How the Holiday Season can affect your family Unity

Christmas Presence > Christmas Presents

I’m a big fan of clever wording, so as the holidays approached and I got the idea of “presence” for a blog post, I could not help myself, and absolutely had to make the point about the difference between “gifts” and “being there”.

When we are young, getting presents for Christmas can preoccupy our minds. As we get older, the question of just who is going to show up to celebrate the holidays with us becomes more important.

Between the stage of life where we wonder what Santa will bring us, and that where the number of grandchildren who will be there becomes key, the idea of presence shows up more often than you might think.


Listening and Presence

As someone who works with members of different generations in families, I can tell you that one thing that is often missing is good communication. Now do you suppose most of that is because people don’t speak well, or because their listening skills are deficient?

Learning to listen to people is more than simply making sure that your ears are tuned in to their voice. In fact, as much true listening happens with your eyes, and real listening even goes right to your heart.

Listening, especially to those family members for whom we spend so much time working hard to grow our business and wealth, is something most of us could work on and do better.

In order to listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart, you really have to be present, with all of your senses tuned in. In the log run, the parents’ presence in the lives of their children is worth more than the presents they give them for Christmas and birthdays.


Finding your Gift

Speaking of presents in the form of “gifts”, this is another area where parents can be truly helpful to their offspring. I am talking here about the idea of each person finding their gift, i.e. what makes them special.

There are still far too many families where the leading generation sees their children more in terms of resources for their business, instead of a more traditional parental role of helping them find their way in the world, following their natural gifts and abilities.


Who is invited; Who shows up 

Many families spend a great deal of time preparing everyone for roles in the business, and not enough do the work to get everyone prepared for their roles in the family.

Family businesses usually have some basic governance in place to run their operations, but the family group itself can always benefit from some basic governance of its own.

It seems like more and more families are getting this message, and many are doing it the smart way and having an independent outsider take the lead in making sure that things are done the right way.

Figuring out whom to invite to family meetings can be tricky, and wondering what to do if some choose not to come to the meetings are issues that arise. Having someone who is not emotionally attached can help navigate these questions and get the necessary momentum started.


Being there > Sending a gift

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up, and this can apply to many family situations too. If you don’t believe me, don’t go visit your mother for Christmas and just send a gift instead. Presence > Presents.

This brings up another Christmas related statement I like. People ask me how a family puts a value on the kind of work that I bring with my presence in their family processes.

One of my replies is that it is really hard to put a dollar figure on it. And I then add, “How do you put a value on Christmas visits, if one of your children shows up and decides to drive around for a bit until Uncle Bob has left.”

Everyone’s presence, for the parents, is the best present. I should not have to add that having everyone there simultaneously is assumed to be ideal, as opposed to showing up in shifts.

Family fortunes that fall apart are also a great gift, for the lawyers.

Be there, be present, listen, and communicate. Plan for the family, not just the business.



Harnessing the NextGen in the FamBiz


Twin sisters riding horses in the sunset by the sea on the island of Ada Bojana, Montenegro

While attending the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute in Miami, one of of the breakout sessions contained a kind of A-Ha moment for me.

It was not a “knock your socks off” A-Ha, but enough to stimulate a blog post, which may not be a very high hurdle, considering I write one of these posts every week. Alas, it contained a “juicy tidbit” that struck me as worth pursuing here.

Now an FFI conference will always feature several well-known family business experts sharing their thoughts, but my little A-Ha occurred during a session where the presenter was relatively unknown, as he was not a FamBiz guy, but a branding expert.

It was Paul Bay, an L.A. Dodgers fan from London (!), which I learned at the opening cocktail the evening before his presentation. His typical get-up includes a three-piece suit and a pair of sneakers. I guess that’s part of his brand, and it was working for him.


A Branding A-Ha?

If you’re hoping my A-Ha had to do with branding, you’ll be disappointed, because that wasn’t it. It was all about the harness. The harness? Well actually, the verb, “(to) harness”.

As I write this, I am trying to recall how the slide with the word “harness” at the top actually fit into his branding talk, and I am at a loss. I did, however, take a picture of the slide in response to my internal A-Ha.

