Questions of Discernment in Family Business
- The ability to judge well
- Perception in the absence of judgement with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding (in Christian contexts)
This week’s blog is sponsored by the word “Discernment”.
Okay, so that’s not literally true, as there are no sponsors of this blog. Maybe I just had a little Sesame Street flashback, and should have said that it’s “Brought to you by the letter D”.
I keep a file of blog ideas and every couple of months I put together a calendar of topics. This is the first time that I’ve noted my subject idea with a single word, i.e. discernment.
Bowen Family Systems, Spring Conference 2017
Discernment first popped onto my radar screen over a year ago, in Washington DC at the Spring Conference of the Bowen Center.
Murray Bowen’s theory has eight concepts, but the one he called “Differentiation of Self” is both the “biggest” one, and one that people have the most trouble truly understanding.
Some Bowen fans, myself included, tend to explain it to newcomers as “emotional maturity”.
At this conference though, some speakers proffered the word “discernment” instead.
Hmmmm, maybe they were on to something. But I also wonder if most people “get” discernment right off the bat.
(See: A Systematic Business Family? for my blog on that event.)
I began this post with the definition that I got when I Googled “discernment” and found it both sufficient and interesting.
“The ability to judge well” is a great start to understanding what I’m getting at, and I feel like it fits with the “emotional maturity” part too.
Number 2, “Perception in the absence of judgement” almost threw me off at first, but then it made me flash back to my post “Judgement, Not Judgement” from back in 2016.
The take-home message there was that having good judgement is laudable, but being “judgemental” is not.
The spiritual and Christian angles also intrigued me.
Questions to Help Understand Discernment
In order to get a handle on discernment and how it applies to business families, let’s look at some basic questions and examine them from a discernment angle.
I’ll start with questions requiring low levels of discernment, and then move along to those that call for higher and higher levels.
– “WHAT” Questions
Asking about “What business are we in?” or “What markets should we look to enter?” are simple and relatively straightforward for any business.
They are also necessary to consider from time to time.
They require good business sense, but don’t necessarily require much in the way of discernment.
– “WHO” Questions
Then there are questions about people, like “Who should we hire?” and eventually “Who should take over when Dad retires?”
Now the need for discernment gets ratcheted up a bit.
And in some sort of “meta” way, we are looking at judging people about their judgement!
Once you get into questions about people, things usually get a bit trickier, and emotional maturity is often called for to make the right choices.
– “WHEN” Questions
Those “Who” questions can be tough, but so can those around timing, like “When should we start working on succession?” and “When should we start having family meetings?”
Regular readers will quickly recognize my bias around these topics, and that’s okay too.
As long as we’re on the topic of my biases, let me be clear that my preferred answers to those questions is always sooner rather than later.
There’s a certain maturity required to start tasks that have been kicked down the road long enough.
Combining “Who” and “When” questions, well, now we are getting into the area of “How”.
– “HOW” Questions
To me the types of questions that require the most discernment are about “How”, like “How do we make sure we include everyone?” and “How de we make sure we follow through on all our plans?”
I’m reminded of the expression “Ideas are a dime a dozen”, which is all about simple “What” questions.
Execution and implementation are the key to making any idea work, and that’s where you need people with discernment.
A “good sense of judgement” requires plenty of maturity and wisdom around the all of the “Who”, “When” and “How” questions that are part of getting things done.
Whose Discernment Are You Counting On?
If you’re a family business leader, and you’re hoping for your family and business to be successful in the long run, finding people high on the discernment scale should be a priority.