Coaching for Current & Future Family Leaders?

This week we’re talking about coaching for family leaders, both current and future. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart that keeps coming up for me lately.

I’d planned this piece a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly last Wednesday morning, something unexpected arrived in my inbox.

Well, it wasn’t completely unexpected, because I receive the latest edition of the FFI Practitioner every Wednesday morning, so that wasn’t the surprise. 

But the content was very much in line with what I was planning on sharing here this week, which I found serendipitous.

The featured piece is entitled The Benefits of Coaching for Family Enterprise Leaders and Practitioners by Greg McCann.


Hey! That’s What I Was Gonna Say!

Since I was going to say much of what he wrote, I decided to share his wisdom, and add my perspectives on the matter; kind of a win-win.

McCann outlines the benefits of coaching that still remain misunderstood by many people.  

He mentions “increasing the leader’s capacity for more than just the issue at that moment” and “a safe, neutral setting in which to process ideas, fears, perceptions, and patterns in their lives”, among other great points.

I’ve shared my history of trying to explain coaching to people in No, Dad, Coaching Isn’t “Helping Losers”.


Good Timing (For a Change!)

The coaching field continues to grow, in the number of trained and qualified coaches, and in its acceptance as a true field, which provides a valuable service to clients around the world.

My coach training journey began in 2013; at the time my focus was more on growing my facilitation practice, rather than 1-on-1 coaching opportunities.

But near the end of 2018 I decided that it was finally time for me to get my own professional coaching certification in 2019, and I completed that last November, through CTI.

As it turns out, my timing was impeccable. 


Best Time Ever for Coaching

The sudden arrival of this pandemic has resulted in this being one of the best times and opportunities for coaching that we could ever have expected.

The new situations that everyone is now facing have created a lot more thoughtful self-reflection in people everywhere.

Coaching can be valuable for everyone, IF they understand what it is and what it isn’t, and if they are ready to embark on the journey.

While my training was geared to coaching anyone, I’ve chosen to remain focused on family business, or, more correctly, people who are part of business families.


Lonely at the Top, AND at the Bottom

Family business leaders, like CEO’s in any business, often feel lonely, because there are some subjects that they just can’t talk about with others.

Executive coaching has been a huge area where coaching clients have seen benefits, exactly because these leaders have found someone who isn’t simply a “Yes-Person”, and instead they now have a person who will level with them and challenge their thinking.

It’s easy to see the “lonely at the top” aspect, but it can also be lonely at “the bottom”, especially in a family business, when you happen to have the right (or wrong?) last name.

Been there, done that; know how powerless it feels.


One Person CAN Change a System

One of my greatest “A-Ha” moments of the past few years is the realisation that a change in one person, can and will have an effect on the whole family system, with patience and persistence.

That means that I, as a neutral outsider to a family, don’t have to work with the whole family to effect positive change, because I can actually have almost as great an impact by working with just one, motivated person.

WOW, that’s actually pretty HUGE.

Now that I’ve finally realized this, my challenge is to convey this concept to potential clients, who often feel helpless to make the changes that they know are required in their families.

It turns out that families are pretty interdependent!


Current Realities Align with Coaching Too

Regular readers of my blog know that I’ve been a big fan of online meetings via Zoom for a while already, which just happens to be a fantastic “delivery mechanism” for coaching services.  See Who’s Zooming Who.

I’ve coached several people that I still have never met in person, and I imagine this will continue to be the case going forward.

Members of enterprising families are all in a somewhat unique situation, where finding a “thinking partner” who “gets” them can be a challenge.

Good news: there are coaches who “get” you…

No, We Aren’t “There” Yet

In some ways the new realities we’re all facing during this pandemic are starting to feel like a really long car trip.

“Are we there yet?”, ask the kids for the umpteenth time.

No, unfortunately, we don’t seem to be “there” just yet.  

And it may be another few hours, if we don’t have car trouble.

Finding Gratitude

As hard as it is though, it could be worse. In fact, for many people, it is worse.  

