Kid working outdoors with wood

Forced Into the Family Business

Forced Into the Family Business

I don’t have many “rules” I share with family business people I work with, mostly because every family is unique.

I also think that every family can and should come up with its own rules, “BY the family, FOR the family”.

But if you twisted my arm and insisted that I give you one rule that I think most families should follow, it’s this one:

 

Before working in the family business, rising generation family members

should first get a job working somewhere else for a few years.

 

Exceptions to Every Rule

There are exceptions to every rule, but I think this one will stand every family in good stead.

My Dad had heard this suggestion when I was younger, but he believed that our family was the exception, so I went straight into the company out of school.

The fact that I believe in this rule, despite having been an exception myself, should tell you a lot.

(Hint: I have long wished we HAD followed that rule).

 

Forcing Kids Into the Business

Many people who work in their family’s business are there because, to one degree or another, they were “forced” into it.

Sure, they don’t want to miss out, it’s their “duty”, and often the path of least resistance.

But deep down inside, if they had their druthers, there are other jobs or careers that would have suited these people much better.

Also, I really don’t think that forcing people to do anything is a very good idea for long-term success.

 

Can Forcing Them Be a Good Idea?

So I guess that it may come as a surprise to you that I actually support forcing your kids to work for the family business.

There, I said it. Yes, it’s true.

If you have a family business and you have kids, I think that it is a good idea to force your kids to work for the business.

 

Important Clarification

Now, there is a very important part of the statement that I want to make sure that everyone also understands.

You may have noted it already, thanks to my word choice, which I repeated, twice.

The important word here is “kids”, that is, minors, specifically teenagers.

And, notably, I’m also talking only about part-time or summer jobs.

 

My A-Ha Moment

The idea for this post came a couple of months ago during the #FamilyBizChat that happens about once a month on Twitter.

The topic was family employment policies.

All of a sudden I noticed a Tweet from someone who mentioned that he thought that making the kids work for the family business was a great idea!

Wait, WHAT???

 

A Voice of Experience

When I looked at the Twitter handle of the person who posted it, I didn’t recognize it at first. Upon further inspection, I realized that what the man posted made perfect sense.

Looking at his bio and last name, I quickly realized that he was the son of a colleague I know through FFI (Family Firm Institute).

That colleague is one of the few FFI members I know who’s a family business founder.

(Most FFI members are people who work with family businesses, many of whom also have a family business background as well).

Very few run large family enterprises.

 

Personal Flashback

The poster noted that he believed forcing kids to work for the business teaches them responsibility and work ethic.

Who am I to argue?

I started working for my Dad’s company when I was 15, and before that, I was “forced” (strongly encouraged?) to have a paper route for 3 years.

Responsibility? Check. Work ethic? Check.

I think I turned out OK.

 

Devil in the Details

So let’s do a quick recap.

Part-time jobs on weekends or after school, yes, having the kids work for the family business is usually great.

This assumes that both sides are getting what they need out of it.

The same goes for summer jobs or internships, they’re a great way to learn and experience what a full time job is like.

BUT, once they’re no longer teenagers, and they’re beginning their career, that’s a new phase.

This is when my only real “rule” comes into play.

Please insist that they go and find a job elsewhere, for at least a couple of years, and then, and only then, invite them to join the family business.

You’ll all be glad you did.

 

See Also:  From my Quick Start Guide Series:

My Kids in My Business? [Yes/No, When, How, Why]

Family Business Perspective

When Family Business Leaders Die

When Family Business Leaders Die

Fact: Every person who ever founded or led a family business has either already died, or will die someday.

There’s a certain segment of the population who believe that they’ll be the first exception to this rule.

Successful entrepreneurs seem to make up a disproportionate percentage of this segment.

 

No Two Are Alike

Of course, every family is different, every business is different, every founder is different and every leader is different.

But I try to make this blog relevant to every family, every business, every founder, and every leader.

This isn’t necessarily an easy task, but let’s give it a shot.

Let’s start by looking at a couple of types of family business leader deaths.

 

Early Surprise Deaths

Every now and then, due to an accident or illness, the leader of a business will die at a relatively early age.

