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The Importance of Family Vision

The Importance of Family Vision

It’s been over a year since I wrote about Family Vision specifically, so I think I’m due.

(5 Things You Need to Know: Family Vision)

 There are of course more than five things that anyone could say about every subject, and family vision is one that I think should be discussed more broadly, more deeply and more frequently.

But first I’d like to go back to the first keyword in the title that I decided to put on this post, i.e. “Importance”.

Questions Around Importance

A natural place to begin would be to ask “why” family vision is important.

But since this is my blog and I make the rules here, I’m going to “zag” instead of “zigging” and answer a few different questions instead.

I hope that no one thinks I’m acting like a politician when I answer a different question than the one that was asked.

My Dad used to say “You can do whatever you want, but don’t become a politician, because then even your friends will think you’re an a**hole”.

(My son recently reminded me of this, so yes, I have passed it down!)

 

– For Whom is Family Vision Important?

Making sure there’s a clear family vision isn’t an important consideration for every family.

In fact, I’d bet that most families have never even thought about this at all, and that’s OK.

But I don’t write these blogs for most families. I’m reminded of something my Aunt said to my Mom after she read my book, SHIFT your Family Business. “Oh, that’s a book for rich people”.

Well that isn’t the word that I would’ve used, but she isn’t wrong either. Most of what I write is geared towards “the 1%”.

I like to think that my ideas are just as valid, generally, for all families, but realistically, the higher up the wealth spectrum the family is, the more likely my thoughts will resonate with them.

 

– When Is Family Vision Important?

Just as family vision is not necessarily important for every family, neither is it important at all times.

Years and even decades can pass during which it never becomes salient. So when is it likely to become important?

Essentially, as soon as more than one generation of adults is involved, I believe that it is high time to think about working on a family vision.

As soon as the wealth that has been created goes from being the wealth of its creator to the wealth of the creator’s family, having a family vision becomes important.

When the wealth creator goes from thinking about “my wealth”, to “our wealth”, the paradigm has shifted.

 

2 kids walking down a road

– Where is Family Vision Important?

So assuming that a family is actually one for whom family vision is important, and that they are now at a point where the wealth is considered to be “family wealth”, where does the vision actually fit into things?

Discussions about family vision usually begin in the context of a family meeting.

If a family fits the profile based on the first two questions (“for whom” and “when”) but still hasn’t begun to have regularly scheduled family meetings, then that’s the most logical place to begin.

When starting out, I always suggest that families identify the smallest logical group of people to convene, usually the parents and their adult children. In-laws and children can be added later.

When I say, “regularly scheduled”, that doesn’t necessarily mean frequent.

Having a regular annual meeting will often suffice, and that’s preferable to having a few ad-hoc meetings over a few months and then not getting together again for three years.

– What is Family Vision Anyway?

Just what goes into a family vision will vary from one family to the next. No two families will go about figuring theirs out the same way, either.

The actual “content” or result of the vision is less important than the process the family goes through to define it.

If the family can answer the question “Where are we all hoping to go together?” I think that they’re well on their way.

Is it a family credo or motto? Yes, possibly. Is it a mission statement? Yeah, maybe that too.

Is it carved in stone? Well, maybe, eventually, but I’d suggest writing it down in pencil first, just in case.

So when’s the next family meeting?

Video version of (5 Things you Need to Know: Family Vision)

Hikers climbing a mountain full of snow

Wanted: Purpose, Passion and Community

Wanted: Purpose, Passion and Community

 

When I was in Denver a few weeks ago for the annual Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute, I met a bunch of interesting people, as usual.

Having been there the past five years, I’m starting to see many familiar faces each time I return, which is great, of course.

And I always meet interesting new people every year as well.

Attendees come from a whole bunch of different backgrounds and professions, and occasionally I meet folks from areas where I’ve had no contact or experience.

Such was the case with the young women I met from Koplin Consulting.

Addiction TreatmentCommunity in family business

Koplin offers in-home counselling, treatment and recovery services for those working through addictions.

I’m fortunate to not have ever been in the market for those services for my family or for client families – yet (?).