Lately whenever people have asked how I am, I reply that if I took 100 random people around me, and ranked them by how much they now have to worry about compared to before, I would rank somewhere near the bottom of the list.

I try to remind myself of that on a regular basis.  It’s good to have things for which we are grateful. 

Gratitude, being thankful for what we do have, is an important habit that more of us would do well to adopt.

Comparing to Other People, and to Other Times

So we can compare ourselves to other people who have it worse, and admit that we have less to worry about than most of them; I suspect that most readers of this blog are in similar positions.  

Business families, and those who advise them, are often part of the upper middle class, if not also part of the proverbial “1%”.

So what if we compare this pandemic to how it might have been to live through something similar in a previous decade.

Imagine a real car trip from your childhood, where you were in the back seat, bored to the point of playing “licence plate bingo” or some other lame distraction.

Back then, we were truly left “to our own devices”, whereas today’s kids typically each have their “own device”!


Still Getting Things Done

Many of us are continuing to “get things done”, even if we need to modify how we do it.  

Many of us are “zooming” or using other online platforms to meet, and getting better at it all the time.

We better get used to it, because there doesn’t seem to be anything that will magically happen that will get things back to the way they were a few months ago.

And so if things will remain uncertain for a while, what can we do?

Plan for the Worst

I think that hoping things get resolved quickly and continuing to do very little else is likely the worst course of action.

The old adage of “Plan for the worst; Hope for the best” still holds.

I heard a business owner on the radio recently, who happens to be a former client, who runs a manufacturing operation with a large and growing online B2C business.

He said that they are working on the assumption that things will remain as they are now for the next 18-24 months, and they are acting accordingly.

I knew he was a wise man when he hired me a few years ago, but he proved it again just there.

Doesn’t it make sense to plan for a long period of this, and then you can hopefully unwind it early, rather than to simply patch things as you go, and hope things will come back next month?


Family Issues to Be Addressed?

Meanwhile, these past few months have likely raised some issues in the family circle in addition to the business circle.

In some ways the question “Are we there yet?”, when asked about a family’s governance, might also have a clear “No, not yet” answer.

Some of these family aspects, now that they have surfaced, may be worth revisiting, before they get worse.

Individual Development for “When We Get There”

And as long as there’s still some more time to go until we “get there”, isn’t this an ideal opportunity for some of the individuals who are part of the business family, to work on themselves to develop whatever capacities they need to work on, to be even more ready for the day when they’ll be expected to take on more responsibility?

This new, unconventional situation we are living is full of questions, but not all of the answers are negative.

There are positives and opportunities here, available to those who have their eyes open and who have the right attitude.

We may not be there yet, but we will get there.

Doing vs Being vs Feeling in the FamBiz

Where IS everybody?

One of my recent Zoom calls began with someone asking “Where is everybody?”  

It wasn’t someone having a problem with technology and experiencing trouble with her screen. She was actually asking a much deeper question.

You might think of it as a modified version of “How is everyone”, which it likely was, but in these tumultuous times, it likely was more about “where” we each were along this journey we’re all on right now.

And make no mistake, even though most of us are confined and sheltering in place much of the time, we are all on a journey.

Stumbling Around in the Dark

Now the question “Where is everybody?” could also be something we say when we venture outside these days. 

There isn’t as much “doing” going on out there for us to see, so a lot of people are now concentrating more on their “Being” rather than just their “Doing”.

When our world gets shaken up, there’s a natural tendency to look inward and reflect, and spend some time thinking about what’s truly important to us.

Even that question from earlier “How ARE you” is very different from “What are you doing?”

And even though we may not be on a physical journey, many of us are on a journey to what’s next, even as we stumble around in the dark, not knowing what lies around the next corner.


Who Do You Want to BE?

As we get a bit more introspective, we sometimes begin to think more about who we want to be, instead of simply what we are going to do.

It’s somewhat more of a long-term view.

To me, the things that we do, over and over, are a huge part of who we are, and especially who we become.  It’s all part of the habits that we get into that make us the kind of person we are.