These cases are tragic, and everyone can understand that the family and the business will face some tough sledding in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

The story of Karl-Erivan Haub of Germany is a recent case in point.

See: SUDDEN DEATH SUCCESSION PLANNING URGED IN WAKE OF HAUB LOSS.

That story from CampdenFB features some interesting takes from various family business experts, including yours truly. 

 

“Long Life, Well-Lived” Deaths

At the other end of the spectrum are cases where a family business founder passes away after a long and satisfying life.

The business has by then been left in great hands, either within the family or not.

The family is in good shape as well, thanks to some great parenting, thoughtful transition and legacy planning, and a little bit of luck (or maybe a LOT of luck) along the way.

After the death, life goes on for the family, as well as for the business. But the family can grieve the person without worrying about the fate of the business.

 

Most Are In Between 

In reality, most situations fall somewhere in between these extremes.

Besides the luck, what can you do to move along the spectrum towards the “life well-lived” end?

First off, I think that we need to acknowledge how much of a role luck actually plays in everything.

Too many people spend too much time and effort trying to control too many things that are actually way beyond their control.

Alas, that’s likely another subject for another blog. Or maybe I just hit the nail on the head.

 

Is It All About Control?

I mentioned that people often “try to control” things that are “beyond our control”.

I accidentally repeated the word “control” within the same sentence, which a good editor surely would’ve changed.

But this isn’t a book, it’s just my blog, where I act as my own lowly editor, so I’ll just use this as a sign that it’s important.

 

So, What CAN You Really Control?

Since few of us can really control when we are ultimately going to die, we should probably focus on the things over which we actually exercise some true influence.

Like what?

Well, like preparing for the fact that someday, sooner, or, hopefully, much later, we’ll no longer be around.

Our luck, so to speak, will run out.

We will all eventually become nothing more than fertilizer for the flowers that someone has (hopefully) planted above our grave.

 

The Three Key Transitions

Let’s go back to the trusted Three Circle Model.

See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

Every family business leader should focus on the three main areas where they play or played a role: the Family, the Business, and the Ownership.

They do overlap, but are each very different.

– What areas of your family leadership will someone else need to assume after you are gone?

– What areas of your business leadership will need to be assumed by others?

– And let’s not forget the ownership.

This can be the stickiest area, and should probably be worked on much earlier than most people think.

Unresolved ownership issues cause the biggest problems after a death.

 

The Ideal Scenario

A leader who can exit their business and ownership roles long before they die will have achieved the ultimate triumph.

Your death should mark your exit from the family only.

You should have exited the business and ownership in advance, otherwise the family’s grief will be more complex than it needs to be.

See also: Striving for a Succession Non-Event

Five Things FamBiz Can Learn from Fortune 500’s

Five Things FamBiz Can Learn from Fortune 500’s

Five Things FamBiz Can Learn from Fortune 500’s

People who work in family businesses often relate interesting stories about how things are done in their companies.

These tales can be difficult for some outsiders to understand and believe sometimes.

The most intriguing part is usually the fact that so many of these family companies are very successful, despite some of the non-traditional ways they operate.

Today I want to outline five ways that family businesses can improve the way they do things, by learning from bigger companies, like those found in the Fortune 500.

 

  1. Succession At ALL Levels

Large corporations usually put a priority on having a great bench of people in every department. They also typically have regular movement via promotions to keep everyone and the company advancing.

Most family businesses don’t put much priority on this, and loyalty and stability are often the focus for employees.

Owners of family businesses could make this more of a priority by starting at the top and insisting that other departments below them follow suit.

“Human resources” is actually a great term that tends to get lost. Seeing “humans” as a “resource” is key.

 

  1. Formality Is Your Friend

Many family businesses operate very informally, with few “procedures”, and many tasks that remain centralized in the heads of one or two key people.

Family businesses are often limited by how well the leaders can delegate and teach others to do many tasks.

Delegating would enable them to work ON their business, instead of working IN their business.

There are plenty of books on empowering employees, time management, and learning to delegate.

It behooves family business leaders to learn to formalize things so the business can grow beyond their own personal abilities.

 

  1. Distributed Leadership

Large corporations typically have many leaders, whose operations are guided by leadership groups and teams.