Down the left side of the Powerpoint slide were the words “Guide, Direct, Govern, Constrain, Control, Hold Back”.

On the right-hand side were “Involve, Collaborate, Gain, Be Guided, Be Inspired, Be Directed”.

This was the first time that I ever thought about the fact that there are two sides to the harness coin. (Insert “A-Ha” here)


Harnessing in the FamBiz

When you think about the “NextGen” in a family business, the way the family looks at what they are harnessing, and why they are trying to harness it, you can easily see that it can go both ways. How they harness it becomes key.

The positive side of harnessing, “involving, collaborating, gaining, etc.” looks at ways that the family can take the talents and inputs of the rising generation and put them to positive use, to grow the family capital and the strengths of the business.

On the other end of the spectrum, “constrain, control, hold back, etc.” you have a host of actions that unfortunately also occur in too many family businesses.


Wild Horses on my Mind

So I began thinking about wild horses and what it must have been like when the first brave souls came upon them and were motivated to try to harness them.

Horses, even wild ones, do not seem the type of animal that would need to be harnessed to dampen any negatives of their behaviour. I can only imagine that the power and strength they exhibited was seen as worth the trouble and danger of attempting to harness them in the first place.

So if you have a business family, and there is a rising generation that is coming of age, how are you looking at harnessing what they can bring to the table?


Horses with Potential and Passion

Some horses are easier to harness than others, and I can only imagine that those who are identified as having great potential will often be those for whom the time and effort are the most worthwhile.

Few of us have the skills of a Dr. Doolittle, to actually speak “horse” to find out just what a particular equine has a passion for (Math? 2 + 1 = Clop, clop, clop! Good girl, here’s a carrot.)


Questions and Conversations

Every parent actually speaks a language that their children understand, but not enough of them will take the time and make the effort to have the conversations (plural) necessary to ask the important questions, like:

  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the business?
  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the family?
  • What human capital do you already have, and what are you prepared to develop, to contribute?
  • Is there a “harness” that fits you so comfortably that you will feel happy and motivated to wear it proudly?

THEIR passion is the key to good harnessing.




Family Business Decision Making

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part II of II)

Family Business Consultant - Family Meeting Facilitation - Wealth manager

Writing this blog every weekend is truly cathartic for me, and I love doing it, but it offers its share of challenges too.

Last week’s post ended a bit abruptly for my liking, as I was trying to complete my point about consensus being impossible without consent, but realized that I was leaving too many important things unsaid.

Being my own editor and publisher has its advantages, though, so simply adding a “part 2 of 2” is an easy way out.

We left off looking at how getting the consent necessary for family consensus can be tricky and time consuming, but if you care about this subject at all, you probably already know that.

This week I want to add three key aspects to the ideas already put forth. They are: Offering an Informed Choice, We > Me, and Progress > Perfection.


Informed Choice

If I ask for your consent to do something minor, and you already trust me due to some prior common experience or interaction, chances are good that you will quickly go along.

If we change that from something minor to something major, it is more likely that you will take your time before consenting.

If we now add in some complexity to the equation, hesitation on your part will surely increase further.

As I wrote in 2014 in “The Importance of Offering an Informed Choice” very often families will have their lawyers draft extensive documents to formalize family structures, but the families never actually sign them. The most frequent reason noted is disagreement, but that usually masks a lack of true understanding.

If you want me to sign an agreement, you better make sure that I am comfortable doing so, and that means, first and foremost, that I acutally understand what I am agreeing to.

If I don’t feel informed or if I don’t feel like I had any choice, my reluctance will skyrocket.


We > Me

Now we are getting into a whole different area, but a doozy nonetheless.

As I covered last year in “Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?”, it is important for all stakeholders to have a say in matters.

Ideally, the family figures out what THEY want (They, plural!) and then “Once they know what they want to accomplish, they THEN engage the advisors to fine-tune the details of HOW they will write it up.

Somewhere along the way, everyone needs to come to the realisation that there is no “Me, or I” in family continuity, it is all about We.

If you don’t get past this one, well, good luck with building consensus.


Progress > Perfection 

This point is very much related to the conclusion of last week’s piece, in that all of the questions of building consensus for lasting inter-generational family continuity require patience, realistic expectations, and time.