Girl standing and raising her hands over sunset

How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

Let’s now bring this back to the subjects we normally deal with in this space, enterprising families, and their challenges in attempting to transition their wealth from one generation to the next.

There comes a time in the lives of family business leaders when they start to think about how they want to be remembered

Hopefully they begin this process early enough in the arc of their lives to still make some changes in their focus.

The current crises (that’s crisis, plural, because there are several going on, even if you haven’t separated them in your head yet) may be forcing people to think more about who they are and how they want to be remembered. 

And that’s a good thing.


Legacy Definitions Vary

How you will be remembered is part of your legacy, in fact, some would say that that’s the essence of your legacy, the basic definition.

There are variants, of course, and different versions of the definition of legacy resonate better or worse with people, depending on a host of factors.

I’ve always liked this version: “Legacy is how people feel when they hear your name”, although I’m not sure where I got it. I just typed it into Google to see if I could find the source and nothing quite matched.

Perhaps my version makes more sense if we add “after you are gone”, but I prefer to think that one’s legacy need not wait until after their death.

I know that “how people feel” about me is also important to me while I’m alive too!


Maya Angelou Version

One quote that did come up during my Google searches is from Maya Angelou, and I think it fits into my conclusion”:


                “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said

                       people will forget what you did

               but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


At a time when there is so much uncertainty in all of our lives, I think it makes sense for many of us, especially those of us in the second half of our lives, to begin to shift more towards this kind of focus.


Doing, Being, Feeling

Working with family members typically get emotional, so our feelings are never too far away.

That doesn’t need to be a bad thing, if we can focus on what’s important, and making sure we remember how what we do and who we are will always affect those feelings.

The Crisis as a Test of your Family Governance

The Crisis as a Test of your Family Governance

As we continue to move through these unprecedented times, some things are beginning to get a little bit clearer. 

There are still so many unknowns, of course, but for many family enterprises, they’ve succeeded in “putting out the fire”, and now a different kind of work is needed.

During this preliminary stage of the current transition to the “next normal”, most families have begun to learn a lot more about each other. 

Sometimes they’ve learned positive things, and other times they may have been disappointed.


People and Relationships

As much as they’ve discovered about other people in their family, what some families may have also started to notice is that the way they had their relationships set up before just might not be optimal anymore.

Let me give you the background and proper credit for this idea and how it came to me. 

If you’re like me, you’ve never received more invitations to webinars than you have in the past few weeks.  Some of them are actually worthwhile.

The idea for this blog came from one of those, sponsored by Family Enterprise Xchange (FEX), of which I am a proud member, as their FEA Program was what made me discover the world of working with business families in the way I now do.


A Friend and Mentor

In light of the new reality we’re all now living in, FEX recently hosted a webinar featuring guest thought leader Jim Grubman, who I consider a friend and definitely kind of a mentor to me, as he always has time for me, and I definitely look up to him.

Towards the end of the Zoom call, during the Q & A if I’m not mistaken, Jim noted that this current crisis is serving as a test of family governance for many families.  

He kept going for a bit, but as far as I was concerned, he could have dropped the mic right there.

Bang, it was so clear to me all of a sudden.  

Families who work together or manage assets together are feeling the shockwaves of the pandemic and its associated economic and societal fallout in interesting ways.


Are They Passing the Test?

At a time when everything is getting shaken up, systems and their limits get tested.  

When a system is well prepared, and is able to adapt quickly, the relationships between the people in the system will likely survive relatively unscathed.

But what about systems (families) where things don’t go so well, adapting doesn’t happen as some expected, people second guess each other, and contingencies that some assumed were in place don’t operate in the way they were expected to?

Jim is correct that underneath all of these relationships lies the family’s governance, whether they know it or not, whether they see it or not, and whether their governance is formalized or not.

That family governance is being tested these days, and some families are realizing that they’ve got work to do.

Students sitting in class and stressed

Character Building Events

Any crisis can act as a character-building event, and this one is no exception.  Things that were going “okay” just a couple of months ago are suddenly no longer okay.

For families who are working together, a crisis like the one the world is seeing now can be seen as a test of family character.  