Many family businesses are led by one person, or a very small group of people who call all of the shots.

Understanding that the growth of any company will be limited to its leadership abilities is the first step.

Then they need to learn that growing their leadership team takes lots of time and needs to become a priority.

If you are starting to see a theme in these five things, good for you, it’s not an accident.

 

  1. Executing On Strategy

Every Fortune 500 company has a corporate strategy, and their focus is to then execute on that strategy.

Many family businesses do not take the time to make and formalize the long-term plans that go into a true company strategy.

When family businesses begin to do the things noted above, the result is the ability to have strategic planning meetings, with strong leaders from every department, who can then work together to outline the best strategy for the company to follow.

Once they have a strategy, they can then focus on executing it. If they haven’t made the effort to come up with and agree on a strategy, their chances of success will be limited.

Even if most of the employees are good at executing their jobs, if those tasks are not part of a coherent strategy, many opportunities will be lost.

 

  1. Best Person for Each Key Position

Family businesses often have people in positions for which they are really not well suited. These are often family members who are there because they have the right last name.

This is so much easier said than done, but qualified people are necessary for any business to function well.

There are of course several issues at play in these cases. One of them is the salary that the person is being paid for sub-optimal performance.

But the bigger problem is the performance itself if there could be a better, more qualified person in the role.

Sometimes a lateral move is the answer, so the family member can still be paid, but the key role is actually filled by a qualified person.

 

Take It Or Leave I

I’m sure that some people in family businesses will read this and think that my ideas are not worth the effort to pursue.

I am NOT saying that every family business MUST do these things to be successful. That is certainly NOT my feeling.

For those trying to create a long lasting business that they can pass on to future generations of their family, well, these ideas are merely the first few logical steps.

Kids making a mess

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

This week’s post is one that I’ve been looking forward to writing for a few weeks now, ever since I had lunch with a colleague and relayed this story to her.

It was her reaction that made me realize how simple and yet how powerful it really is.

Considering that I’ve been writing this weekly blog for over five years now, I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this yet.

 

Credit Where It’s Due 

Before telling the story, I should note that I would love to give credit to the person who told the story when I first heard it, but I really have no clue who it was.

It would not surprise me to learn that it was during one of the weekly teleconferences of the Purposeful Planning Institute, because those calls have inspired many of these blogs.

In any event, it’s one of those stories that has probably been played out in various versions hundreds of times, all over the world.

So my version isn’t a true, “verbatim” recounting, but more like a parable.

 

I Worked Hard for All of This

A successful businessman is meeting with one of his trusted advisors, as he begins to think about how he’s going to deal with the considerable wealth he has built up.

He mentions how hard he’s had to work for what he now has, and then adds,

“And I don’t want my kids to screw it all up”.

This part of the story likely sounds pretty familiar to many professionals who work with clients who’ve built up large amounts of wealth.

It’s not unnatural for anyone to be concerned that the fruits of their labour might be squandered.

 

The Other Side of the Coin

Later in the discussion, likely in response to a question posed by the wise advisor, the man has a bit of an awakening, and says,

“But I don’t want all my wealth to screw up my kids, either”.

If you’ve read even a few of my blogs, you already know that this was the true “A-Ha” moment of the story for me.

 

The Bad News First

The bad news is that so many professionals who work for such wealthy clients are really only specialists in solving the first part of the problem.

Finding ways to create bulletproof structures to preserve wealth is nothing new for many specialists who pride themselves on how they can minimize taxes, and restrict how the wealth will be used by its intended beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, too many clients are too short-sighted to see that this will also produce many unwanted side effects for their family down the road.

 

Now the Good News  

The good news is that there are now more and more people who understand that only worrying about preparing the assets for the heirs leads to sub-optimal results.

And not only that but people are now also realizing that this is not a question of either worrying about preserving the wealth OR preserving the family and their relationships, it’s actually possible to do both.

 

It’s Not Either/Or, It’s Both/And

In fact, by concentrating on the second part, and making sure that the offspring will be prepared to receive the wealth, you will increase the chances that the family will be able to maintain and even grow the wealth in future generations.

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a few years ago, Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?

