Hard versus Soft? Or Hard versus Harder?

It honestly makes me laugh sometimes when I hear people speak about the hard issues, like dollars and cents, as if they are so much more important than the soft issues, like relationships, emotions, and just getting along.

There is a huge disconnect in the family wealth industry over the relative importance of these issues.

Maybe it is because there are a lot more people working on the “hard” side of things, the things in found in the “business circle”, than on the “soft” side, which deals mostly with stuff in the “family circle”.

Maybe it is because the people working on the investment side, the securities, asset allocation, and Wall Street stuff seem to be paid much more than the folks who worry about the family harmony and communications.

Maybe it’s because it is often the Dad who works really hard and makes a pile of wealth for the family, while Mom worries about the kids, and tries to make sure that all the kids are treated fairly so they will always get along together.

In any case, hard business stuff seems so much sexier than the mundane soft family stuff.

I don’t know if it is because hard and soft are antonyms, and because another antonym of hard is easy. Something tells me that is part of it, but of course is all speculation.

The people who specialize in the soft side of things will all assure you that soft and easy are NOT synonyms.

Of course now that I brought up the word “easy”, I have to share with you one of my favourite sayings around the word easy.

Some people love to throw around the word “simple”. Losing weight is simple. Eat less, exercise more, and you will lose weight, it literally is that simple. Simple and easy are NOT the same.

To me, simple is about easily explained concepts, while easy is more about things that just about anyone can do, regardless of intelligence, experience, or effort.

This week I met with a man who works with his son, and the son has been slowly trying to force Dad out of all decision-making functions, and treating him like an over-the-hill impediment.

I have yet to meet the son, and there are always two sides to every story, but the person I spoke to did not seem like he was ready to be put out to pasture.

When I made a couple of suggestions to him about what he could do, the response was, “But it is so hard, because it is emotional”. I resisted the temptation to correct him and tell him that we were talking about something considered soft.

I think that there is some good news on the horizon for those of us who like to specialize in the family circle issues. The amount of research that shows that family wealth is more often destroyed due to family issues than money issues continues to multiply.

When you couple what is finally being acknowledged and understood with the demographics of baby boomers and the transitions that have already begun, I cannot help but believe that we are on the front edge of a wave here.

It may still take years before views like mine become mainstream, but that’s okay. The movement has begun, and it will continue to grow.

Those who want to continue to serve families of wealth by only dealing with the hard issues and continuing to ignore the soft issues (or, as you may have already concluded, the ones I consider the harder issues) do so at their peril.

Families don’t have a shortage of places to invest their wealth, or people who will help them do so.

What is missing is providers of holistic solutions that take into account the hard and the harder. Enlightened families are demanding help to make sure their wealth survives generational transfers.

If you want to help them get that right, you can’t just hope it happens by itself. There are emotional issues around family wealth in every family. Those who help their family clients navigate them will be the winners.

Driven to Commit Patricide (Part 1 of 2)

There was a court case in New Brunswick (Canada) last year that really attracted my attention. It was a murder trial, the result of the bludgeoning death of a high profile, wealthy man, just one province away from my home, and not too far from our family cottage.

What also raised my interest was that even though the murder dated back to 2011, the arrest was only made in 2013, and the trial was finally set to begin in September 2015.

Since I work with business families and families of wealth, the fact that the man being tried was the victim’s only son also piqued my curiosity. A person driven to commit patricide, wow, you don’t see that every day, certainly not in small town New Brunswick.

Instead of recounting the background details of this case, here is a link to a National Post story from Christie Blatchford, who has covered her share of newsworthy trials.

Trial of Dennis Oland, accused of murdering millionaire father, reveals dysfunctional family

This news account came after the first day of the long awaited trial, so it sets the stage nicely without giving away the ending.

I began following the trial on Twitter when it began in September. There were a handful of local journalists who attended every day, and they gave their followeres a blow-by-blow account of every courtroom interaction, day in day out, week after week.

Then one day in November, I was at my cottage, and I decided to take a two-hour drive to check things out for myself. I had no idea what a surreal experience I was in for.

I told myself that I needed to take this trip, as sort of a research project, because how many more chances would I get to have a front seat at a murder trial making headlines.