I ended up at the same table over meals with all three of their representatives at the conference and I found them very refreshing.

During one of these discussions, it was mentioned that the key to successful recovery usually involves people finding strength in three places: Purpose, Passion and Community.

The “Trifecta”

When I hear about something that works in one area of life, I’m compelled to see if it could also apply elsewhere.

So today I want to look at those three elements from the perspective of families who are hoping to transition their wealth down through the generations.

I just searched each of those words on my website to confirm that I have actually addressed them all in this space over the years, several times, but not yet in the same post.

Family Purpose

For a family to be successful in passing down their wealth to the rising generation, it’s really helpful if they have some sort of shared purpose.

When a family undertakes the work necessary to figure this stuff out, they often start by trying to analyze everyone’s values first.

From individual values, they typically try to identify a handful of common values that everyone in the family can agree on.

Finding a common purpose becomes easier once you’ve decided on those shared values.

Individual Passions

Just like everyone has their own set of values, each individual will have their own passions.

But unlike the values, where we hope to find a few in common, to help lay out a clear family purpose, the individual passions should be looked at for each person separately.

Everyone has different things that make them tick, talents that they exhibit that set them apart, and activities that they do so well that when they’re doing them, it doesn’t ever feel like work.

Human Capital

The special talents, skills and passions that each person possesses are part of the family’s “human capital”, and ways should be found to leverage each person’s individual strengths.

Families that are able to harness the best from every member of the family will have a much easier time keeping their family wealth together for coming generations.

Part of a Community

When it comes to the “community” aspect of a family, I think the most common element is how much time

family members actually spend together.

Time with the family

And while that isn’t something that you’d measure with a stopwatch, there really is no substitute for “face time” in the old sense of the word.

Technology has made it much easier for people who are physically separated to be in regular contact, and that’s great, but to be successful at keeping their wealth in the family over generations, some regular contact is a prerequisite.

Wanting to Spend Time with Family

As I work with various families, it’s pretty easy to see which ones have got the community aspect figured out and which ones never will.

In many ways, it has more to do with wanting to spend time together, and looking forward to lots of interaction than it does with the amount of time they actually spend as a group.

Putting it All Together

Families wanting to benefit from the Purpose-Passion-Community idea can do so by spending time together working on their common values to drive a shared purpose.

They should allow each member to work their own passions within that, though, and not try to make everyone the same.

There’s no substitute to spending time together, with everyone bringing their best self. Good luck.

Bulb light

Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s

Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s

When it comes to “Family Governance”, there aren’t many bigger fans than me.

I’ve written several blog posts specifically on the subject on this site, and there’s even a chapter in my book, Shift your Family Business, titled “Governance, Ugh!”

That exclamation –ugh- makes it seem like I don’t like governance, but in the book’s context, it’s clear that I do.

For any family to have a realistic chance of their wealth surviving over generations, they’ll absolutely require some form of governance.

 

Family Constitution? Yes, but…

The form and structure of that governance, as well as how it evolves over time, is where all the many important questions and decisions come into play, of course.

My advice is to always start small and take it slowly.

You’re looking for a durable “solution” to last generations, so there should be no reason to rush something through in weeks or even months.

One place that I would almost never choose to

begin is with the writing of a family constitution.

And that’s especially true if it’s one dictated by the wealth creator and patriarch, by himself, without consulting any other family members.

 

Misguided Ideas

One of the peer groups in which I participate with other family business and wealth advisors recently tackled such a case.

Here’s a bit of the background provided by a colleague I’ll call Nelly.

A family patriarch, “Jack”, who was also the wealth creator, was approaching his 80th birthday, and one of his financial advisors had spoken to him about succession and transition planning.

Somehow the idea of a “family constitution” came up and Jack loved it. He then sat down and began to draft it by himself.

 

How’s That Working Out For You?

As Jack shared his progress with family members, he began to become concerned with their lack of enthusiasm.

The financial advisor who initially mentioned the idea of the constitution was way out of his league to be of use to Jack now, but thankfully, he called in Nelly’s firm for help.