Any shortcomings, that may have been hidden by the “good times” we were in, are now suddenly exposed.

If you’re having trouble picturing what I’m getting at, imagine any business being run by siblings or members of different generations of a family (or both). 

Now, throw in some new kinds of decisions that need to be made as a result of the new reality.


Decisions, communication, problem-solving

Family governance is all about how family members make decisions together, how they communicate, and how they solve problems together.

There’s nothing like a crisis, caused by a pandemic, to bring these into a sudden sharp focus, largely because some new kinds of decisions need to be made.

Ideally, everyone agrees not only on the right decision, but on who gets to make the call!  See: Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide

The answers aren’t always obvious, and situations can get complex pretty quickly.


Self-Reflection Question

So, how’s your family governance doing? 

Is it passing the test?

If the answer is “No”, you’ve got work to do….

Pandemic Creates Spectrum of Opportunities for Enterprising Families

From Societal Transformations to Intergenerational Transitions

Thanks to the pandemic, there’s no denying that the whole world looks very different today than it did just a few weeks ago. 

Few could have predicted how quickly and profoundly things could change, and so far, most of what we’ve seen has been for the worse.

But while most of us haven’t figured out what it’ll all mean in the long run, some families have already started making some big moves to try to get out in front of the tectonic shifts that are happening.

From societal changes that are happening in plain view of everyone, right down to key transitions within families, it seems like everything is in motion right now.  

As a family enterprise advisor who lives and breathes the world of business families and their family offices, I want to share some of what I’ve already been noticing.


Broad Societal and Industry Moves

Let’s start with the things that we’ve all been seeing on the news. 

With shortages of necessities like personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel, hand sanitizer and ventilators, many companies, including plenty of family businesses, have begun to shift their production from their usual products, to helping fill the sudden demand for what frontline responders need right now.

There are examples, big and small, from all over the world, because every country is being affected by the current pandemic. 

On a more local scale, many family-owned restaurants and grocery stores are moving to deliveries to deal with the new reality of the “lockdowns”, as well as getting food to overworked medical personnel and to food banks having trouble keeping up with local needs.


Family Offices and Impact Investing

At another level, looking at things with a longer lens, family offices are already lining up future investments in industries poised to be part of the long term solution and new realities that the world is suddenly facing.

This crisis is presenting all sorts of opportunities, not only from an investment perspective, but also for the betterment of society. 

The field of impact investing, often a favorite of the younger generation of successful intergenerational enterprising families, is also rightfully excited by the chance to get involved on the ground floor of some of these widespread changes.

This ties in nicely with a piece I wrote last year on the natural fit between family offices and impact investing.  See Family Offices and Impact Investing: A Great Fit

Pandemic Creates Spectrum  of Opportunities  for Enterprising Families

From Macro to Micro

Within any given family, as much as the societal and industry shake-ups affect their businesses and the assets they own, there’s typically an upcoming generational transition that’s never more than a decade or so away.

Enterprising legacy families always need to look at the long term trends in the world at large, while making sure to never lose sight of the life cycle realities in their families.  

They need to look at the macro world and its opportunities with one eye, without forgetting about the micro reality and potential threats that might present themselves if they don’t sufficiently prepare the members of their own family to be ready to take the reins one day.

As the world faces major shifts, it becomes more important than ever for families to seize these opportunities while proactively involving the younger, rising generations of their family.


The Strengths of Each Generation

While the senior generation has the experience, wisdom, and patience to run the operations, the next generation of the family will normally be much more tech savvy, have more energy, and be well connected to peers all over the world.

Yes, the generations have different strengths, but in many ways, they have even more things in common.   See: Is There a Generation Gap in Business?

While the MIT-Sloan article above isn’t aimed at #FamBiz in particular, the similarities between members of various generations are even greater when we consider members of the same family.

There are so many opportunities to mentor and “reverse mentor” each other in such families.


Opportunities Abound – Will Your Family Capitalize?

This pandemic will create some enormous opportunities for those families that are poised to capitalize on them.