The trial that day was set to begin at 1:30 PM, so I left the cottage to make the drive to St.John around 11 AM. I parked my car around 1:15, having underestimated the time the drive would take.

I hurried to the courthouse and suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was going or even whether I would be allowed in. I noticed a small group of reporters outside, waiting, with cameras, for the arrival of the man on trial.

I approached the front door and noticed the security system, not unlike what you would see at any airport. I acted like I knew what I was doing, removed my watch and belt, and made my way through the metal detector. Once on the other side, I gathered my things, and while putting my belt back on, I saw a familiar face, a few years younger than me.

“Hey, who is that guy, he looks familiar?” I thought to myself. “Oh, that’s right, it’s the guy who’s on trial, that’s where I know that face from”. (WTF!?) The smiling man came through security right behind me, with his lawyer, and he politely said hello to the courthouse staff and headed for the elevator.

I suddenly realized that I still didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t want to ask, trying to look like I belonged there, not like some interloper. So without thinking about it too much, I raced for the elevator to join the party of two, knowing that the floor I wanted was also the one that they were going to.

A few hours ago I was at my cottage, and now I was riding in an elevator with an accused killer and his lawyer. The things I wouldn’t do to learn more about business families and the dysfunctions they breed.

The elevator stopped and I allowed them to exit ahead of me. I noticed a buzzing courtroom in front of us, and decided to try and find a bathroom.

During my visit to the facilities, I texted my wife about my surreal elevator ride, and she quickly responded, asking whether my “new friend” had been shackled and handcuffed. “No, but no worries either, he doesn’t have any reason to want to kill me”.

To be continued next week.

Brainstorming your Family Legacy

The word “legacy” can conjure up a variety of thoughts and opinions, because everyone has their own take on what it is, as well as what it should be.  When you add “family” to it, and raise the subject of “family legacy”, there is even more disparity in the responses evoked.

I recently took part in a training program at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution, during which we took turns leading a group brainstorming exercise. Given free reign to use the subject of our choice, I decided to pose the question “what is family legacy?” to see what I might learn from my small group.

As someone who thinks about (and talks about) this subject on a regular basis, I thought it would be interesting to hear what a group of strangers, most of whom did not come from a business family, might have to offer on the topic.

They were all between 25 and 55, most worked for the government (this was in Ottawa), and I am reasonably certain that none of them came from what one might term a “legacy family”.

The exercise was a success, insofar as I filled up five sheets of flipcharts and stuck them to the wall, with around 40 different words that came up from the group.

When brainstorming, one of the main rules is that there is no debating what is a good or bad suggestion, it’s just an open “brain dump” where what one person blurts out will hopefully tweak something in the brain of another, and spur even more ideas.

Some of the expected and positive words that came out were:

–         Traditions; Reputation; Loyalty

–         Money; Memories; Trust

–         Supportive; Caring; Community

Of course there were also some negative ideas that surfaced, such as:

–         Dysfunction; Limiting; Stressful

–         Gossip; Meddling; Conflicts

–         Secrets; Façades; Bullshit

A brainstorming exercise is normally just the first step in a longer facilitated process, designed to get people working together, overcome inertia, and put a bunch of the pieces of the puzzle on the table to get going.

The real work comes next, when you take the ideas gathered and start organizing them, debating their merits, and figuring out what you are going to do with that information.

Working with a real family, the follow up question, “what is OUR family legacy?” would have been an obvious next step.

There is a big difference between personal legacy and family legacy, but when the founder of a business family is still around, a large portion of the family legacy naturally comes directly from that person.

In order to create a true family legacy, the key is to start when the founder can still contribute, and in fact OWN the process.

The family needs to capture the major values, traits, and principles of that person and then figure out how to make sure that they are preserved and transferred down to the following generations. If this is done correctly at this point, the succeeding generations will then have the task of maintaining the legacy that has been established.

Of course none of this just happens all by itself.  Someone needs to care enough to first stop and think about it, talk about it, figure out what needs to be done, decide who needs to be involved, and get things moving forward.