As long as it is more “Two steps forward, one step back”, than “One step forward and two steps back”, consider it progress. If you are expecting perfection AND getting it done quickly, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

It is not because your advisors are no good, or not trying hard enough, this stuff is complex AND important, and we are dealing with emotional subject matter.

Now, if you feel like you are blocked, it is high time you bring someone in from the outside to help bring some perspective and an unbiased viewpoint or to kickstart things forward again.

Last fall, as I wrote in “Understanding AND Agreement, you need everyone to understand things, AND agree to them. If either is missing, there will be a problem.



Getting consensus is not easy and it takes time. People need to be fully informed of what the stakes are for them, and there needs to be an overall understanding that the WE of the family is more important that any one person’s stake.

Lastly, if you are hoping to wrap everything up quickly, you are surely fooling yourself. This is not a straightforward process, it never is. But you can get through it, and it is worth it in the end.


I Can See CLEARLY Now…

Empty road with motion blur

…the rain is gone.

Jimmy Cliff was not an advisor to business families, but he certainly put his finger on one of the bigger issues that families are faced with as they try to figure out how to make sure that their legacy makes it to following generations.

It has nothing to do with making the rain stop, and everything to do with CLARITY.

This all sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that making things clear is what you need to do, and if and when you do that, the rest is easy. Well, as important as achieving clarity is, it is rarely easy. But it is an essential first step.

OK, so what are we talking about here? Maybe I need to be more clear. True enough, because I could be talking about a whole lot of different things here, right? Well, yes, and maybe I am.

We are talking about business families, or UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth) families, or legacy families, and we are talking about when they get to the important decisions that need to be made surrounding the passing of their wealth to their succeeding generations.

The senior generation and the rising generation each see things from their own point of view, and a good deal of what they each feel is important will often remain undiscussed.

Let’s now add in the professional advisors to the family, from the accountants and lawyers to the wealth managers, bankers, insurance people and tax specialists.

Each of these trusted specialists also tends to see things from their own professional perspective, and since each one is armed with their own specialist hammer, they will often see every family’s issue as being just their kind of nail.

All of the parties are well meaning, competent, and intent on arriving at the best possible result for the family, because they all know that while it is not easy to beat the odds, this family has just what it takes to pass on their wealth for many generations to come.

After listening to a variety of ideas from their trusted advisors and even the members of the rising generation of their family (who will play instrumental roles in seeing the plans through), the leading members of the family who must ultimately decide on various courses of action are often hesitant to act.

The finger pointing can now begin. The rising genration can point at their parents and blame them for not trusting their children, the lawyer can blame the accountant, the insurance person can blame the tax guy, and Mom can blame Dad.

All along, the missing ingredient was clarity.

Here are just a few of the items that were probably not made clear, either because everyone assumed the answers where understood and agreed upon, or because they required discussing issues that are just no fun to talk about.

  • What are the main goals for the family; to run a business together, to run a foundation together, to share use of the family real estate, to raise future stewards of the family legacy, or for everyone to do what they love and happily gather as a family at holiday time?
  • How important is it to minimize the amount of taxes that the family will have to fork over to the government when each person passes away?
  • Do the people who are expected to play key roles in carrying out the plans actually know what those plans are, understand those roles, and agree to carry them out?
  • Are there other family members who may be expecting to play certain roles who are being left out?
  • Is anyone being conveniently blind to poor relationships that exist, and hoping that when these people inherit assets that they are to manage together, they will magically become great business partners?

Now I never said that making these things clear was simple, and I guess after looking at these questions it is easy to understand why these things get overlooked in the name of action, any action.

But as professionals helping families, we have to do a better job of helping families “see all obstacles in their way”.



Progress of family business

Progress vs. Perfection


This week I was in Denver for conferences by the Purposeful Planning Institute, one of my favourite organizations. I’ll attempt a recap next week.

On Tuesday I noted the expression “Progress is more important than perfection” during one of the sessions. “Oh, I like that one, I’ve even used it personally”, I thought to myself.

Trouble is, due to the number of presentations and my less-than-stellar note-taking, I completely forgot the context in which it was raised, so I am kinda flying blind here.