It contains the profound quote,

“Plans that are about us, but don’t include us, are not for us”.

That is a verbatim quote, from a different context, but it fits perfectly here too.

 

FOR the Family, BY the Family

It starts with someone recognizing the importance of this. That could be a member of the family, or it could be a wise advisor.

Long-term planning at it’s best is truly long-term, i.e. inter-generational.

If that wealth is to serve multiple generations of a family, the sooner the members of the following generations get involved, the more likely they will be successful.

 

Efficient or Effective?

You could simply worry about the preservation of the wealth, and create rigid structures that are tax efficient and ensure that some wealth will be available for future generations.

That would certainly be more efficient.

But if you want your plan to be effective, get the

younger generation involved as early as you can.

You won’t regret it, and neither will they.

Family Business Advice

Family Business Without the Drama

Family Business Without the Drama

This week I want to discuss a subject that sometimes shows up in family businesses, and that’s “drama”.

But unlike some things that come and go in one business family or another, drama seems to either be largely present or mostly absent, depending on the family.

Let me try that again for the sake of clarity.

I find that some family businesses function in “all drama, all the time” mode, while other families might wonder what I’m talking about when they read this because they don’t operate that way at all.

Let’s take a little dramatic side trip now and we’ll come back to family business after.

 

Eliminating the Wicked Witch

I recently attended a High School play and I witnessed some unexpected bonus drama that occurred in the audience.

It was a presentation of The Wizard of Oz in a very small theatre on a Friday evening.

There were a few young children and toddlers present, presumably to watch their older siblings and cousins perform.

Everything was going as planned until the Wicked Witch of the West arrived on stage.

The girl who played her was perfectly cast.

I know this for a fact, because she had told me personally “Hey Dad, how perfect, I get to be the Wicked Witch!”

 

Exit Theater Left

The Wicked Witch’s arrival on stage, with her booming voice, green face, and the stage presence that only a six-foot-tall actress could pull off was simply too much for some of the younger patrons.

Crying, squealing, mothers taking their kids out into the hall, just wow. The witch’s parents were in hysterics observing this scene.

Each time she reappeared on the stage, there was palpable anxiety in the audience. Thankfully, when Dorothy finally eliminated her, a more calm and serene mood was enjoyed by fans of all ages.

 

Who’s Your Witch?

There are different kinds of drama in family businesses, but one common version is a variation of the witch.

I’m talking about people in the business whose mere presence has everyone on edge.

Likewise, when they are absent, everyone knows it too, and they can actually relax and get their work done.

 

Who Needs an Antagonist?

While a play needs someone to act as an antagonist, a business does not.

I’ve used the word “drama” here, and also talked about the “anxiety” that is sometimes felt.

They are not exactly the same but surely related. You can have anxiety without drama, but I’m not sure that you can have drama without any anxiety.

My conclusion is therefore that minimizing drama in a workplace should be a desirable goal.

 

Workplace Versus Homefront

Note that I chose the word “workplace” just there.

Sometimes the drama needs to have an outlet, and my argument here is that efforts should be made to limit the drama in the workplace, for the sake of the people who are there to get their jobs done.

So am I saying that people should bottle things up at the office and then bring their drama home with them?

Well, I’m not sure that would be the best interpretation either.

 

Drama Kings and Queens

Those responsible for the drama are quite often the same people, and they often play their “roles” in predictable ways.

It can be very difficult to get them to change their ways. But once a drama queen, well, usually “always a drama queen”.

So now what?

Well, the only person you can actually control is the person you see in the mirror, and so that is naturally where I’m going to suggest you put your focus.

 

Respond, Don’t React

A couple of weeks back in Your Response is Your Responsibility, I suggested that you make every effort necessary to avoid reacting, and instead take a deep breath, pause, and offer a response instead.

Drama kings, at home or at work, enjoy the reactions their tactics elicit.

When denied the satisfaction of those reactions, they may slowly, eventually, begin to subside, if only just a little bit.

 

Don’t Fight Fire with Fire

While it’s sometimes very tempting to fight dramatic fire with dramatic fire, I think that these fires should be fought with water instead.

Let’s end with a quote from George Bernard Shaw that makes this point nicely:

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig.

