How to stay Calm in Family Business situation

“Calm-Fident” Advice for your Family

Sometimes the right word for something doesn’t exist, so we need to make one up. Okay, we don’t actually need to, but it can be a useful exercise.

On sports radio last week, a commentator was talking about a certain hockey goaltender and how his calm performances had helped his team get their season off to a good start. Right after uttering the word “calm”, he moved on to the fact that the team was quite “confident” playing in front of him.

That was when the “word” calmfidence sort of hit me, and it also fit nicely with some of the personal work that I continue to do, trying to become and even better advisor to legacy families.

(When I Googled “calmfidence”, I learned that while it certainly is not very popular or well known yet, I am not the first one to use it. If you also decide to do this, please say hello to Juneous for me.)


Bowen Family Systems Theory

Let’s get back to the idea of calmness as a key ingredient to helping a family. I am now into my third year of studying Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), and it has been eye opening to say the least.

I have already vowed to write a book on Bowen Theory as it applies to family business and wealth, because I have yet to find the book that I was hoping to find when I first took an interest in BFST.

That book is still in my plans, but it will be a couple of years away at best.

As any “amateur” Bowenite can tell you, there are eight concepts in BFST, and as some of those will surely note, being “calm” is not one of them.

So where do I think I am going to go with this? I am glad you asked.


Anxiety versus Calm

One of the over-riding issues that Bowen talked about throughout the eight concepts is anxiety.

When Bowen spoke of “Differentiation of Self”, which we might more simply call “emotional maturity” today, he regularly noted that those who are more differentiated (i.e. mature) can and do function well, even during times of anxiety.

Those with lower levels of differentiation or maturity will have their everyday functioning impaired during times of high anxiety.

Anyone who is part of a business family will certainly recognize that family discussions can be anxious times, and are often far from calm.


Bring an Outsider Inside

Advisors will preach to any family who will listen, that it is important to have an external person at the table to help them with these discussions, especially when important subjects like succession are on the agenda.

Most families prefer to keep things private, not wanting to air their laundry to an outsider, and also often assume that they alone are going through their particular difficult family situation.

They also recognize that an advisor who suggests bringing in an outsider is being self-serving, you know, like the barber who hints that your hair is getting a little long.


Bring in some Calm-Fidence

So here is where I want to bring things back to calmfidence.

When an outsider to your family enters the scene, there are two ways to quickly evaluate whether or not they will ultimately be useful to the family. You guessed it, they are “calm” and “confidence”.

This outside resource should bring a calm presence, no matter how much anxiety there is in the room, whether that anxiety is actually on the table, or hidden behind an elephant somewhere.

After a couple of meetings with the advisor/consultant, the family (or at least a significant portion of it) will begin to feel much more confident that they are on the right track.

But what if they are not calm, and the family does NOT feel more confident, you ask? Simple. Get someone else!


Too Important to Ignore

You’ve probably heard “the biggest investment most people make in their lives is buying a house.”

Families with a business, wealth, and a legacy to pass on are not “most people” though, and this is the biggest issue that they will ever face.

Inter-generation wealth transfer is not easy, and getting the whole family on board is the toughest part.

Find someone who gives you the CALMFIDENCE to get it done properly. Keep trying until you find them.




How to Choose a Family Business Consultant

There are many factors to consider when you are looking to find the kind of help that many business families eventually require. This usually arrives around the time that the family realizes that their leading generation will someday need to make way for the rising generation.

Most will have an inkling that they will need to do “something, someday”, long before they actually start to act upon those feelings, and that’s only natural.


Structural Issues

Often the impetus to act will come from a business advisor of some sort, like an accountant or a lawyer. In any inter-generational transfer, there are plenty of legal and structural issues that will need to be taken care of, for obvious reasons.

What remains less obvious to many, is that the legal and structural “paperwork” is only the beginning. These official documents deal mostly with the “what”, but very rarely get into the crucial details of the “how”.

If this is all news to you, there are dozens of other blog posts on this site that you can read to get my drift. For those who are already on board, I will now segue into the thrust of this post, about how to choose your family business consultant.


Don’t Allow Family Issues to Get Lost

Here are my Top 5 things to consider before deciding on who is best suited to helping you with these crucial matters:


  1.    Overlap of Business and Family

 Does the person that you are going to engage, to help lead your transition, truly understand that most of the key issues that you will be facing involve both the business AND your family?