So instead, I will share the contexts in which I have heard and used the concept before, and then get to its importance in the realm of transitioning family business, wealth, and legacy.

Now it also brought to mind another, seemingly contradictory expression, and I wrestled with that, so I will try to square that circle too.


Coaching courses

When I began taking coaching courses years ago, the idea of simply trying to help people get “unstuck” really resonated with me. Just making a bit of progress and overcoming inertia can be huge, because when you feel stuck, anywhere but where you are seems like a step up..

In contrast, you aim for perfection, but spend so much time with aiming the rifle that you never actually fire any shots. (I’m not a big fan of guns, but I just spent a week in the Wild West, please forgive this analogy).

We all know people who put things off forever, waiting for the perfect time to act, which never arrives.

Zig Ziglar had some great schticks about this, talking about people who live on “Someday Ilse”, and giving people a round piece of cardboard with “To It” written on it, so they could finally do all of the things they promised to do when they “got a round ‘to it’”.


Family transitions

Families who are looking at how they are going to transition their business, wealth, and legacy to the next generation will often fall into this trap too. It is rarely the “right time” to begin doing this work, so delays in getting started are quite common.

A proper, well-thought-out transition will usually take years, so that “perfect state” is really far off, and the time it takes to see the finish line can discourage families along the way.

Good advisors are constantly reminding their clients of how far they have come, that they are moving in the right direction, and how important realistic expectations are.

On a personal level, I’ve used the progress/perfection concept to keep myself motivated in my own long-term project, that of getting to a healthier weight.

Neither family transitions nor weight loss will typically follow a straight line, so being satisfied with some progress can be a huge element in encouraging “stick-to-it-tive-ness”.

But then I thought about this other expression: “Don’t let ‘good’ be the enemy of ‘great’”. Hmmm… I like that one too, but it feels like a contradiction to “progress vs. perfection”.


Action orientation

Good vs. Great is more about being satisfied with something mediocre and therefore never trying to get to something great. The big differences to me are the time element, and the sequence.

In a static situation, good/great is about being satisfied with something sub-optimal and being too lazy to try for something better. The family is getting along “OK”, so why try to improve things, we may just make them worse? You’ll never get to a better state, due to inertia and fear.

In a dynamic context, like a project, it is no longer about getting started, it is now about not getting discouraged into stopping along the way. “We’ve tried to get the kids to work together well, and they still aren’t doing great things together, so why bother?”

Well, if they had not even been on speaking terms for years, and can now be in the same room and speak to each other civilly, can we agree that that’s an improvement?

The small steps need to be recognized and celebrated as important progress. Then you need to keep at it. Now that things are “good”, try to make them great!

Progress is good, but keep going for great.


Family Business To do list

What To Do with a To Do List


Hand with marker. Blank TO DO LIST list business concept, chart, diagram, presentation background

Most people are familiar with the concept of a “To Do” list, but there are so many different ways that they are used, and their relative importance in various people’s lives got me thinking. And of course when something gets me thinking, a blog post invariably soon follows.

Along the way, I am going to touch on the “will do” question, the “must do”, as well as the “could do”. As usual, there won’t be much “telling you what to do” from my end, because the older I get the more I am convinced that telling people what to do is one of the worst ways to get them to do what you want them to do.

The “will do” question doesn’t necessarily fit with this topic, but I could not help but include a quick discussion on it. It comes from the world of HR and hiring practices, and I have seen it a couple of times recently.

When you are looking to bring someone into your organisation, you will undoubtedly look at their qualifications to see what they “can do”, because you prefer not to hire someone who cannot do the job. But more and more, HR people are also being asked to look into what candidates actually “will do”.

I’m not sure if this is a “millennial” thing, but having people decide that some tasks are beneath them is becoming an issue that more and more companies are dealing with.

Moving along to more conventional “to do” list questions, I have found that it can be quite helpful to separate things out into a “must do list”, with a timeframe, and then everything else.

Some people rank their items A, B, and C, and start with the A’s until they are done, and then move on to the B’s. Some people plan things out for the week, others on a day-to-day basis. Whatever works for you is better than nothing, but coming up with a system that becomes routine has been a key for me.