You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Fireworks in a blue night sky

Limits to your Sphere of Influence

Limits to your Sphere of Influence

Most strong leaders exhibit a great ability to influence others. This is true in many areas of life, and it certainly is often found in family businesses.

As society has evolved these past few decades (I’ve been around since the 60’s) the ways that this influence manifests itself has changed quite a bit.

I grew up in a family business and most of the first five decades of my life were very strongly influenced by my father, who was one of those strong leaders.

 

Times Change

As we approach the 10th anniversary of my Dad’s death, because of my work with business families, I’ve been reflecting on the influence that my father had on me over much of my life.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago in Five FamBiz Strengths to Capitalize On, there is something “magic” about family businesses.

There, I mentioned,

It may just be one of those things that you have

to experience to understand in depth. 

There are aspects to these intangibles that

manifest themselves in good times and in bad.”

The Good Side, and the Bad Side

What I didn’t note there was the fact that there are also positive and negative variations of this. 

And that brings us back to the question of the influence that we have over others.

Some people benefit greatly from positive role models in different aspects of their lives. 

Having a great parent is wonderful, and

so is having a great boss.

When that boss is also the parent,

things can sometimes get tricky.

 

He Wanted a Successor 

I’ve related this story verbally but haven’t written about it until now.  It dates back to my childhood, but only decades later have I been able to see what occurred.

My Dad was an entrepreneur, and I was his only son, and for him, that meant that I must succeed him.  What did I know? 

Well, I did “know” that I was expected to live up to that duty.  There’s that influence thing again. 

Did I ever feel like I had any other choice?

In a word, “No”.

  “You Should Become a Priest”

Meanwhile, my grandmother (on Mom’s side) lived with us until my mid-teens. 

She had become pretty religious in her later years, and she often told me that she thought I should become a priest.

I used to laugh about that.  Nowadays, I look back and appreciate her wisdom.

But her ability to influence my life was much more limited than my father’s.

 

Bowen Theory Training

As I continue my own transformation from a “business circle” specialist to one who prefers to operate in the “family circle”, Bowen Family Systems Theory has been one of my major influences.

And wouldn’t you know it, quite of few of the other trainees at Georgetown’s Bowen Center for the Study of the Family just happen to be from the clergy.

Is my grandmother smiling down at me now?  Is my father shaking his head?

I don’t know.

 

How About “Self” Influence?

I do know that as a parent, I have tried very hard to NOT overly influence my children.  I prefer to allow them to make most of their own choices, and I try to simply “stay out of their way”.

I just dreamed up the term “self-influence” and did a quick Google search to learn that others have beaten me to the punch here.

Of course, my Bowen colleagues may be shaking their heads now, knowing that the concept of “Differentiation of Self” is the “cornerstone” of Bowen Theory.

 

Limited Sphere of Influence 

I need to tie this back to my title about the “limits” to one’s sphere of influence.

I guess that I was getting at the fact that your influence over others “should be” limited.  The part about the changes in society gets at that a little.

But the other limit is temporal.

 

Your Time, My Time

Family business leaders tend to believe that their influence will outlast them. Many of them end up being quite wrong about that.

If you “over influence” people in ways that don’t truly resonate with them and satisfy them intrinsically, that influence will dissipate quickly; as in “right after your funeral”.

If, however, you work on your family legacy, concentrating on each family member’s human capital, you’ve got a much better chance.

P.S. I’m glad that I didn’t become a priest! (Sorry Oma).

Responsibility written in the clouds

Your Response Is Your Responsibility

Your Response Is Your Responsibility

This week’s blog is a bit on the philosophical side, as opposed to practical. Then again, some people may think that’s just par for the course for me.

I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on things relating to one’s responsibilities in a business family.

I’ve been thinking about this piece for a while, I’ve got lots of ideas kicking around, and they’re coming at me from different places, so let’s get started.

 

Your Responsibility

The first place this came up for me occurred a few years ago while reading about some family members who expected to reap the benefits of being part of a family business, but who didn’t necessarily realize that there was another side to that coin.

That other side, of course, is responsibility, because you shouldn’t expect to get all the positives without contributing anything yourself.