In the long run, the family must also figure out how they are going to make decisions together, how they are going to communicate, and how they are going to solve problems together. All of this generally falls under the heading of “family governance”.

If you are the founder, what you do before you go is really all you can do. Once you are gone, it will all be in the hands of others. If you want to leave a family legacy, building the financial assets is just the first part, and some say the easier part.

Keeping the family together after you are gone, wow, that’s the tough part.  It can be done, but like I said above, it won’t happen all by itself.

Essentially, you need to stop working in your family business, and start working on your business family.  Intrigued?  Check out: It is my #1 book recommendation.  I also like the website.

Need help getting started?

Judgement, Not Judgement

Writing a blog post every week forces me to constantly be on the lookout for interesting subject matter, so whenever I notice an interesting choice of words, my first thought is usually “how can I turn this into a good blog?”

Such was the case this past week, which I spent in Ottawa, partaking in the first of the four courses in the Third Party Neutral (TPN) training program, given by the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR).

Because I often deal with various members of a business family, to help them get through some of the sticky issues that they face together, remaining neutral is a huge plus. Even the perception that I am taking sides can quickly work against me.

When a family brings someone in from the outside to help them, it is the outsider’s objectivity that is usually cited as one of the biggest resources that they bring to the table. Unbiased, neutral voices are often not present when everyone who is involved has a lot at stake.

The interesting word choice that piqued my curiosity was taken from a list of the Principles of the Third Party Neutral process, principle 7 (of 9): Judgement, Not Judgement.

My first thought was about spelling, but this couldn’t be about whether we went with “judgement”, with the E, or “judgment”, without.

Dsimissing that, my mind quickly went to work to try to figure out what this was supposed to mean, and it soon became pretty clear, despite the ironic juxtaposition.

I like to think that I have good judgement, but then again, most of us self-identify that way, in the same way that studies show that a large majority of people consider themselves to be better than average drivers.

The first use of the word “judgement” in the TPN Guidelines was clearly a reference to this version of judgement, i.e. using your judgement, thinking before acting, giving things proper consideration before deciding, that kind of stuff.

The second “judgement”, the one that follows “Not”, is the bad kind. Whereas the first one, the good one, the one you are supposed to have and use, makes you think of the quality of being “judicious”, the second one is all about being “judgemental”

While doing my CTI coaching courses a few years back, one of the first things we learned was the importance of listening. We talked about “active listening” and “level 3 listening”, but the biggest take-home message for me was that we needed to master the ability to “Listen without judgement”.

Let’s look at some definitions I found online for “judicious” versus “judgemental”.

Judicious: having, showing, or done with good judgment or sense

Judgemental: having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.

Most business founders who have been successful in building a company have been blessed with the quality of being very judicious.

Unfortunately, sometimes the success that they have achieved leads them to believe that they are also blessed with the gift of knowing what is best for others, and some become judgemental as well.

They don’t necessarily go around and tell everyone what they should be doing. They don’t have time to do that with everyone, so they concentrate on those close to them. You know, the ones that they love; their family.

Therein lies one of the reasons that the founder of the family business is not often the one who sees the need to bring in an objective third party.

You may think that this comment from me comes off as judgemental of business founders, and I would not likely successfully refute that argument.

Being neutral is hard work, especially for humans. The TPN program is all about being the custodian of a Neutral Process, lead by a human who has been trained in guiding that process.

The best way for me to be of service to these families is to check my biases at the door, and I am constantly working on the skills required to do that.

In the coming months I will be doing the TPN 2, 3, and 4 training, and I will be sharing more about this subject going forward.

Questions, comments?


Stop doing “This” before starting “That”

When I start to run across different versions of the same message in different places, I know that I have come up with a compelling blog topic. I will share a few examples of what has me currently thinking about this, before attempting to frame the subject along family business lines.

A while back, I heard someone explaining that before you can “fill up” with some good, new stuff (for example: habits, ideas, positive energy…), you first need to “empty out” some bad, old stuff, in order to make space, otherwise the new, desired things, would not have room. There may have been a visual analogy involving a pitcher of water.

This idea seems inherently logical to me, but maybe more so now that I am on the other side of 50, with graying hair, and hopefully some well-earned wisdom. The younger me was more inclined to always believe that “more is better”.