A business focus without understanding the family issues is no better than a “family therapist” focus with no understanding of business and wealth.


  1. Business > Family       OR       Family > Business?

Do they come from a background where they naturally lean toward business solutions, or from one where family harmony is the driving force?

Which is more important to them, which is more important to you and your family, and is it the same for both? Should it be the same, or should there be a counter-balance? Some semblance of balance should not be overlooked.

There is no right or wrong here, but you need to comprehend this point.


  1.    Do they LISTEN, and to WHOM?

So many professionals who work with business families are used to taking orders form one PERSON (the boss) and the rest of the family are merely an afterthought.

When advising a business family, ideally the FAMILY is the client. That is a huge leap, and one that is never easy to make.

Some advisors don’t get this, and some can understand it in theory but find it impossible in practice. Beware the “yes man” advisor.


  1. Beware: “I have THE solution for YOU”

Recycling is great for your garbage, not so much for your family legacy. If your consultant arrives with lots of “ready-made” solutions that they have used with others in their experience, please ask LOTS of questions

Buying a suit off the rack is okay, but a plan for YOUR family’s legacy should be custom-made for YOUR family.


  1. There is no “Free Lunch”

Good professional advice is not free, and shouldn’t be either. Some providers, usually in the asset management space, will promise to do many things for their wealthy clients “for free”.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with this, IF you understand and accept the terms and conditons that go with that.

Buying based on “low price” is not recommended either, but understanding HOW advisors are compensated should not be overlooked.


IFEA “Seal of Approval”

In Canada, over the past several years a few hundred people have been through the multi-disciplinary Family Enterprise Advisor program and a couple of hundred have then gone on to become “FEA” designates.

As one of them, I have a certain bias, and look at the letters “FEA” as kind of a “seal of approval”.

The field is evolving and many professionals are trying to find ways to capitalize on the huge demographic wealth transfer that is now underway.

All FEA designates have been through a thorough program and a rigorous certification process.

Please do your homework, and choose well.


Thanksgiving and Who Needs Whom More

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada

Sometimes these blog posts are inspired by the time of year, and so on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend I will share some thoughts on gratitude.

But a whole post on being thankful is really not my style, so I will also try to tie in another idea that has been ruminating in my head lately.

Last year at this time, I came across a post on Twitter, the contents of which I have shared verbally with a number of people. It was from David Chilton, author of the Wealthy Barber. (If you ever have an opportunity to hear him speak, do yourself a favour and go).


Spotlight on Gratitude

He posted something along the lines of “If you are healthy and you live in Canada, every day is Thanksgiving”. Amen to that.

Gratitude is a subject that entire books have been devoted to, and I know many people who need to be reminded of just how good we have it sometimes.

We can easily slip into complaint mode too often, with what could best be described as “first world problems”.


Process vs Content, Process vs Event

Last week I wrote about process versus content (FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?) but there is another comparison with process that people in the family business and legacy space like to talk about too, and that’s process versus event. (see Striving for a Succession Non-Event)

My challenge is now to try to tie this in to the Thanksgiving theme in the hopes of adding some coherence to this post. Here goes.


Who Needs Whom More?

When you were born, you needed your parents more than they needed you. As you reach the end of your days, you will very likely need your children more than they need you.

There are exceptions of course, but please bear with me here. Life IS a journey, or a process, if you will. Somewhere along the way in life, the answer to the question “Who Needs Whom More” flips.

Your children need you more when they are young, you need your children more when you are old. But when does it flip? And does it “flip” quickly like a coin, or slowly, like turning around the proverbial oceanliner?

I daresay that it is much more of a process than an event.


You Reap what You Sow

When we were kids, my sisters and I were thankful for our parents, although I am not certain that we expressed it frequently enough. As they grew older, and we matured, I know that they became more thankful for us.

Ideally, gratitude is something that we learn from our parents, and then teach our children. Parenting, manners, how to behave, how we do things in our family; all are part of the legacy and heritage we pass along to following generations.

As any farmer will tell you, as you sow, so shall you reap.


Values versus Valuables

Family wealth succession can be very complex and involve lots of detailed transactions and documents concerning the family’s valuables.

But your true family legacy depends much more on passing on the values of your family.

I hope that gratitude is one of the values that my children have picked up from their parents, I know that I got most of my values from mine.