Unfortunately, as often as there are next-generation members who expect something for nothing, there are just as many occasions where the parents never tried to instill that sense of responsibility either.

 

Respond, Don’t React 

I’ve also been writing about working on my personal ability to slow things down, and “respond” to a situation or comment, rather than shooting from the hip with a “reaction”.

I’m actually just waiting for someone to ask me for “my reaction” to something so that I can reply that I prefer not to share my reaction, but would rather take a moment to reflect so that I can provide “my response” instead.

 

Response + Ability = Responsibility

Taking things further, I recently saw a video on LinkedIn, where a speaker was explaining that each person should actually feel compelled to respond to situations to the best of their ability.

The man recounted that he and his wife had taken in several physically challenged foster children because they “were able to” so they felt it was their responsibility to do so.

While I applaud people like that, I believe that they’re truly very rare, and I know if suggested we all go that far, I’d likely “lose” a lot of you.

 

Strengths Finder

I’m a big fan of the Strengthsfinder tool that has you do a quick survey and then gives you your five greatest strengths.

I’ve completed it a couple of times now, a few years apart, and the strength of “responsibility” showed up as part of my Top 5 both times.

To me, doing what needs to be done, especially when you said that you would do something, is not something that is negotiable.

 

My Response

So let’s get back to the title of this post, and get into the “my response” part a bit more.

The particular scenario I have in mind is one most of us have seen before, and if you’re part of a family business or work with business families, you’re probably pretty familiar with this too.

Some family members who work together are having a meeting, or just chatting together when one of them gets triggered and “goes off” on the other.

What happens next can make or break the way this will go.

 

What’s My Part in This?

It would be so easy to “react” in the same old way that we always have, and likely ratchet up the anxiety level and make things worse.

Instead, what I’m suggesting here, is rather than sharing our reaction, we take a couple of deep breaths and instead share a response.

That simple pause, combined with a reflective “what’s my part in this?” can change the direction that this interchange seemed to be going towards.

 

Easier to Blame Others

True, it’s easier to blame the other person for everything that has ever gone wrong in a relationship.

But, if you want to change how things turn out going forward, you know that there’s really only one person that you can actually change, right?

We are each responsible for our own responses.

We can simply react like we always have, and things will likely keep going down the same path.

Or, we can try to refrain from quick reactions and instead offer up a more appropriate response

My favourite way to remember the key distinction is a medical one.

When the doctor says you’re having a “reaction”, it’s never good.

When you begin to “respond” to a treatment, it’s usually a good sign.

Family Business Strength

Five FamBiz Strengths to Capitalize On

Five FamBiz Strengths to Capitalize On

It’s been a couple of months since my last “5 Things…” post, so it’s time to pull that framework out again.

This time the emphasis is on the positive, though, as we look at the bright side of family businesses.

 

Here we go with 5 FamBiz strengths to capitalize on:

 

  1. Long-term view

Most family business leaders are much more concerned with the very long-term success of the company than they are about the short term.

Managers of publicly traded companies are typically much more focused on their next quarterly financial report.

For a business owned by a family, the month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter and even year-to-year fluctuations are far less important.

When you’re trying to build something for your family, that could hopefully include not only your children but also your grandchildren, a long-term view just comes naturally.

Smart family businesses capitalize on that strength by constantly building their staying power, and not getting sidetracked by having to look good every quarter.

 

  1. Trust

One of the main reasons people choose to hire family members is because they trust them.

It’s natural to trust those you know well more than those you do not and those who come from the same background as you do.

Hiring family members ticks both those boxes quite well.

Of course, there are exceptions, where knowing someone well simply confirms that you cannot trust them, and those scenarios arise in far too many families.

But in terms of strengths that family businesses can capitalize on, the ability to put people into a position to succeed by empowering them is something that built-in trust allows them to do quite readily.

 

  1. Brand

There was a time when calling yourself a family business was seen as quaint and somehow admitting to being less good than “real” businesses.

That pendulum has swung back pretty strongly in last decade or so. I’m not sure exactly what’s behind it, but it certainly feels very real.

There have been plenty of surveys done in recent years that confirm that customers often prefer to deal with family businesses whenever possible.