As Nelly shared with our peer group, she was slowly encouraging him to involve other family members in the creation of their constitution.

After several repeated suggestions, he actually started to warm up to the idea.

As Nelly shared with us, there was a light bulb going off from time to time, maybe with only “one or two filaments flashing”, but she was starting to get through to him.

 

Input from the Rising Generations

Of course, a couple of filaments do provide some light, which is better than complete darkness.

But it’s 2018, and those bulbs harken back to Thomas Edison and aren’t exactly “current” anymore.

I pointed out that perhaps what they needed here was some LED lighting, not more filaments.

Jack was preparing to leave his wealth to his children and grandchildren, but he was missing out on the opportunity to have them involved at this key stage of planning.

 

For the Family, By the Family

I’m not sure what became of Nelly’s work with Jack and his family, although I suspect it’s ongoing.

I’m not saying that involving the family is simple or easy, because it’s not.

But I am saying that it’s more than

worth the effort when done right.

Jack created the wealth, so he can technically do what he wants with it, and even give it all away to charity.

But he has expressed a desire to pass it on to his family. So what he’s actually trying to do is transform his personal wealth into family wealth.

The best way to do that, is to create some form of governance, for the family, by the family.

 

And What IF He Does It “His” Way?

If Jack rejects Nelly’s ideas and simply ploughs ahead with authoring the constitution himself, I predict one of two results will occur after Jack dies.

If the family gets along and the wealth is structured rather flexibly, the family will make whatever changes they see fit, using his constitution as a mere guideline, which will fade away over time.

Or, more likely, if the family does not get along well, or if the structures are very rigid, the family squabbles will begin right after Jack’s funeral.

Jack has a choice, but I sure hope he listens to Nelly.

Grandpa’s filaments won’t be quite as useful in his grandkids’ world of LED’s.

 

Nuggets of Gold

Great Nuggets from Denver

Great Nuggets from Denver

Regular readers of this blog know that there’s one annual event on my calendar that I look forward to more that most.

I just got back from Denver, where I spent most of the week trying to milk as much as possible out of the conferences put on by the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

Rendez Vous is the one time each year that I “fill up” with great ideas and input from other members of my “tribe”.

Working with families on the difficult tasks of transitioning their wealth from one generation to the next can be lonely work for some, so getting together with others who do similar work is energizing.

 

One Nugget at a Time

This was my fifth time at Rendez Vous, and after each one in the past I’ve used this blog space to capture and share some of my thoughts and take-aways.

(There are links at the end to those posts if you’re interested.)

For 2018 I’m taking a “random” approach, sharing some nuggets from my notes from at least a dozen of the thought leader speakers and breakout session leaders.

Here goes…

 

– Difficult Subjects: 

From Emily Bouchard, two of the biggest subjects in everyone’s lives are also two of the most difficult to discuss: Money and Death.

This work involves both of them, so it’s no wonder that bridging those subjects with clients is difficult.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take up the challenge.

 

– Business Exits:

From John Brown, transitions usually involve owners exiting their business. But the owners want and need to exit on “their own terms”.

If we want to be useful to them, we need to recognize this, and focus clearly on “owner-centric” exit plans.

 

– Financial Transitions

From Susan Bradley, wealth transitions usually present a lot of confusion to those affected. Within that confusion also lies an opportunity.

Each person needs to “figure it out”, and that often necessitates time and help. If we want to help, we need to recognize that everyone figures it out at their own pace.

 

– New Vocabulary

As usual, John A. Warnick, the founder of PPI, had plenty to share with his tribe, including an update on the new vocabulary required to advance how we work with “Legacy Families and Families in Business”.

He’s working to compile, clarify and disseminate a primer on the words we use in this space, to improve our ability to work with such families more consistently.

 

– Five Voices

From Mark Hartnett, I now know about Giant Worldwide’s Five Voices tool, and that based on it, I’m a Connector, as well as a Nurturer.

And my nemesis is the Pioneer, perhaps because that was my Dad’s main voice.