My kids are teenagers now, but I have been treating them as much as possible as if they are adults for a while now.

Trying not to tell them what to do, trying to make sure that “you’re not the boss of me” is not something that even remotely enters their minds.


Equals versus “One Up, One Down”

Am I doing this because I realize that someday I will need them more than they need me? Perhaps, subconsciously.

My point is that the longer it takes to turn around the answer to the “Who Needs Whom More” question, the better.

A relationship of equals, adult to adult, with nobody in the “one up” position, and nobody “one down” either.


It really never is “Too Late”

It’s never too late to try to make things better, and the outreach can come from either side.

This week I was reminded about the old saying that “the people you meet on the way up are the same ones you will meet on the way down”. I think it applies here too.

Please remember that, you will be thankful that you did.


Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?


In any family business, conflict can occur quite naturally, and often does. “Oh crap, now what?” is one of the thoughts that can often go through one’s mind when they first get wind of family members not getting along as hoped.

This subject is potentially huge, and not necessarily something that one can easily tackle in about 700-words, but there are a couple of points that I want to make here, while being far from exhaustive.

Entire books have literally been written on this subject, and one, called Deconstructing Conflict, came out recently and I read it this summer. I even reviewed it (with a five star rating) on, which was a first for me.

One key learning from the book is that because conflict occurs so naturally in family business, we should not try to resolve it, but just manage it.

The idea, as I understood it, is that if you try to resolve it, one of two things will likely occur:

  • You will spend a lifetime trying, and you are bound to be disappointed, or,
  • You will believe that the conflict has been resolved, but you will later learn that it was not truly resolved.


Let’s just resolve it

Well, I am not that skeptical, and I think that making an effort to try to resolve conflict is often worth it, and it certainly feels better than just acting as if you can’t ever get rid of it.

This week I attended a course that is part of the Third Party Neutral program in Ottawa at the CICR.

Interestingly, CICR stands for the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. So clearly the people who named this organisation believe in the possiblity of resolution.

And there is also an entire field called ADR, which stands for “Alternative Dispute Resolution”, so there must be some hope of actually resolving conflicts.

Or maybe a “dispute” is just a subset of a conflict, and you can resolve a (minor) dispute, but not a (major) conflict?

Of course we can’t forget that family business situations are often ones in which truly resolving all conflicts can be next to impossible. So now what?


Process versus Content

Well conflict management skills and conflict resolution skills are really quite interchangeable, as you might well imagine.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up in my ADR training as well as these TPN courses that have really stuck with me.

The first is that there is a huge difference between Process and Content. Sounds obvious, I know, but something struck me this week that drove it home even further for me, and even scared me a bit too.

The neutrality aspect of facilitation and mediation (i.e. bringing in someone from the outside) was what drew me to this type of training when I entered the advisory side of the family legacy field, because I fully understood that an external, unbiased person was an absolute requirement to tackle any family conflict.


Is Process Enough?

I have learned and practised a number of techniques and processes, and filled my toolbox with ideas that I can use in a variety of difficult situations.

There is a lot of “art” to all of this, and the idea of “who I am” in this work, as opposed to “what I do”, is not lost on me either.

Now I want to share the scary part, but let’s just keep it between us, OK?

The scary part is that in order to help a business family work through their conflict(s), it is more important to know about conflict resolution and management processes than it is to know anything about family business.

In fact, there was one roleplay I did this week, in an area in which I had zero knowledge, and it was actually liberating to be ignorant. My lack of understanding of some issues helped me focus on the process only, without getting into the content.

Of course if you just want the conflict resolved or managed, conflict “process” people can help a lot.

If, however, you want to build a strong family base going forward, get someone who does conflict well, AND who understands family legacy.


Ebook on Creating Harmony In a family Business

My Baby, My Heir

There is something about reflecting on the past and dreaming about the future that can get us excited. When we specifically involve our family members in these thoughts, it can be even more remarkable.

Now if only we could make sure that the past memories and future dreams were all positive!

We start worrying about our offspring before they’re born, and sometimes even before they’re conceived. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it all starts at birth.

We also worry about what will happen to them after we’re gone. Of course after we’ve passed away, there isn’t really much we can do about anything anymore.

For practical purposes, the moment a baby is born, they become a future heir, and upon the death of a parent, they become the true heir.