Part of it is surely the “buy local” phenomenon, to help keep neighbourhood businesses thriving, but even large-scale businesses are no longer shying away from self-identifying as family businesses.

Not many have actually incorporated this fact into their branding per se, but S.C. Johnson certainly has.

They’ve even recently kicked it up a notch, changing their slogan from “A Family Company” to “A Family Company at Work for a Better World”.

 

  1. Work Ethic

You may want to lump this one in with Trust, but I like to talk about it separately. The person who started and grew the business is usually a hard worker, and that hard work surely contributes to the company’s success.

When their children or other family members come on board, that work ethic is usually contagious. Most offspring will exhibit similar tendencies to their parents.

Of course, as with trust, there are exceptions. We have all seen them and heard about them. I maintain that there are far more good examples that we never hear about, than bad examples that make the news.

Good parenting and leading by example are a huge part of this, and the exceptions noted above are often related more to shortcomings as a parent as opposed to business leadership.

 

  1. Magic (Intangibles)

I will forgive readers who have never actually worked for a family business for not understanding this point about “magic”.

It may just be one of those things that you have to experience to understand in depth.

There are aspects to these intangibles that manifest themselves in good times and in bad.

Successful family businesses usually feel a bit like a family even for those who are not related to the family that owns the company.

Celebrating successes with family members is usually a much richer experience. And maybe part of that is having come through some of the setbacks together as a team.

 

Capitalizing on these Strengths

Sometimes we don’t recognize what we have until someone from the outside points it out to us. Most fish love water, but they probably don’t really know that.

So if you are part of a family business, I hope you will look at this list and recognize some of these as strengths, and hopefully capitalize on them, even more, going forward.

Woman in Family Crying

Calm Is Contagious

Calm Is Contagious

Most people have witnessed occasions where anxiety in one person quickly spread to others in the room.

There’s an invisible “emotional field” that exists within groups of people, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Anxiety is essentially “contagious” because one person can quickly spread it to others.

 

Does the Opposite Hold Too?

So if one anxious person can render others in their vicinity anxious as well, could the opposite also be true?

Obviously I think so, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this piece.

My premise is that calm is also contagious.

 

Family Drama

I was born into a family with what I consider to be low to moderate level of drama. That was my family of origin.

As for my nuclear family, the one where I’m the father, and my wife is the mother, and our two children are the kids, I like to think that we’re also on the lower end of the drama continuum.

We all have our own family or families, and if we think about them in terms of their typical drama level, we surely know of other families who exhibit a higher propensity for drama.

 

Emotional Reactivity

Another way to look at this is to think about it in terms of emotional reactivity.

There’s often one person, or maybe more, who simply have a way of triggering the emotions of others, and not necessarily in a good way.

It could be something very subtle and it may even operate at an unconscious level, but it is definitely there.

You may not be able to see the anxiety, but you can definitely sense it.

 

Superpowers

A while back, an acquaintance asked me straight up, out of the blue, “What’s your superpower?”

I was a bit taken aback, but since then I’ve really come to love the term and what it means.

It’s a nice way to define some ability that one has that seems to be very rare in others.

It’s often something that comes to you so naturally, that at first, you assume everyone has it too.

But eventually, you realize that it’s some innate ability that you have, that few others do.

 

The Sixth Sense

 My superpower is the ability to sense the anxiety between people.

I’m not just talking about walking into a room and sensing the general tension that’s there or feeling like there’s an ultra-sensitive air in the room.

I’m talking about the direct tension that exists between a specific pair of people.

Unfortunately, this sense is not infallible, and it does not kick in immediately every time.

 

Drama Management

So let’s try to bring this back to the calm contagion where we began.

Families, especially when they manage a business together, or simply share ownership of some assets as a group, need to come together occasionally to make decisions.

Because of their complex relationships, being family members and having shared financial and ownership responsibilities, things can sometimes become tense.

Oh, and can we all agree that when our brains are preoccupied with interpersonal anxiety, we don’t always do our best thinking?

 

Calming the System

In order for a group of people, in this case, a family system, to be able to function at their best, it helps if they are not distracted by emotional reactivity, a.k.a. drama.

One person can quickly disturb the calm in a system.

