. But then again, nothing important ever does.

 

My CAFÉ Symposium 2016 Top 10 List

 

Returning from Calgary after attending my third annual CAFÉ Symposium in a row, I thought I would try something a bit different in this blog, and with a hat tip to David Letterman, here is my Top 10 List of memories.

Number 10Tony Dilawri’s Dad stories

A second generation family business leader who opened the Symposium with his family story.

Favourite parts: His Dad announcing “We’re all moving to Regina”, as well as his Dad telling him he was not working hard enough because he did not work on weekends, and his reply that he had multiplied the size of the company many times over while working less hours.

Number 9Dinner conversation

At the Family Enterprise of the Year Award dinner, I was seated next to a retired criminal lawyer, Larry Hursh (accompanied by his wife Carolyn) and I had the chance to exchange views with him on the Oland trial that I had attended in November.

Number 8Another Molson please

After the FEYA dinner, author Gordon Pitts interviewed Andrew Molson, who shed light on how their family has remained strong over the generations, including 3 separate times that they have owned my favourite hockey team.

Number 7Old Friends, New Friends

Like any annual conference you attend, it just gets better every year, because you know more people and more people know you. It was great to see old friends and meet other new ones, and hopefully we will all see each other again in Halifax in 2017.

Number 6Paint by Numbers

An old friend was Sarah Tkatchuk of KPMG, and she and some colleagues lead a workshop called “Painting a clear picture of long term family success”, which was surprising to me because “painting” and “accountants” are not necessarily two words you think of together. Of course, it was essentially a “paint-by-numbers” exercise.

Number 5 You are getting sleepy

Wayne Lee’s hypnosis show was hilarious and very memorable for the performances by a couple of participants, old friend Trudy Pelletier and new friend Margaret-Jean Mannix. I will just leave it at that.

Number 4Brett Wilson’s unique ways

The former Dragon shared a few of his stories and philosophies to end the conference.

Favourite parts: He admits attending the University of Saskatchewan because he did not realize that (in theory at least) he had other choices of schools. Also, the methods he is using to get his children to be financially responsible, which sound like they are working, even if they are clearly not for everyone.

Number 3 Prepare those heirs!

The mother-daughter team of Kathy Reich and Nicky Scott shared lots of great ideas during their workshop. It is nice to see that more people are getting into what they called “Preparing Heirs for Assets (not the other way around)”.

Having read “Preparing Heirs” myself, and also having the pleasure of speaking with author Roy Wilson on a recent conference call, I am glad to help spread this message to more people.

Number 2A new take on Core Values

Keynote speaker John DeHart spoke passionately about how he co-founded Nurse Next Door and how defining their corporate values was (and still is) their key to success.

It only hit me after he was finished that his real innovation was getting away from the staid old “one word” values like integrity and replaced them with sayings, taglines or catchphrases like “sunny side up”, which was both a personal value of his and a value of his company.

Number 1The Bermingham Story

Patrick Bermingham recounted the tale of his 119-year old family business, and what a tale it was.

Favourite parts: How he purchased the company from his father, they shook hands, and Dad never said another word, he was now fully in charge. How he went about raising cash at a time where he had no other choice, and how he offered shares to key employees to ensure the company’s growth would be sustainable.

Many inspirational stories were heard and enjoyed by the hundreds of attendees, and I was glad to be one of them again.

I hope to see you all in Halifax next year!

 

 

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.

 

Teach your Kids to Make Lemonade

Depositphotos_29564613_m-2015

Our ability to navigate the tricky subjects around family business is often correlated with the parenting skills that were either present or absent while the kids were growing up.

Most people that I speak to about these subjects have agreed with me when I mention that almost all problems we see as advisors to business families stem from things that the parents either did or did not do while raising their little ones.

Ever since I began the work necessary to becoming an advisor to family businesses (taking coaching courses, attending mediation workshops, and even completing two years in a Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) training program) the most wonderful side effect has been the positive impact on my own parenting.

Back in February, I wrote a couple of blogs called Tell it to the Judge (Part 1 and Part 2) in which I suggested that the only people who could truly judge anyone’s parenting skills are those who were on the receiving end of them, i.e. their children.

So I guess I would have to actually ask my kids if they agree that my parenting skills have improved over the past few years, but I think so, and even my wife agrees!

During a discussion with my fellow BFST trainees, one member of the group described a situation wherein one of their teenage children had been involved in an unfortunate situation, and someone brought up the old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

So today I want to revisit the lemonade question and how parents might think about handling it. When something unfortunate happens to someone you love, it is tempting to jump in, and react quickly to try to save the day.