Families in business together can move into action more quickly than most corporate entities, because they’re more flexible, they aren’t focused on the next quarter’s results, and they understand the values that have made them successful over generations.

These crazy times are turbulent for everyone, and smart family enterprises are already beginning to capitalize on them.

2 people stuck in a maze

Stuck in the Middle with You

Most of us are living in a new reality, temporary as it will (hopefully) be.  There have likely been many adjustments in your day-to-day lives, some of which are unwelcome.

While nobody knows for sure how long this will last, it’s very unlikely that we will get back to exactly the way things were anytime soon, if ever.

That last part, “if ever”, is not meant to be alarmist, I’m just making the point that when such fundamental and widespread events happen in society at large, they create some displacements that end up being permanent in nature

We just don’t know what they’ll look like yet.


Not the Beginning, Not the End Either

So it’s safe to say that we’re not at the end of this ordeal yet, and we are no longer at the beginning.  You could say that we’re somewhere “in the middle”.

Unfortunately, I think we’re still way closer to the beginning, but hopefully I’ll be proven wrong (it’s been known to happen).

It’s a process that we’re moving through, and while decades from now it will seem like an “event”, right now, while we’re in it, it feels like it’s moving quickly, while in other ways it feels like it’s going too slowly.


Extreme Reactions, or Middle of the Road?

Another way to think about this week’s theme of “the middle” is that “Goldilocks” place I think we should all be striving for, in terms of how we’re responding to things.

Last week I went to my local liquor store, and had to wait in line outside, since they were intentionally limiting the number of customers inside, to increase personal space for everyone.

The man minding the line-up was asking us to be nice to the employees, because evidently some customers were less than nice earlier that day.

He then shared his thoughts about the kinds of people he was seeing. I’ll give it to you in colloquial Quebec French first, then translate:

“Y’en a qui s’en foute, y’en a qui capote, et il y a le reste, dans le milieu”

Loosely “There are those who don’t give a crap, those who are freaking out, and the rest, in the middle”.

Sometimes it’s good to be in the middle.


Middle of the Crowded House

Another change that many of us are being forced to deal with is the “crowded house” phenomenon arising from so many “stay-at-home” orders.

I was on a Zoom call recently with 16 people from nine different countries, and the vast majority were working from home, while the few exceptions were in very small offices.

The “stuck in the middle” title of this blog came from this idea that many people are now suddenly all being forced into staying together for much longer periods of time than usual, typically for longer than they’d prefer.

Luckily some warmer weather is finally arriving, even in Canada, that will allow us all more opportunities to at least get some fresh air from time to time.


Feeling Stuck – Usually Not Good

Enough about the middle, which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be.  

But feeling “stuck”, well, that’s rarely good, and for some people, that might be a feeling that is currently resonating with them, and not in a good way.

I want to share some thoughts on this, that can hopefully offer a new perspective on looking at our new reality.

There is clearly some upheaval going on everywhere right now, which means that things are changing.

If everything in your life was going well before, then change is not something you were necessarily hoping for, I get that.

But it’s here now, so it makes sense to acknowledge that things are changing and trying to think about what you can do now to be prepared.


Where Is This Going?

Unfortunately, nobody knows where this will end, and the only person I can control is me.

I’m spending a lot of time reflecting and being grateful for what I do have, and trying to think of ways to be a resource to those who could benefit from what I have to offer.

The rest will take care of itself.  Stay well, stay safe, be kind.

Feel free to reach out for a Zoom call to chat. Yes, I mean it.


“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am….”

Phone with video confrerence

On Infections and Inflection Points

These past couple of weeks have been anything but “business as usual”, and so I’ve decided to break from my usual pre-set blog calendar and venture into the many discussions that are taking place in society and in the family enterprise space, on the many impacts the sudden uncertainty has us all facing.

I still have plenty of blog subjects that I want to get to about business families and their challenges in transitioning their wealth to the next generation, and we’ll get back to those in due time. 

But lately, as I’ve come across “regular” content in my inbox or on social media that seemed to act as if we were all still in the “same old, same old”, I’ve had an almost visceral reaction to some of it, as it struck me as tone deaf or just a little too oblivious for me to spend any time on, you know, right now.