Can one person calm a system back down?

 

Realistic Expectations

I believe that it is possible, but it also requires patience and a realistic expectation level.

Anxiety can be ramped up quite rapidly, but instilling calm usually takes more time.

A key ingredient is that one person who goes first, and models the calm for the others to follow.

 

Immunity

The contagion analogy is making me think about the one person who is immune to the sickness, who can then interact with each of the sick people without worrying about catching their disease.

The mere presence of the healthy one can give hope to the sick to believe that they too can be well again.

For families, it can be difficult to find such a person from within their ranks, because each person is “caught” in the system to some degree.

That’s where an independent, unbiased, objective, neutral outsider can certainly play a role.

Serenity now!

 

See: Calm-Fident Advice for your family

guy wearing suite holding hand up

Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz

Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz

This week we’re going to look at something that many family business leaders face, and that often makes them feel powerless.

While they appear so powerful to others, deep down inside, well, maybe, not so much.

 

Life Imitates Art

I was a big fan of the TV Show The Sopranos when it first aired on HBO, and it became appointment TV viewing in our house.

Tony Soprano was a mafia boss, and he had a family, but he wasn’t the prototypical family business leader.

We have a promotional poster for the series in our basement, that shows Tony in the center, with his wife, mother and kids on one side, and his “work family” on the other.

It reads:

“Meet Tony Soprano:

If one family doesn’t kill him,

The other family will”  

I still get a kick out of it every time I see it.

Not Just for Business Leaders

The Soprano quote below that inspired this blog post came from a story I read a couple of months back about David Chase, which ran in GQ Magazine.

The story was about Soprano’s head writer David Chase, and it examined some similarities between Chase and the Tony Soprano character.

The end of the story included this quote:

(Some of the letters have been replaced by ***, but I think you can still get the gist of it):

 

“All due respect, you got no f***ing idea

what it’s like to be number one.

 

Every decision you make affects every

facet of every other f***ing thing.

 

It’s too much to deal with, almost.

And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”

 

Does It Have To Be So Lonely?

 Let’s look at some options that the person at the top has as possible outlets or resources.

 

     Spouse

Tony, of course, had Carmela and they spoke quite often about many important issues. But deep down, Tony knew that there were many things that he couldn’t and shouldn’t burden his wife with.

An understanding spouse who is a good listener can be very helpful but is rarely sufficient to relieve the loneliness burden.

 

     Top Management

Some of the most memorable scenes from the show were ones that included Tony and his top management. Paulie and Sylvio were the mainstays, and Christopher was a rising star in the group.

But much like the spouse, these people are so tied in with the decisions, that it becomes difficult to broach subjects that affect the group.

 

     Peer Group

The closest thing Tony had to a peer group was the other top mafia bosses from other territories.

We occasionally got glimpses of this, and they sometimes offered an opportunity to exchange with others who faced similar challenges and decisions.

The nature of their business on the show, however, added a dangerous element that discouraged too much sharing.

Real family business leaders usually have lots of opportunities to join peer groups, through organizations like FEX, TEC, Vistage, etc.

 

     Rising Generation of the Family

Tony’s kids were too young, and AJ, his only son, did not seem to have the “right stuff” for the line of work his father was in.

For real leaders of family businesses, there are plenty of opportunities to share what one is going through with their offspring, especially those who work in the business with them.

This is an area that I think is underexplored by most people.

Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear to be playing favourites by sharing with one child more than others, or maybe it’s an effort to avoid putting a burden on them.

My belief is that some sharing, in appropriate amounts, at the right age and stage, and in the proper way, can be a win/win, because it also helps prepare the future leader(s).

 

     Trusted Outside Advisor

Tony’s frequent visits with Dr.Melfi, his shrink, were a recurring theme throughout the show’s run.

Mental health practitioners are a potential outlet, but so are other trusted professionals, like your accountant and lawyer.

There are also plenty of executive coaches and family business advisors that could certainly play a role too.

 

     Board of Advisors

The ultimate solution, just shy of having a full-fledged “Board of Directors” would be to set up a less formal “Board of Advisors”.

This takes time and effort to set up, but those who have done it swear by it.

Tony Soprano probably should have had one too!