Unfortunately, nobody has yet invented the “rewind” button in life, where you could actually just go back and “undo” something bad that befells you or someone you care about. All we can really do is start today and try to make things better going forward.

So what are some of your options when your child receives a proverbial lemon?

Well, you could hit them over the head with it and blame them and make them feel even worse about themselves. This obviously doesn’t sound like a great idea, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, and far too often.

We could feel sorry for our child, tell them that none of this was their fault at all, and Mommy and Daddy are going to make it better. “Here you go dear, I made you some lemonade!”

I suppose that is better than the first reaction, but this too can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, and is a missed teaching opportunity.

Somewhere in between these lies a more useful and balanced approach. I will try to break it down into some possible steps to draw out the ways I have thought this through:

  1. Make sure that the child is OK and that there is no more immediate danger or problem.
  1. Empathize with them, explain that sometimes bad stuff happens to good people.
  1. Explain the lemonade proverb to them, along with the old “it’s not what happens to you that’s important, it’s how you DEAL with what happens to you”.
  1. Don’t fall for the temptation to make the lemonade for them. Feel free to share your lemonade recipes (i.e. things that happened to you but which you overcame)
  1. Inquire about how their lemonade making is going, ask for a taste, and compliment them on the fine beverage they have produced.
  1. Encourage them to learn life’s lessons so that they can hopefully avoid being dealt those same particular lemons again.
  1. In due time, point out how proud you are of the way they made that batch of lemonade, and that you are sure that whenever they get some other kind of lemons, you are confident that they will be able to handle them with aplomb.

If you can do all of those things, chances are pretty good that your child will judge your parenting skills to be more than adequate.

I’ll drink to that.

 

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.

Humble and Kind

It has been over three years since I wrote a blog with a title borrowed from a country song, so I hope that nobody will accuse me of going back to the well too soon.

As with Blame it on Cinderella back in March 2013, I was driving when I heard the song, there was a conference involved, and I was on the East Coast. Last time it was a CFA meeting in Boston, and the song that inspired me came on during my drive home.

This time I first heard the song on the way to the Family Business Summit in Halifax, put together by the great folks at the Dalhousie Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity.

This time the song was by country star Tim McGraw, and because my radio was still set to HotCountry103.5, I actually heard it again as I was heading back to my cottage in New Brunswick when the summit ended.

I was driving away with a smile on my face, because I met so many great people over the two days, and I was actually trying to figure out what it was about these people that made them so easy to be around and get along with.

Part of me was thinking that it must be the geographic location, because Maritimers are known as some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere in the world.

Whenever someone asks why we have a cottage in New Brunswick (not exactly close to home in Montreal) I never fail to mention that one of the main attractions is the people and their relaxed, easygoing nature.

So the people were nice because they are from Atlantic Canada, right? Yes, but that is only part of it.

These people were also Family Business people, and over the past few years since I got back into the family business game, I had not really thought of this, but there is something about FamBiz types that makes so many of them great people to be around.

And just as I was thinking about all this stuff, still with that smile on my face, Tim McGraw’s latest hit, Humble and Kind, came on my car radio again.

Humble and Kind. Every single person that I had met during the previous 36 hours, from the hotel staff to the speakers, from the summit organizers to the family business people themselves, each one seemed to be truly humble and kind.

When I got back home I listened to the song again, and wouldn’t you know it, I had another A-Ha moment.

When I heard the song in the car, I was focussed on the “humble” and the “kind”, and if you had pressed me on it, I would have sworn that the song was about being humble and kind.

But that would have missed part of the whole lesson. The actuall lyrics that the father is singing to his children are “Always stay humble and kind”. So what’s the big deal about that?

In order to stay, or remain, a certain way, you have to be that way to begin with. Now we know that not everyone scores well on the humility and kindness scales, but is that because they did not stay that way, or because they never were?

And if you do start out humble and kind when you are young, how did you get that way? My guess is that most of it comes from your parents and the example they set.

When family businesses fall apart, it is usually in large part because of family conflict, so what happened to the humility and the kindness?

My theory is that there is a large “self-selection bias” in family business conference attendance. Families who attend are doing well and want to do better, so they come together, as families, and meet other families, and learn from each other.

The ones who do not attend are probably the ones who really should be there, because what they learn from others could really help.

The upcoming CAFÉ Symposium in Calgary will give me another great chance to put this theory to the test.

 

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.