Inflection Points – No Going Back

This past week, I was speaking with my coach, Melissa, about the new realities we are facing because of Covid19.  I was pleased and not too surprised when she told me that I am by far her calmest client right now, as most others are freaking out.

I shared with her my belief that we will be learning a LOT over the next few months; about the world we live in, about people, and about leadership.

We’ve hit a number of inflection points, and while it’s way too soon to predict how this will all shake out, I can state with great confidence that many things will never be the same again.  

But most of us will be just fine.

Family Timemathematical graph

One of the unexpected changes many of us are being confronted with is more family time.  

My wife and I have been “empty nesters” for almost five years (thanks in large part to boarding school) but we are now back into “full house” mode with both of our college undergraduates at home, likely finishing up their school years “online”.

It’s too early to tell how it will all work out, but so far, so good, everyone seems to have the right attitude, even with the “self quarantine for 14 days” part that they’re expected to respect after returning from the US.


Isolation and Distancing

This call for social distancing and isolation is being received better in some places and by some demographics than others, which is not unexpected either.

What it will do to the economy is still unknowable, but the variety of  timelines we’ve been hearing as people make their guesses as to how long until we’re back to normal is causing tremendous market turbulence.

In the future it will be easy to see where we should have been buying back in, but for now, it’s anybody’s guess.


Leadership – Good, Bad, Ugly

The leadership that we’ve been seeing on our TV every day has varied tremendously, from good, to bad, to downright ugly.

I won’t weigh in on who I think fits into each category, suffice it to say that I’ve seen a few in each category from politicians.

But I guarantee you that there will be some people that nobody knew before this crisis who will end up being heroes, and others who will get rich, and still others whose reputations will never recover.

But the jury is still out on all of that, and may be for a few months more.


Technology and Connection

Some of the good news is that technology now makes remaining connected so much easier than ever before.

As I wrote a few months back in Who’s Zooming Who?, I’ve become a huge fan of using the Zoom platform for online face-to-face meetings, both for 1-on-1 and group meetings.mathematical graph

More and more people are slowly learning about the benefits of such meetings, because they really don’t have much choice.


Reach Out, Just to Check In

One thing I’ve been doing (and promise to do more of) is to reach out to people, including clients and colleagues, from the past and present (and future?).

Reaching out without any particular angle or purpose, but simply to check in.

Connection is always important, and when times are filled with uncertainty, it becomes even more clear.

See you next week. Excuse me now, I’m going to call my mother. 

Dropping the “Second Person” Mode

Off the top, I realize that my title this week is a little less clear about my topic than it normally is, so thanks for getting past it and reading anyway.

We’re going back to some grammar school stuff, and then we’ll move pretty quickly into more advanced topics. It should be an interesting ride.


La Conjugaison des Verbes

My elementary schooling was in French, unlike my older sisters who attended English school. (They weren’t expected to take over Dad’s business, I was; but that’s another topic for another day).

During class, and for homework, we spent a LOT of time conjugating every verb we encountered, always following the same sequence: 

                                          Je, tu, il;     Nous, vous, ils.

We started with singular, first person, second person, third person; and we continue through them again in plural, first, second, third person.

So for “le verbe avoir” it was: J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont.  

For « aimer » it was J’aime, tu aimes, il aime, nous aimons, vous aimez, ils aiment.


Comparing Homework Among Siblings

My sisters were sometimes curious about my homework, as their English school did not seem to obsess over conjugating verbs nearly as much as my French school did.

But of course you never know when this might come in handy, say 45 years later when writing a blog about business families.

Somehow I never imagined any of this in my future.

What this repetitive work did give me, was an appreciation for the whole concept of “First person”, i.e. me, “second person”, i.e. you, and “third person”, i.e. he/she, along with the corresponding plural versions of “we”, “you” and “they”.


Cultivating Better Interpersonal Relations

Much more recently, having done more than my share of training in coaching, facilitation, mediation, and family systems, some common themes have emerged within my mind.