I plan things out on Sunday as I look at the upcoming workweek, slotting in important tasks among whatever scheduled events I have booked.

If you are also trying to incorporate some physical workout goals (4 times a week has been good for me) this can be useful too, in the mode of “making an appointment with yourself”.

The items that are less urgent and don’t need to be done this week still need to be housed somewhere, because you need to keep longterm ideas, projects, and goals in focus. I use a whiteboard in my office, where I keep monthly and quarterly items in view at all times.

After looking at an important item for a while, I will often begin to feel some guilt about not having started it yet, and that will usually get me to break it down into more bite-sized pieces, the first of which will then go on to my following week’s “must do” list.

But my favourite aspect of this “_____ do list” question is the one I call the “could do”list.

To me, life is all about possibilities, and I find it liberating to have a number of big ideas laid out as things that I could do, both personally and for and with my family. I even like to think this way about client families that I am working with.

Whenever I am in a leadership position with a group like this, my preferred modus operandi is to share a variety of possibilities with members of the group, and then lead a discussion where the group selects what they think is best as far as next steps.

Of course there are some choices that I might logically prefer over others, but when harmony is important, whether it be in my own family or in a client family, this method works much better that the old style authoritarian way.

This is not exactly leading from behind, a concept that some people love and others despise, but more akin to leading from within.

Now, you don’t have to do this, but you could!

The language of family business

The Languages of Family Legacy

Foreign language study concept background - stack of dictionaries isolated on white background

Having grown up in Montreal, a bilingual city, has been a wonderful boon to me. But the daily exposure I have had to both French and English has some benefits that many local friends take for granted.

Starting first grade, my Dad had decided to send me to French school, for my own good, but mostly because he wanted me to be well prepared to take the reins of the business that he was building.

In my 20’s, I took a vacation to Mexico and felt really ignorant because I did not understand the language, so when I got back, I headed to the YMCA for Spanish courses.

Facility with language learning is not something everyone has to the same degree, but having exposure early in life certainly helps one have the confidence needed to learn a new language when needed.

So what does this have to do with family legacy, you ask? Let the analogies begin.

Dealing with your family legacy requires getting used to some new language, or at least some new vocabulary and new ways of expressing yourself, to develop common understanding.

Just like learning a new language, you don’t just decide to learn Spanish one day and become fluent the next.

These days there are new methods like Rosetta Stone that take advantage of technology and a better understanding of how people learn languages best, but let’s just break it down into some simple levels.

For many, reading a new language is the easiest way to begin to understand, because you can take your time and look at each word. Hearing people speak the words and understanding them in real time is more difficult.

To speak and be understood is again another level, and writing something coherent in an unfamiliar language is not advisable until you are much further along.

My point is that there is a progression through different levels, a need to move up gradually to develop a vocabulary, a comfort level, and the confidence to speak and use the new language.

In a family trying to preserve its legacy, to transition from one generation to the next, many important questions arise, like:

  • Who does the work
  • Who undertakes the leadership
  • Who keeps things on track

When families fall apart, it is almost always because somehow things fell through the cracks or people did not get along and agree. Often, nobody really ever understood and bought into the plans in the first place.

For the members of the rising generation to buy in, there are some things that are almost indispensable to have in place, to one degree or another.

The siblings (or cousins) need to share at least some level of financial fluency. Like a language, nobody just decides to learn it and gets there really quickly. But if a group of people is expected to work together on a big project, it helps if they all have a basic level of understanding of the subject being discussed.

But if basic financial fluency was all that was required, that could be remedied easily enough, assuming a willingness to learn.

The harder part is learning how to work together. The family interaction part is where so many plans go off track. Once again, a phased leaning process can help.

Let’s look at what makes people progress faster when learning a new language:

  • A teacher who knows the language AND how to teach it
  • Lots of opportunities to practice
  • The ability to give and accept feedback
  • A helpful, “can do” attitude of those learning together
  • A safe environment so nobody is afraid to make a mistake

Preserving a family legacy for future generations is no easy task, but if the people you are counting on to make sure it happens all speak the same language, it sure helps. If they helped each other learn it together, even better.

