I’m a big fan of clever wording, so as the holidays approached and I got the idea of “presence” for a blog post, I could not help myself, and absolutely had to make the point about the difference between “gifts” and “being there”.
When we are young, getting presents for Christmas can preoccupy our minds. As we get older, the question of just who is going to show up to celebrate the holidays with us becomes more important.
Between the stage of life where we wonder what Santa will bring us, and that where the number of grandchildren who will be there becomes key, the idea of presence shows up more often than you might think.
Listening and Presence
As someone who works with members of different generations in families, I can tell you that one thing that is often missing is good communication. Now do you suppose most of that is because people don’t speak well, or because their listening skills are deficient?
Learning to listen to people is more than simply making sure that your ears are tuned in to their voice. In fact, as much true listening happens with your eyes, and real listening even goes right to your heart.
Listening, especially to those family members for whom we spend so much time working hard to grow our business and wealth, is something most of us could work on and do better.
In order to listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart, you really have to be present, with all of your senses tuned in. In the log run, the parents’ presence in the lives of their children is worth more than the presents they give them for Christmas and birthdays.
Finding your Gift
Speaking of presents in the form of “gifts”, this is another area where parents can be truly helpful to their offspring. I am talking here about the idea of each person finding their gift, i.e. what makes them special.
There are still far too many families where the leading generation sees their children more in terms of resources for their business, instead of a more traditional parental role of helping them find their way in the world, following their natural gifts and abilities.
Who is invited; Who shows up
Many families spend a great deal of time preparing everyone for roles in the business, and not enough do the work to get everyone prepared for their roles in the family.
Family businesses usually have some basic governance in place to run their operations, but the family group itself can always benefit from some basic governance of its own.
It seems like more and more families are getting this message, and many are doing it the smart way and having an independent outsider take the lead in making sure that things are done the right way.
Figuring out whom to invite to family meetings can be tricky, and wondering what to do if some choose not to come to the meetings are issues that arise. Having someone who is not emotionally attached can help navigate these questions and get the necessary momentum started.
Being there > Sending a gift
Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up, and this can apply to many family situations too. If you don’t believe me, don’t go visit your mother for Christmas and just send a gift instead. Presence > Presents.
This brings up another Christmas related statement I like. People ask me how a family puts a value on the kind of work that I bring with my presence in their family processes.
One of my replies is that it is really hard to put a dollar figure on it. And I then add, “How do you put a value on Christmas visits, if one of your children shows up and decides to drive around for a bit until Uncle Bob has left.”
Everyone’s presence, for the parents, is the best present. I should not have to add that having everyone there simultaneously is assumed to be ideal, as opposed to showing up in shifts.
Family fortunes that fall apart are also a great gift, for the lawyers.
Be there, be present, listen, and communicate. Plan for the family, not just the business.