One of those themes is the importance we should place on how we direct comments to others, in ways that are more conducive to harmonious relationships, compared to other, less skilled ways that may produce sub-optimal results.

You guessed it, thinking about all this in terms of “first person”, “second person”, and “third person” can be helpful.


Feeling “Accused” Prompts Reactivity

I’ll start with a basic principle that most of us can vouch for from personal experience.

When you feel like you are being accused of something, you will typically react in some way, and in many cases, that reaction will be less than friendly or positive.

We don’t necessarily do this in a thoughtful, conscious way, it just happens, as our emotions get triggered. I touched on some of this a couple of years ago in Your Response Is Your Responsibility.

And when do we typically feel like we’re being accused? 

I think that when someone starts with the word “You”, that’s often a huge part of it.


Dropping “You”, Using “I” and “He” or “She”

So how hard would it be to drop the habit of using “You”? 

My take is that it’s something you can learn to do, with time and practice, like other speech habits.

I know lots of people who’ve learned to substitute “and” in place of “but” in many instances, with positive results.

I’ve seen suggestions to talk about one’s own reaction to things as a way to lessen the blow of the “you” accusation, for example, “When I hear the word _____, I feel _____”, as opposed to “When you say ____, you _____”.

My favourite example of the plural version was use of “you people” and its negative effect on Ross Perot during his Presidential bid in 1992, when he continually said “You people should….” during a speech to a room full of African Americans.  It did not go over well.


What About He or She?

As for using the third person, this naturally fits with situations when more people are in the room, and is something a good facilitator or mediator would commonly do.

Having the people tell the story to the third party, while the person in question is present, can really allow that person to “hear” the story in a way that they can respond, instead of reacting.

In any case, just learning to drop the second person mode will be a huge improvement.

Learning to state things from an “I position” can also help, as can using a trained neutral third party.

intangible in a dictionary

Intangible Deliverables and the Family Circle

As part of my work with business families, I get to interact with other professionals who also serve these families. 

There are usually plenty of complexities to be managed, so it’s normal for them to employ the services of a variety of experts in different fields at various times.

My specialty is working in what I call the “family circle”, which comes from the ubiquitous Three-Circle Model (Taguiri & Davis) that highlights the overlaps in the Business, Ownership, and Family circles.

While most of the work in the other two circles is largely “content-based”, i.e. tangible, most of what I do is much more about process, and therefore intangible. 

This brings with it a number of interesting side-effects.


Making Promises

The first difference that becomes apparent when meeting a family is what kind of promises I can make to them.  

If I were an accountant or a lawyer, it would be easy for me to promise that I could create whatever structure or agreement they might need, now or in the future.

But, alas, I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer, in fact my business card and email signature both say that I’m a Family Legacy Advisor, which has been known to raise an eyebrow from time to time.

I certainly can’t promise anyone that I can provide them with the legacy that they hope for.  I can only promise that I will do my utmost to guide them and their family members in their creation of that legacy. 

In fact, it’ll be the family members themselves who’ll be doing most of the work.


Recycling Work Product

Another area where I sometimes feel a bit jealous of my colleagues who work in the more “technical” specialty professions is that of what I like to call “recycling”.

Now I realize that it’s often a gross oversimplification of what’s involved in most of the complex cases, but at the end of the day, that legal structure or agreement that they just completed for the Jones family will have a lot of the same content as the one they did last month for the Smiths.

In contrast, the work that I do with the Brown family rarely looks anything at all like the work I did last month with the Johnsons.

I suppose that’s part of why I really like this work, because no two families are the same.  They face many of the same challenges, but the circumstances and the way issues come up are as varied as you could ever imagine.


Content Deliverables vs. Process ______________

Those who are fortunate enough to be in a business where they are providing “content solutions” have an easier time figuring out what their true “deliverables” are, which is a huge advantage when making the promises we were talking about earlier.

It also helps you know how far along you are in your work, when the work is done, and, even more importantly sometimes, how to price the services that you’re providing.