People can learn to work together, but first they must all be aware of just why it is so important for them to do so. Some basic family harmony is required, and unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen all by itself.




SFTU versus STFU

Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word understand.

The year 1989 was an important one for me, as it was the year that I quit smoking, and more importantly also the year that I first met my wife. If you ask her, had I not quit smoking, I would not be her husband today.

But 1989 was also the year that one of the most important books of the last 50 years came out, and I am sure that most of you will recognize it, and many of you will have read it as well.

I not only read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but a few of those habits have become cornerstones of how I have tried to live my life ever since. I hope that this will not lead to an analysis of just how effective I have been, but I do want to share with you my favourite habit of the seven.

Now there are a couple of the habits that are more easily recalled than my favourite, because they have become part of our vocabulary, partly thanks to the success of the book, which sold over 25 million copies.

“Think Win-Win” and “Be Proactive” have become sayings that most people will have heard before, and “Put First Things First”, and “Synergize” are also kind of cool, but still not number one on my list.

Is it “Sharpen the Saw”, or “Begin with the End in Mind”? No, but I like those too. My favourite is habit number 5, “Seek First to Understand, and Then to Be Understood”.

I like to abbreviate things, so I will just call it Seek First to Understand, or SFTU. The first time that I jotted it down using just those four letters, I was struck by how closely it resembles another 4-letter acronym, STFU. For the uninitiated, STFU is short for “Shut the Hell Up”, or something close to that.

The reason that I found this so relevant is that STFU is actually almost the exact opposite of SFTU, especially in the arena of family business and family leadership.

The old fashioned, autocratic parenting style that many of us boomers lived through was very much “this is how things are going to be”, and if anyone dared to question Dad, we were often told, essentially, to STFU, and get in line.

Nowadays, thanks in some small part to the popularity of Covey’s book but also in large part to societal changes, people have mellowed somewhat, and active listening is actually something that many leaders are taught to do.

But Seek First to Understand is not just about listening, of course. Yes, you often need to listen, and watch and read, and interpret, but the goal here is understanding.

And please note that the habit is not called “Seek to Understand”, but Seek FIRST to understand.

That little nuance is the key, because that is where the leader needs to have the maturity to admit that they do not necessarily have all of the answers, that they have the curiosity to learn about the ideas and opinions of others, and have the courage to ask and listen to what others have to say.

Those who advise families in business who are hoping to transition their business, their wealth, and ultimately their legacy to the next generation will almost all agree that clear, frequent and open communication is an absolute necessity if you want to have any chance of success in this endeavour.

Obviously, I agree. The point of this blog is to remind people that good communication is predicated on the people communicating having the right attitude so that a true exchange of ideas can be had.

I love the old quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it occurred”. People assume that because they said something, the other person heard and understood them. They often go even one step further and assume that the person agreed!

Please try to Seek First to Understand, and Then to Be Understood. It will be well worth it. It is a habit, so that means that it can be learned.

And it sure beats the hell out of STFU!


Humble and Kind

It has been over three years since I wrote a blog with a title borrowed from a country song, so I hope that nobody will accuse me of going back to the well too soon.

As with Blame it on Cinderella back in March 2013, I was driving when I heard the song, there was a conference involved, and I was on the East Coast. Last time it was a CFA meeting in Boston, and the song that inspired me came on during my drive home.

This time I first heard the song on the way to the Family Business Summit in Halifax, put together by the great folks at the Dalhousie Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity.

This time the song was by country star Tim McGraw, and because my radio was still set to HotCountry103.5, I actually heard it again as I was heading back to my cottage in New Brunswick when the summit ended.

I was driving away with a smile on my face, because I met so many great people over the two days, and I was actually trying to figure out what it was about these people that made them so easy to be around and get along with.

Part of me was thinking that it must be the geographic location, because Maritimers are known as some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere in the world.

Whenever someone asks why we have a cottage in New Brunswick (not exactly close to home in Montreal) I never fail to mention that one of the main attractions is the people and their relaxed, easygoing nature.

So the people were nice because they are from Atlantic Canada, right? Yes, but that is only part of it.

These people were also Family Business people, and over the past few years since I got back into the family business game, I had not really thought of this, but there is something about FamBiz types that makes so many of them great people to be around.