It also reminded me of something I was exposed to a couple of years ago while undergoing some professional and personal development, in a couple of coaching programs.

During one of the 3-Day CTI coaching courses, there was an exercise during which we needed to come up with one thing that we were committing to “Say No” to, and another that we were committing to “Say Yes” to.

The idea of stopping one habit and then replacing it with another is not new by any means, but here was another way of expressing it.

Months later, I took a coaching certification program, in team sports coaching, more specifically junior curling, during which participants were once again asked, “what do you need to STOP doing” and “what do you need to START doing” when coaching your team.

These three examples share more similarities than differences, and while they are not “truisms”, since you can certainly come up with exceptions to them, they do offer some useful ideas, assuming that your life is not already perfect, and that there is some room for improvement, somewhere.

Let’s think of some family business situations where this could apply.

The simplest place for me to begin is by glancing at my bookshelf, where there are several copies of the book SHIFT your Family Business. The secondary title of the book is “Stop working IN your family Business, Start working ON your business Family”.

It is my favourite book, because I wrote it, and I used to explain that the secondary title brings into focus two distinct questions: 1, the working “IN” your business versus working “ON” it, along with 2, the old “Family Business” versus “Business Family” question, asking which of the two entities is more important.

But by writing this blog, I just discovered that there is indeed a third element highlighted, that of “stopping” one activity so that you can begin “starting” another.

I always try to appreciate serendipity when it smacks me in the face like this, even though part of me wonders why this never registered with me before. Seems the “stop this” before “starting that” idea has been with me longer than I realized.

Allow me to suggest a few areas where some business families that I have known and worked with might look to apply this lesson:

  • Stop demanding that other family members change; Start making positive changes yourself, to model the desired behaviour.
  • Stop blaming others for things that have happened in the past; Start leading a collaborative positive effort to make things better in the future.
  • Stop doing all of the work yourself while lamenting the lack of qualified help; Start training and delegating to the people below you.
  • Stop assuming that you understand everyone else’s viewpoint; Start asking for their views (and then LISTEN to what they say)
  • Stop doing the same things over and over while expecting a different result; Start looking at things from “outside the box”, by finally having some of the conversations that you have been avoiding. (You KNOW what they are).

Most of these are very simple concepts, but that doesn’t make them easy to do. Feel free to share your feedback or questions with me at

Négocier avec sa famille

Cette semaine j’ai eu le plaisir d’assister à une activité de Groupe Relève Québec, qui est devenue l’inspiration pour ce blogue hebdomadaire. C’était une présentation donnée par M.Pierre Gratton, de UQTR, qui nous parlait de son thèse de recherche qu’il entend poursuivre pour l’obtention de son doctorat.

M.Gratton était venu nous parler du “Processus de négociation d’une transmission/reprise externe”. Malgré le fait qu’il ne s’agissait pas d’une interlocution sur les transferts familiaux, je suis content d’avoir fait le voyage à Québec quand même, puisque des questions sur les transmissions familiales ont aussi été abordées.

C’était justement la réponse à une de ces questions que j’ai retenu et qui m’inspire à écrire ce blogue. M.Gratton mentionnait que lors d’une réunion avec une famille qui s’apprêtait à entreprendre une succession entre père et fils, il avait déclarer que certains éléments seront “à négocier” entre les membres de la famille.

Il semble que la mère était choquée par cette proposition; comment ça, “négocier avec sa famille?” Mais lors de sa prochaine rencontre avec cette famille, la mère, ayant bien réfléchi, est venue s’excuser, et lui a mentionné qu’il avait bel et bien raison, et que oui, il y aurait besoin de négocier les termes et conditions du transfert entre les membres de sa famille.

Retournons au sujet de la présentation sur le processus de négociation de M. Gratton. Si j’ai bien compris ce qu’il avançait, c’est en grande partie la définition que plusieurs donnent au mot “négociation” qui est beaucoup trop étroite, et ce qu’il voulait offrir est une nouvelle interprètation beaucoup plus large.

Notons que “affaires” et “business” se traduisent en espagnol comme “negocios”.