In fact, I often struggle to find the best corresponding word for “deliverable” for this process work. How do you qualify what you bring to the table when it’s more about process and relationships between people than about a “finished product”?


Coaching, “En Français” ???

Regular readers know that I love to look at how terms are translated into different languages to see if we can learn something from that. 

Sometimes the word in one language offers a much more vivid or accurate description than the English word.

“Coaching” is such a word. It’s true that some simply add a “le” to the front of it to get “le coaching”, like “le parking”, but I’ve heard a much better word used here in Quebec.

That word is “accompagnement” which you may have already figured out translates to “accompaniment”.  It has a bit of an awkward ring to it in English, I admit, but it really describes the situation well.


Advisor, Coach, Guide…

The deliverables in the family circle are essentially intangible. 

But I bet most people can still judge the value that they’re getting from an advisor, or coach, or guide.

It’s just a bit tougher to put it into words sometimes, but that’s okay.

The good news is that families know when they’re being served well, once the relationship takes off.

do what you love

When You Like What You Do….

This week we’re going to look at something that came up in a non-family business context, and apply it to our usual domain of businesses that are run by multiple generations of the same family.

It goes back a couple of months to a luncheon I attended that was hosted by a successful local private wealth advisory firm. 

I’ve attended a few of their events over the past few years, and it’s always nice to stay plugged into the financial asset world, even though my work with families is now almost exclusively on the family side of things, as opposed to how they invest their liquid assets.


Successful Succession

The company in question is now owned by a number of their “second generation” partners, who bought into the firm over the years, and the original founders now no longer own any shares.

As I sat there and listened to them share this part of their story with the audience, which included mostly clients and potential investors, I couldn’t help thinking that some business families I know would be envious of their successful succession.

But my favourite part of the story was about one of those founders, now in his 80’s, who still comes to the office every day, and acts as “wise counsel” to the others.


When You Like What You Do

Apparently he likes to come in and be with his peers and friends, “without the pressure of performance”.

But the real money quote was this, which is what that man added, 

                  “When you like what you do, you do it 

                       long after you still need to do it”.

Hmmmm. I began to think about how this whole situation might apply nicely to some of the business families I know.

So many of the senior leaders of family businesses still really like what they do, yet they often feel like they still need to do it, even long after their successors have shown that they are more than capable of handling the work.

If only there were a way for them to keep doing some parts of what they love, while allowing others to take over other responsibilities.


An Opportunity to Co-Create Something

Handing over the reins of a business is almost never a simple exercise.  It takes lots of planning and the execution is rarely as easy as expected or hoped for.

However, with lots of dialogue and sharing of ideas, a great training program to ensure that the rising leaders are equipped to handle larger roles over a number of years, having new leadership ready to assume top roles can certainly be accomplished.

Sometimes, especially in family businesses, it’s having the old leader step aside that’s the biggest obstacle. But there is definitely an opportunity here, if the two generations work together to create a Win-Win.

Family Ties: Easier or More Difficult?

Some may think that this process should be easier in a family business, where the exiting leader has more confidence in the new person or people, because they are literally a “chip off the old block”.  Indeed, sometimes it does work out that way.

Anecdotally, though, it seems like family situations often make it harder to execute such a transition.

Perhaps this biased view comes mostly from founders or wealth creators who are the first generation (G1), and they notably have more difficulty bidding adieu and leaving things to G2 than occurs in subsequent generations.


Doing What You Like, Lots of Options

But let’s go back to the title and quote, about doing what you like, and wanting to keep doing it. As the leader for the past few decades, the number of roles that person held and the tasks for which they were responsible was likely pretty diverse.

Wouldn’t it make sense to try to discover which of those roles and tasks they particularly enjoyed, and find ways for them to continue them, yet, “without the pressure of performance”, as the example above noted?

It strikes me that there’s a huge opportunity here, for members of both generations, to co-create the conditions where they actually co-exist for a certain number of years.

It probably won’t be something that happens overnight, of course, and the longer the plan is in the works, the more likely it probably is that it will be a success.

It all starts with a discussion…