 

– Don’t Try to “Change” Families

From Matt Wesley, I better understand the folly in trying to “change” any family.

Any attempts to “violently homogenize” a family to fit into a particular way of being is bound to fail.

 

– Book Club Benefits and Bird Language

 From Amanda Weitman, I learned that creating a simple “Book Club” within an organization can have benefits far beyond what anyone could ever had predicted in advance.

From Jon Young, I learned that those who master an understanding of bird language also discover the secrets to sensory integration.

 

– Appreciative Inquiry and the Importance of Voting

From Courtney Pullen, I learned how quickly one can go from “I have a problem” to “I AM the problem”, and how appreciative inquiry can help resolve that uncomfortable situation.

From Ian McDermott, I better understand the importance of how I “vote” with my Time, Money and Energy, and that “Trusted Advisors” become so when they “trust themselves”, making them “congruent”.

 

– Adult Development Levels

From Cathy Carroll, following up on Christine Wahl, I now realize that one can only properly advise others up to our own level of adult development.

 

– Purposeful Planning as a Career

From Michael Palumbos’ panel of industry veterans (Bradley and Pullen, plus Bruce DeBoskey and Kristin Keffeler) I know that we need to keep showing up “dynamically”, should avoid billing for our work by the hour, and not expect many referrals from lawyers or CPA’s.

 

– Last But Not Least, Jesus  

From David York, a perennial favourite PPI speaker, I know that Jesus is considered one of the greatest teachers of all time, yet, according to the bible, he asked many more questions than he answered.

And his most frequent question was “What are you looking for?”

If you’re looking for a tribe to support you in this kind of work, come join us in Denver next July.

 

 

My blog posts from previous Rendez Vous:

2017    Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool Aid

2016    Sweet Secluded Rendez-Vous 

2015    Rendez-Vous with a Purpose

2014    The Rising Generation in Family Business

2 adults sitting on a couch

Rest in Peace, While You’re Still Alive!

Rest in Peace, While You’re Still Alive!

Every so often I have an “A-Ha” moment as a result of seemingly random discussions that occurred weeks apart.

Writing this blog allows me to process these in some sort of useful way.

Today’s subject is “Peace”, which came up in conversations with my coach, Melissa, even though we typically don’t spend much time on that subject.

 

Inner Peace Through Meditation

After months of hearing good things about meditation, I brought up the topic during one of our weekly coaching sessions.

Melissa mentioned an App called Insight Timer that she’d been using for a while, and suggested I try it out.

A good coach will mention plenty of ideas that a client might want to look into, and then it’s up to the client to act on them, or not.

I did act on this one, downloaded the App into my phone, and tried it out.

Long story short, I’m a big fan, and maybe even an addict.

 

What Was I Looking For?                                  

A few weeks later, I mentioned that I was using Insight Timer a couple of times a day, and I was enjoying the ways it was making me feel.

Melissa noted that she thought it was pretty cool that I was working on finding “inner peace”.

“Wait, what?”

I never said that I was looking for inner peace (did I?).

The truth is, I didn’t know what I was looking for when I decided to try it, and I’m not sure that I know what I found either.

 

Mr. Legler Is Resting in Peace

Weeks later, as we were starting our weekly call, she asked me something along the lines of “So, how is Mister Legler doing this morning?”

I pulled out the old “Mr.Legler? That was my father!” line that I often use when I feel like someone is being more formal than necessary.

“And, he died in 2008, so I guess he’s resting in peace”.

There it was again. Peace. “A-Ha”.

 

Seek and You Shall Find

So many questions were now bouncing around my brain, and, as usual, that meant that I’d eventually blog about this.

Did Mr. Legler need to die to find peace?

Did he find it there? Or did he find it before?

What about me, am I finding it?

Was it even what I was looking for, don’t I already have it?

Do you need to seek peace in order to find it?

Do some people search for it and never find it, while others just sort of have it without much searching?

 

Multi-Generational Peace Process

As usual, I’ll now attempt to take the subject of this post and introduce the family business angle, because that’s the area in which I claim to have some subject matter expertise.