J’appuie son raisonnement sur ce sujet, puisque pour moi, nous négocions les détails de notre vie plusieurs fois par jour, sans même nous en rendre compte. Décider ce qu’on va faire aujourd’hui, où on va manger, est-ce que notre ado est dû pour se faire couper les cheveux, ce sont des négociations que nous tenons de façon régulière.

Ce que M. Gratton propose, c’est de créer un outil, ou un modèle, qui décrit tout les éléments qui font partie d’une transmission ou reprise d’une entreprise entre le cédant et le repreneur. Il nous a dit qu’il limitait sa recherche aux transferts externes, puisque l’idée d’élargir le contexte pour inclure les transferts internes et familiaux serait un travail beaucoup trop onéreux.

Mais mes blogues se portent sur les PME familiales, donc je me permets de continuer sur cette longueur d’ondes.

Pour moi, les mots “négociation” et “discussion” ne sont pas aussi différents que plusieurs penseraient. Je préconise la communication ouverte, claire et régulière. Que ce soit par écrit ou oralement, le simple fait d’avoir un échange d’idées, où les partis sont libres d’ajouter leurs pensées, est la clé.

Dans la PME familiale, souvent il y a beaucoup trop de “non dit”. Trop de choses se passent en silence, et chacun doit deviner ce que les autres pensent, veulent, et croient. Avec le temps, les gens ont chacun leur façon d’interprèter ce qui se passe, mais personne en parle, puisqu’il y a des sujets dont on ne parle pas entre membres de la famille.

Arrêtons ces niaiseries!

OK, je m’excuse, je suis parti sur une tangeante. On a commencé ce blogue en parlant de transfert d’une entreprise d’un propriétaire à un futur propriétaire, ce qui est quelque chose qui se négocie, même entre les membres d’une famille.

Mais là, je me suis permis de me plaindre du manque de communication entre les membres d’une famille que travaillent ensemble dans une PME familiale au jour le jour, en dehors d’un contexte de transfert.

Mon point c’est que la communication est importante tout au long de notre vie, en famille, et en affaires, et que nous devons travailler très fort pour encourager les gens à communiquer leur propre point de vue.

Mon défi pour ceux qui travaillent au sein d’une entreprise familiale est de créer un forum régulier (aux trois mois?) où les membres de la famille peuvent échanger sur tout sujet à l’intersection de la famille et la compagnie. Je vous encourage de mettre la génération montante en charge de l’agenda, du processus, et le suivi. Voyez où ça vous mènera.

Look Forward, Don’t Look Back

This past week I attended a full day event put on by IMAQ, the “Institut de la Médiation et Arbitrage du Québec”, which included four separate presentations by experienced practitioners in the field.

Their goal was to “demystify” mediation and arbitration as they pertain to workplace conflicts, and I attended to get a feel for the local med-arb scene here in Montreal. The quality of the presentations was quite high, and it was nice to learn that the alternative dispute resolution world seems to be healthy and growing.

One of the presentations dealt with how to handle a narcissistic person when conducting a mediation. The two presenters were both experienced mediators, but they came from different professions. The first one to speak was a lawyer, which is not uncommon, but the second was a psychologist.

The psychologist offered lots of do’s and don’t’s for dealing with this type of person, and I was reminded of a recent discussion I had with a colleague who told me that he tried to avoid dealing with business founders because most of them are narcissists.

I am not sure that founders are actually true narcissists, but I can tell you that if there is a continuum of narcisism, most successful business founders would score more towards the higher end of the scale for the most part.

But the main idea for this blog post was hinted at in the title, and it dealt with looking forward versus looking backwards.

During a presentation on the various different types of alternative dispute resolution, there was a slide that mentioned that mediators look forward, while arbitrators look backward. Hmmm. I never thought about it like that.

An arbitrator listens to both sides and passes judgment, and ends up issuing a ruling, much like a judge, but with fewer rules and often less formality.

The arbitrator looks to what happened in the past, hears both parties talk about things that happened in the past, and tries to adjudicate and pronounce some sort of ruling that will be applied today to resolve the issue.

A mediator looks at things from a much different perspective, and in many ways cares more about the future than the past.

