Some words in English carry either a positive or negative connotation for the most part, yet there are some contexts where this can be turned on its head.
The world of family enterprise seems rife with examples, making it a favourite target of mine here.
One such word is “surrender”, and regular readers won’t be surprised that I’ll look at some French translations along the way.
Surrendering: Abandoning or Yielding?
So let’s start with the French translation we get from Google, where the first word we get is “abandon”. This was also my wife’s reply when I asked her how to say surrender in French. My reply to her was, “Um, that’s not really what I’m looking for”.
Of course after I told her that Google corroborated her answer, she gave me “the look”. I guess that “abandon” has as much of a negative connotation as surrender does.
The second option from Google was “céder”. For those like me who learned to drive in Quebec decades ago, we know that the triangular yellow road signs we see when merging used to say “céder/yield”.
I’d contend that “yielding” does not carry as much of a negative feeling as surrendering.
Negative Examples from Family Business
I’ve got a couple of stories that I can share on this just from the last few months, from families who’ve reached out to me. I’ll change some details for obvious reasons, but I want to make sure that the feeling of surrender comes through.
Jack and Rhonda contacted me about their manufacturing business that they had started some forty plus years ago. Their son Frank was now running things, and had been for the past half decade. Frank’s wife was also involved at a pretty high level in the operations.
Meanwhile, Jack and Rhonda had been slowly but surely marginalized into very minor roles, which at first they did not really mind.
It seemed that things were in good hands with the next generation, and they welcomed a more relaxed lifestyle.
On the Outside Looking In
The parents remained majority owners, but having now surrendered pretty much all of the day-to-day running of the company, they were having difficulty making progress with their son on the ownership transition, since he saw no reason why his sister should even be in the conversation.
The parents’ surrender in the operations was causing unintended consequences on the ownership discussions.
Let’s switch gears now to another family, where three siblings all co-own a company started by their father, who passed away a long time ago. The company has a full independent Board of Directors, on which the siblings all sit.
Surrendering to your Sibling?
One sibling, and not the oldest, happens to be CEO, while another is a VP and the third runs a separate division.
When things were going well, everyone was happy. When things began to go sideways, the siblings who aren’t the CEO had difficulty surrendering the running of the company to the CEO.
In theory, the Board should provide a buffer here, but when there are three equal owners who are also on the Board, that sometimes doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in theory.
Positive Surrender… Is that Possible?
As I think I’ve hinted above, there must be some examples of surrendering in a family enterprise that are positive.
The idea for this came in a meditation recording I was listening to called “Learning to Surrender” (by Sarah Blondin; I’m a big fan).
I’ll close with a story about a family I’ve been working with for a few years now.
Serenity Soon (If Not Now)
At a recent Family Council meeting, Dad informed his 4 children that he would soon be announcing that he would be stepping back from the Presidency of the business.
He then added that a few months later, he planned to announce to employees that the rising generation were moving into ownership positions and more senior roles.
Their mother sat beside him with a proud smile, as they talked of plans to travel more while they could still really enjoy it, and to spend more time with their growing number of grandchildren.
I think we can all agree that this sounds like a positive surrender, one many others would love to emulate.