Business families, almost by definition, involve people from different generations.

One of their goals is typically to find ways for the family business and/or wealth to move smoothly from the senior generation to the rising generation.

Okay, so what does “peace” have to do with all this?

 

Everything and Nothing

The quick answer is that peace has nothing to do with this at all. It’s the easy answer, and the one that many people would prefer.

Of course, that means that I’m interested in the other side, the one that says peace has everything to do with it.

Many families struggle with the important discussions and planning that are necessary to effectuate successful inter-generational wealth transitions.

 

Peace, Love, and Harmony

Families too often delay talking about how they will handle all the details around who will get what, and who will do what, precisely because they are worried about upsetting the peace and harmony that exists in the family.

In fact, they’ll do anything to avoid upsetting the peace.

In many cases, however, the harmony that seems to be there is actually rather fragile, precisely because of the uncertainty around what’s going to happen after the senior generation has passed.

 

Settle it Now, Reap the Peace Dividend

The lack of discussion leads to lack of clarity and adds uncertainty to both generations.

Those who take care of these things in advance reap what I’ll call the “peace dividend”

I like to think that Mr. Legler found peace while he was still alive because he had put his affairs in order and communicated everything to his family well in advance.

Don’t forget that peace dividend is shared by both generations.

You Matter

Caring, Mattering and Meaning in Family Business

Caring, Mattering and Meaning in Family Business

This week I’m going to stay with my recent philosophical slant and write about three related subjects I’ve come across, that all deal with the human aspect of business families.

 

I Don’t Care How Much You Know 

I have some “go to” expressions that I’ve picked up over the years and I sometimes have a tendency to think that they’re universally known.

Then when I pull one out in conversation, I get a reaction that makes me realize how useful it really is.

I used one recently regarding the way experts are sometimes dismissed by their target clients as being too much of a “know-it-all”.

The expression I love for that is:

“They don’t care how much you know
 until they know how much you care”

 

Stakeholder Lives Matter

A few weeks later, I was reading the weekly newsletter of the Family Firm Institute, The Practitioner, which featured a piece aimed at trustees who serve on boards of directors, by Patricia Annino.

The following quote jumped out at me:

“Human nature tells us that if you can’t matter in a positive way, you will matter in a negative way because what is most important is to matter”.

I’m not sure that I ever heard it put that way before, but it really struck me.

The next sentence is also worth quoting, because I don’t think I could paraphrase it any better:

Human nature also tells us that most people strive for recognition. Having voices heard and questions answered are critical to the ongoing dynamic.”

 

Part of the “One Big Happy Family”

Being part of a business family can be tricky at times.

There’s a group of people, with a common family bond, each with different interests, talents and abilities.

There are also lots of roles to play, in the business, in the family, and for some people, in both.

And at the end of the day, every single one of them

wants to, and even needs to, matter, in some way.

 

Purpose and Meaning

A few weeks ago I heard Kevin McCarthy, author of a number of books about “Purpose”, speak at a conference about family wealth.

He had a great quote right off the top of his presentation that struck me too. Here it is:

“The Enemy of Wealth is Meaninglessness”

Wow.

For some reason another expression that came to mind immediately was this one:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy”

 

“Frenemies”?

I don’t know that I fully agree with the word “enemy” in McCarthy’s quote, but I know what he was getting at.

And that’s the fact that people without meaning will quickly destroy wealth, if they have access to it. So in that sense I guess “enemy” works.

But if we look at some opposites, would that make “meaningfulness” the “friend of wealth”?

I’m not sure I’d want to have to make the case for the correlation between meaning and wealth.

 

Wealth OR Meaning?

What happens if we look at the question of which one people would choose, if offered a meaningful life without wealth or a life of wealth without meaning.

I’m tempted to guess that many would quickly opt for the wealth without giving the question much thought.

I’m also inclined to think that many people who made that choice would soon regret it.

 

And For Your Offspring?

Sometimes things can be clearer to us if we remove ourselves from the equation, and instead ask what we would choose for our children instead.