When you think about workplace situations, assuming that the people involved in a dispute both want to keep their jobs, it is important to find a durable, sustainable solution, which is why mediation is often preferred over arbitration.

When we look at family businesses, it is even more important to look for ways to work things out in a way that makes sense for the long term for the family and for the business.

Some people might say that once you get to the point of needing to bring in a mediator, things must already be pretty bad, and that could be true, but it is a matter of degree.

Ideally everyone gets along and things are harmonious. But often people don’t get along perfectly and they need help straightening things out, and this can sometimes be done with some simple facilitation.

If things start to get even worse, maybe it is time to try something more like mediation, where the mediator tries to find common ground on which to rebuild the harmony that people are trying to get back.

The sooner you recognize that something is amiss and bring in someone to help sort it out, the more options you will have between facilitation, mediation, or even arbitration.

If you wait too long and the dispute gets uglier, then the choices sadly diminish and it will become time to “lawyer up”, and that’s when you get those stories about family businesses that you read about in the papers.

And they rarely have happy endings.


Solving Problems with Money

Money makes the world go around, they say. And it truly is a very important element in our lives, although sometimes it takes on a much bigger role than it needs to.

Plenty of people believe that having more money would solve all of their problems. Most of them are likely correct that more money would make some things easier, for a time, but they often over-estimate the ability of the money alone to solve everything, forever. Others are reluctant to spend any money when it could help them greatly.

I have dealt with people from all over the wealth spectrum, and I find it interesting how those on the higher end sometimes seem as if they have more money problems than those on the lower end. Could it be that it is not the amount of money you have, but how you use it, and how you think about it?

I came across a video on Twitter last week, where a guy was going around giving $100 to homeless people, and it was incredible to watch their reactions. The guy got plenty of hugs, thanks, and “God bless you’s”, but I could not help thinking that those people were likely not much better off a few days later. I only hope that one or two of them managed to find a way to use their windfall in positive way to improve their long-term situation.

When dealing with families in business, money is often at the root of their issues, and it is not always the lack of money that stands out. Very often, problems arise around the use of money, and perceived fairness surrounding money, rather than not having enough of it.

I recently had one of my occasional brain malfunctions, when I locked the keys inside the cab of a truck that I had just rented, as I parked it in front of my office. The plan was to load up some furniture, go home and load some more stuff, and then head off on the first half of a 10-hour drive to the cottage. The extra hour or so that it would have cost me, to get a lift back to the rental company to get another key, was not in my time budget.

I called my wife and once again she had the solution: she called a cab and sent it to my office, and the cab driver used a tool that he had in his trunk to “break in” to the truck, while my partner Tom and I brought the furniture down using the elevator.

It cost me $25 and I gave him a good tip too, since he saved me from an extra hassle when I could not afford it. That’s when I said to Tom, “When money can solve a problem, then it’s not really a problem. Provided you have the money”.

I wrote down that quote, knowing it would come in handy some day, at least for a blog post.

How many problems do you think you have, that you could afford to pay someone to take care of for you, but you don’t? Instead, you continue to live with the problems, because you don’t want to spend the money?

Some people go through their lives being so frugal that they are miserable, even though they could well afford to spend some money that would actually make some of their problems go away. I have trouble understanding those people. You can’t take it with you when you die.

I do not suggest you spend every last cent, so that you become homeless, and need to depend on the kindness of strangers giving away money, but to spend a reasonable amount, to improve your quality of life, can make a huge difference in your happiness level. Can you think of some areas in your life where this might apply?

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Questioning the Question Instead of Answering It

I have a habit of turning things around and looking at them from a different perspective from most people. So while many are pre-disposed to think in terms of finding the answer to a question, I prefer to step back and question the question before answering it.

This habit goes back to my days of working in the family business in my early twenties. When we needed to hire someone to fill a position, the task of finding good candidates somehow fell to me.

I suppose that it was because we did not yet have an HR person in those days, so the occasional need to fill a position became a project that went to “Steve Junior”.   So here I was being put in a position where I needed to first figure out a number of things before I could even begin.