And just as I was thinking about all this stuff, still with that smile on my face, Tim McGraw’s latest hit, Humble and Kind, came on my car radio again.

Humble and Kind. Every single person that I had met during the previous 36 hours, from the hotel staff to the speakers, from the summit organizers to the family business people themselves, each one seemed to be truly humble and kind.

When I got back home I listened to the song again, and wouldn’t you know it, I had another A-Ha moment.

When I heard the song in the car, I was focussed on the “humble” and the “kind”, and if you had pressed me on it, I would have sworn that the song was about being humble and kind.

But that would have missed part of the whole lesson. The actuall lyrics that the father is singing to his children are “Always stay humble and kind”. So what’s the big deal about that?

In order to stay, or remain, a certain way, you have to be that way to begin with. Now we know that not everyone scores well on the humility and kindness scales, but is that because they did not stay that way, or because they never were?

And if you do start out humble and kind when you are young, how did you get that way? My guess is that most of it comes from your parents and the example they set.

When family businesses fall apart, it is usually in large part because of family conflict, so what happened to the humility and the kindness?

My theory is that there is a large “self-selection bias” in family business conference attendance. Families who attend are doing well and want to do better, so they come together, as families, and meet other families, and learn from each other.

The ones who do not attend are probably the ones who really should be there, because what they learn from others could really help.

The upcoming CAFÉ Symposium in Calgary will give me another great chance to put this theory to the test.


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.

Going Far? Go Together

Quoting African proverbs has not been a habit of mine, but whenever I come across something that makes me sit up and think, you know I will soon be writing about it here.

I don’t know where or when this first came across my radar screen, but that’s not important. The key is that it’s worth thinking about and sharing, and as usual I will add my views on the family business angles that I think are worth keeping in mind.

Without further ado, here is the proverb:

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to far, go together.

What jumps out at me is that before you “go”, you need to think about your priorities so that you plan your “trip” the right way.

Family businesses, almost by definition, are about “together” and “far”, not so much about “alone” and “fast”.

But here is where things get interesting. Many, if not most, successful businesses were started by one motivated, hard-working, driven person, whose determination was the key to creating a business that was then capable of bringing in others, often including many family members.

Over time, of course, that founder gets older, and plans need to be made to transition the business to the next generation.

Not only are the skills required to continue the business very different from the ones needed to create it, technology changes over those decades often mean that the business needs to redefine itself to continue being successful in the future.

Now if that founder is lucky enough to have just one child, AND that child has exactly the right attributes necessary to keep the business in a sweet spot for another generation, great. But how realistic is that?

More often, there is not one child, but several children, and even if they all have valuable skills to contribute to the success of the company, what are the chances that they will all be in agreement about what to do, who does what, and of course the biggie, who gets to decide?

So here we are. We may have decided WHAT we want, i.e., we want to go together. We also know why, because we have decided that we want to go far. Okay, on the surface, most people are still nodding in agreement. But this is where it gets tricky.

HOW do we do it?

The devil, as always, is in the details. And the details around the “how” have derailed many a well-meaning family’s plans. So, what do we do?

Let’s go back to Africa, where our proverb came from. If we were planning a long trek through the desert or jungle as a family, what are some of the things that we would need to do before leaving?

And just for fun and some added realism, the parents aren’t coming along on this trip, it’ll be just the siblings. We need to be sure that they can survive as a group without their parents, because, well you know the part about parents usually dying before their kids, right?

If those siblings came to me for advice before their trip, I would recommend they figure out a few things before setting out. Among the most important questions are these:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate effectively?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

Notice the word “together” appears in two of those, and is implied in the other.

Now Mom and Dad could sit them down and dictate the answers to those questions, and that may be helpful. Or it may not be.

Ideally the answers come from the sibling group. Do I mean that the oldest child will dictate them? Um, no, probably not much better than the answers coming from the parents, maybe worse.

These details should ideally be worked on together, as a group. What we are looking for is co-developing them, and building consensus along the way.

Can they do this by themselves? Maybe, but likely not.

How about bringing in a skilled outside facilitator?

Great idea!

If you do that, your odds go up astronomically.