So if you could offer your children a life with lots of meaning, or one with lots of financial wealth, which would you choose for them?

Of course, most people would hope that their kids would end up with both, but I think that too many people likely believe that if you have the financial wealth, the rest will take care of itself.

 

Not So Fast

I know for a fact that there are many members of families that are very comfortable financially who do not feel like they have a lot of meaning in their lives.

Those same people likely also don’t feel like they matter that much to their family.

And if that family has advisers who are great at their specialty, those family members likely don’t care how much they know.

Financial capital is always the biggest focus, but families should worry much more about their human capital.

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.”

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.

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

2 people disagreeing and looking in the other direction

Choosing Sides in a Family Business

Choosing Sides in a Family Business

I sometimes write about conflict management and resolution, because family businesses are rife with opportunities for clashes of personalities and ideas.

(See: Embracing Conflict in Family Business & FamBiz: Conflict is NOT an option)

But this post will be a bit different from others I’ve written in the past.

Today I want to get into a family conflict and ask readers which side they would choose in a fictitious war between two sides in a family.

 

The Guerrero Family

Vince and Walt Guerrero are the two oldest brothers in the family that owns a specialized factory in a mid-sized northern town.

Their father, Guillermo, started the business some 40 years ago and is preparing to retire, leaving the business to his four children.

Sabrina and Teresa, the two youngest siblings, used to work in the business as well, but both left because there was just too much conflict.

 

Vince’s Side or Walt’s Side?

Vince and Walt don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on many things, and each of them wants to be the new President when Dad finally retires.

Sabrina and Teresa get along very well with each other, and they both love their brothers equally, and the boys are constantly trying to get their sisters on their side of every issue.

Which side should they choose?

 

A Common Scenario

While the scenario I just described is actually quite typical, the question that I’m asking you is not.

Of course, there isn’t enough information to give a reasonable answer to the question, and I already spent a couple hundred words describing it.

It’s actually a really stupid question because I’m asking you to “choose sides” when there really aren’t any sides to choose!

 

Study Group Example

One way that this post is different from my usual format is that I usually start out by giving some context to the genesis of the post, but this time I’ve saved that for here, in the middle.

I’m part of a peer study group through the Family Firm Institute (FFI) and we had a meeting recently where some of us got together to discuss a variety of topics, including some real case examples we are dealing with.

 

Conflictual Family Drama

One group member spoke about two siblings who were always in confrontations and how the other family members were always trying to decide which one of them to support.

We have a long-term FFI member who acts as a mentor and moderator on our calls, and she made a statement that resonated with me, so I wrote it down, intending to use it for a blog.

Nancy said, “Oh, so they’re choosing sides when there really aren’t any sides to choose!”

“Bingo!”, I thought.

 

Whose Side Are You On?

The point Nancy was making (I think!) is that while the combatants are trying to make it about “my side” versus “his side”, anyone else who looks at it that way is falling into a trap.

Taking sides is usually a false choice.

Oh, I get that this happens in family businesses, and it still happens far too often.

Family members who work together or manage assets together won’t always see things the same way and will often try ot get others to come to their side of every argument, but that doesn’t mean the other family members need to oblige!

 

Interests versus Positions

If you’ve read even a little bit about negotiation, you’ve likely heard about the difference between “positions” and “interests”.

Fisher and Ury’s “Getting to Yes” was the first place I recall reading about this, and that was in the 1980’s, so this isn’t anything new.

If each side simply holds to their position, the negotiation will likely remain a zero-sum game, where any gain by one side is a loss for the other.

 

Digging Their Heels In

Sometimes in a negotiation, both sides really dig their heels in, usually because there’s some emotional aspect to the conflict that prevents them from letting go.

And yes, sometimes in family businesses people get into conflicts that are complicated by emotional issues.

 

Get Past their Positions

In order to have a better chance at a successful resolution, you need to get past their “positions” (My way / I’m right) and get to their interests.

Then, when you can find the common interests that both sides have, there’s something to work with.

Can the other family members avoid taking sides, and look for common interests instead?

I sure hope so!