The department head’s question would start with “Can you find someone to fill this job in my department?” While there was a brief answer (“Yes, of course”), what became more important was the series of questions that soon followed. What is the job description, what kind of experience are you looking for, what is the salary, etc.

I got into the habit of asking lots of questions, and I still do lots of it today. Like many things, the more you do something, the more comfortable you become doing it.

Sometimes when doing job interviews I would ask candidates “What is more important, knowing the all the answers or knowing the right questions?”  I can tell you that we never hired anyone who did not hit that one out of the park.

Many people spend a lot of their time trying to find answers, even though they may not have taken the time to make sure that they are answering the right questions.

Somehow when we begin looking for the answers we feel like we have started down the road to finding a solution, while thinking through the questions still feels like we are in neutral and not making progress.

Many businesses bring in consultants hoping to find “the answer” to their problem. I believe that anyone who promises you answers without first ascertaining that you are looking at the right questions is someone to be avoided.

I maintain that if you take the time to ask all the right questions, the answers often take care of themselves.

An outsider can often bring a different perspective to your situation, and the simple fact that they must ask a lot of questions can make you think in terms that you might not have thought of, and this can in turn help you with both the questions and the answers.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but try to avoid Yes/No questions. Learn to ask a lot of “why?” questions, as hearing people’s answers to those are usually the most enlightening.

It should go without saying that actually listening to the answers that you get is pretty important too.

Every once in a while, it is good to ask yourself a couple of big picture questions, because the answers you come up with on those will help you put a lot of things in the proper perspective.

I like to start with “Where are we trying to go?” followed by “How do we plan to get there?”

They are very simple and quite general, but I think if more people in more businesses took the time to stop and ask themselves these two simple questions, on a regular basis, they would be more likely to make progress and stay on track.

So, where are you trying to go? And how do you plan to get there?


Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Being a Good “Bad Guy”

I like to think of myself as a good guy. I think most guys do. But don’t nice guys finish last? That’s not true, is it?

A couple of weeks ago my partner Tom came into the office and lamented the fact that he was “too nice” and sometimes felt as if people were taking advantage of him because of it.

I told him that I often felt the same way. But I also said that I didn’t think he could or should ever change. And I am pretty sure that he won’t. It just isn’t in his DNA. Nor is it in mine.

But that doesn’t mean that we just simply let people walk all over us, because that is not the case either. Tom and I have a lot of traits in common, and of course we are different in many ways as well.

One of our common traits is empathy. We are both quite good at looking at things from other people’s perspectives, and then being able to understand how they feel about a situation. This is exactly what Tom was getting at when he talked about being too nice.

Getting back to the conversation we had that morning, I asked him if these feelings occurred more often in his personal life or his work life. I already knew that he would answer “personal” when I posed the question.

I have worked with Tom in many situations and seen him when he is acting for someone other than himself. When he is representing a company, a client, or another person, he is still polite and generally friendly. But when things get hairy, he can quickly lose the “good guy” persona.

I’m not sure why it is, but it is far easier for me to take on the “bad guy” role when I am representing someone else as well. Maybe we just don’t like it when we have to resort to tough tactics for our own good. Do we really want to be thought of as an A–hole? Not really.

The other day I was explaining this blog idea to my daughter, who is 11. I told her that when it comes to representing someone else, I find it easier to be the bad guy and ask the tough questions. Or to raise my voice when that is what is required.

She loves drama class and has taken improv and acting classes, so I told her that when I am in a position where I am representing someone else, I look at it kind of as a role, or, as I put it, a “schtick”.

She has heard me raise my voice more than once, and also remembers her grandfather and how it was better to remain on his good side. “Do you think I can play the role of the bad guy when I have to?” I asked. She nodded and gave me that “oh yeah” look.

We have all seen cop shows where they use the “good cop bad cop” routine to try to get a suspect to confess. What I have been talking about is different, but not completely.

Both my partner and I prefer to be the good cop, and the good cop can usually handle 90% of the situations anyone confronts. But in those situations that require it, sometimes you need to switch into the bad guy schtick.  From our experience, it is always easier to be the bad cop when you are doing it for someone else. Otherwise, you risk being the A—hole.


Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.