During the time when a parent and child are both alive, there are many stages that they go through as they move from “baby” to “heir”.


Not All Distinctions Are Clear

Unlike birth dates and death dates, the movement from one stage to the next is usually less clear. Let’s look at some examples.

When does one move from “baby” to toddler, to pre-schooler? Do these stages always last as long as we hoped, or are they too long, or too brief? Do the child and parent agree on when they moved from one stage to the next?

Some of the periods are quite clear, “high school student”, for example, or undergraduate in college, with specific start and end dates.

There are overarching periods too, like “dependent”, and that one can become a bit ambiguous too. Parents usually say they want their offspring to become independent, but sometimes their actions make it look like they’re unsure how to go about that.

If the family owns a business, there’s a whole new set of stages, like part-time employee, summer intern, full-time employee, whether starting in the mailroom, or otherwise.

Then there are other business roles, like manager, VP, leader, board member, owner, CFO, CEO. Some of the distinctions are clear, some overlap, some do not apply, and a whole bunch of others can be added too.


Business Roles, Family Roles

Outside the company there are even more important roles, even if they do not come with a business card and title.

We don’t like to think about the time when there will be a role reversal, and the child will become the caretaker, and the parent will be the dependent. It is, however a reality that most of us will face. And it might be sooner than we expect.

There is a natural progression to all of this, but it isn’t always smooth, and in fact it can be quite “lumpy”, not to mention bumpy.

If you are concerned about your multi-generation legacy, as I believe you should be, it makes sense for both generations to be on the same page, but often they are not.

I have done some gross over-simplification here as we have gone along, only looking at a one child, one parent scenario.

Yes, I know that things are usually even more complex, involving two parents, and multiple children. My point is that even the one-parent-one-child situation is rarely simple.

I thought about calling this post “From Baby to Heir, and Everything in Between”, but shortened it. I want to highlight that there is a fixed period of time, while both generations are alive, where you can both truly work on the relationship.


Natural Order of Things

The relationship will NATURALLY change, from dependent to caretaker, from child to former child. I like the word “offspring”, as it covers both, and hopefully gets the parents to stop thinking of adults in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s as “kids”.

The parent goes from leader, in the “one up” position, through a period of “equal” adults, and then finally to dependent, or “one down”.

Not thinking about this doesn’t change it, it only delays your doing what needs to be done.

Are there some relationships in your family that are still stuck in a framework that is no longer suitable, and is unsustainable?

What are you going to do about it? These conversations need to happen, however difficult they are to get started.


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.


The Value of a Trusted Family Business Advisor

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part I of II)

Sometimes things that are right under our noses are the hardest to see. Few people are immune to this, although many act as if they are.

In the interest of leading by example, I usually cherish the opportunity to share things that strike me, but which seem so obvious in retrospect that I am actually nearly ashamed to admit them.

This week’s post is about how business families make decisions together. When the founder starts a business, it is not unusual for most decisions to be made in the six inches or so between the founder’s ears.

One of the “fun” parts of family businesses, and the business families who own and manage them, is that as the business makes its transition to the following generation, the number of decision-makers often increases.

And therein lie many of the major issues that these families face, as they wrestle with how the group of people who own and manage the business will decide together, communicate, and solve problems together, as the business and assets of the family move from one generation to the next.

With large groups of people, voting is frequently an option that gets explored, and is often adopted in one form or another. This works well in politics, sometimes.

In a family business, or in any family that co-owns and/or co-manages assets together, voting has a lot of potentially negative consequences. Advisors to families in these situations will usually recommend that the family work toward more of a consensus model instead.

Now we are getting back to my embarrassing admission. I always assumed that consensus meant a decision that everyone agreed to. While that is not completely wrong, it is far from being a good definition.

If I were explaining it to a kindergarten class, it might fly, but I usually deal with a crowd that is a little older, and better educated. Interestingly, my epiphany came on a college campus.

Ever since I began doing college campus tours with my son these past few months, I have heard many college admissions folks talk about what makes their institution unique.

We sat in on sessions at some small Pennsylvania colleges that have a Quaker tradition, and during one of these (Haverford, if I recall correctly) they spoke about the consensus method of decision-making on campus.

The presenter explained that consensus is working on finding a decision that everyone could and would consent to, even if it weren’t their first choice.

OMG, you mean consensus comes from consent?!? Aaaaaggghhhh! Had it really taken me 52 years to figure this out? Well, yes. But I am really glad that I did, and not just because I got a blog subject out of it.

The devil, of course, is in the details. It is all well and good for me to talk about how much better consensus decisions are, but if families don’t understand what is really involved in achieving them, how much good will come of it?

Interstingly, most of the conclusions I will now present are ones that re-occur frequently in my blogs and my discussions with families.

Here goes:

Simple vs Easy

Consensus is simple to explain, especially with my “revelation” that getting people’s consent is how it works. But simple does not equal easy, as in “easy to do”.


Happens by Itself, NOT

My oft-repeated “things don’t just happen by themselves” applies here too. It may be easy to get everyone to consent to the idea of making decisions by consensus, but that will often be the last decision on which consensus comes quickly.



A common thread in families where things run smoothly is good, frequent, clear, open communication. Enduring consensus is nearly impossible without it.


It Takes Time

Everyone always seems to be in a hurry. But good, lasting decisions take time. Time to talk, time to think, time to listen, time to reconsider, time to caucus, time to research, time to sleep on it, time to invite outside opinions.

The decisions that last generations are the ones that all stakeholders have consented to.

We will look into some of the details in Part II next week.



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.


Facts versus Opinions and Assumptions

Hand holding a Facts 3D Sphere sign on white background.

Opinions disguised as Facts

This week I was participating in a monthly online group meeting with colleagues who are all Bowen Family Systems Theory enthusiasts, and one of them made a statement that immediately struck me as “blog-worthy”.

She was talking about her family of origin (the one in which she grew up) and when referencing her father, she attributed the description “someone who stated a lot of opinions as though they were facts”. Wow, I thought, that sounds like my Dad!

This got me thinking about the characteristics that helped my father become successful, which included his “don’t take no for an answer” approach to life, his self-confidence, and his ability to size up a situation quickly and develop a plan of action.

When I think of what helped make him a great businessman, these are some of the attributes that made him who he was. Even though I am certain about them, that doesn’t mean that my assertions qualify as “facts”. They are, quite simply, my opinion.

I am less prone to act quickly, preferring to observe matters, take in various details of what I see and hear, and then take my time before deciding if any action is warranted. Perhaps it’s just my nature, or maybe part of it comes from the fact that I usually feel like I have the luxury of time to think.

Looking back at my Dad and his own upbringing and the circumstances under which he built his business, for the first 50-some years of his life, I doubt that he ever felt like he could afford to think about taking his time.


Important succession character traits

When business families start to look at the questions surrounding succession of their business and who should be involved, the ways that the different generations consider these issues start to come into play.

An entrepreneurial business founder who started a company, and against all odds built it into a sizeable organization, will likely have many of the traits that my father had, including an action-orientation that leaves little time to consider various opinions about important matters.

The character traits that will help ensure that the company and the family will continue to prosper into the next generation, however, are likely to be quite different.

If the number of people involved increases from one generation to the next, as it often does, then the ability to consider the opinions of all stakeholders will likely become a factor going forward.

Sometimes the hard-charging founder will have a child who is literally a “chip-off-the-old-block”, and they will usually be seen as the “heir apparent” early on, with the thinking that what was important for the business in one generation would continue to be key in the next.

The problems with that line of thinking include:

  • The skill sets involved in growing a business from the ground up, versus those of maintaining it, are sometimes quite different;
  • Technology changes over a few decades can be considerable;
  • The main group of concern may no longer be the company, but may well have shifted to the family.


Expert Opinions are still Opinions

There is no simple answer to these questions of course, but as an advisor to families who are faced with business and wealth transition situations, I can affirm that the most successful plans come after consultation with the stakeholders.

The leading generation often seeks the input of trusted advisors, all expert in their particular domain, like legal, tax, or accounting. These experts are also prone to offer up their opinions cleverly disguised as facts, which makes them seem incontrovertable.

When a family gets the experts involved before including the family, a plan is usually presented to the family after it has been made, as a “fait accompli” (note that “fait” is French for “fact”).

The opinions of those for whom the plan was made, usually the children, will not have been considered (at least not their true opinions). More likely the parents will have made assumptions about what was best for them, without asking.

When you look at how often “assumptions” and “opinions” get treated as “facts”, you can understand why so many family business transitions fail.

Stick to the facts.