Family Business Flashback

Last week I was called upon to do the “good son” thing, and I obliged and brought my mother 6 hours down highway 401 for the funeral of her eldest brother. Meeting up with many cousins that I have lost touch with stirred up long forgotten memories.

The reflections that events bring about are only useful if we take the time to process them, and so thank you for accompanying me on this journey. I will try my best to make this entertaining and educational for you as well, as usual.

The flashback begins in the late 1970’s, when, as a teenager, I began my first summer job, working in the plant of the steel fabrication business that my father founded before I was born. The funeral that I attended last week was for the plant manager, uncle Stu.

My immdediate supervisor that summer was my cousin Mark, from my Dad’s side, and his boss, the plant manager, was my mother’s brother Uncle Stu.

Uncle Stu had initially been a partner with my Dad in the business, but somewhere along the way, during the early days and the struggle to attain profitability, Dad ended up buying out both of his partners.

I was still a kid while this was unfolding, so the details of how things went down are not clear to me, but I can tell you that, decades later, the relationship between these brothers-in-law was never the same.

My mother is a saint to me, and to learn that she was not 100% sold on making the trip to her brother’s funeral says a lot about how their relationship was strained. Going into business with family members can have its drawbacks, especially in the family harmony department.

So during this first week as a teenager in the plant, I soon realized that everyone knew who I was, because my Dad was the big boss. Uncle Stu would walk through the shop at least twice each day, and clearly everyone knew who he was too. His slow, determined gait, coupled with his menacing gaze, were hard to ignore.

Not that Dad’s trips through the plant were easy to miss, but the contrast, in retrospect, was huge. Dad’s pace and style was more “bull in a China shop”, but he was also more likely to stop and talk to someone after catching them doing something right. Of course you never knew if you were getting a compliment or catching hell until he was done.

So here I am, 15 years old, running this huge drill machine, with a whole 5 minutes of training. Everyone knows who I am, I know my cousin Mark and nobody else, except everyone’s bosses, my Uncle Stu and my Dad, who come through every once in a while.

Some seemingly random guy with a beard, a few years older than me (I had just started shaving) stops by to chat with me. I realize a few days later that the guy was my cousin, Uncle Stu’s son, Fred, who I had never seen with a beard until then.

So all these thoughts are going through my head during the funeral, while Fred is eulogizing his Dad, and I am sitting next to Uncle Stu’s youngest sister, my Mom, who is surely reflecting on their shared and complex past.

But the biggest flashback was still to come, after the ceremony, when guests were invited to share a bite to eat and continue sharing memories. Mom had another brother and a sister, both of whom have passed on, who owned neighbouring cottages on a lake, where we often visited them during the summers of my childhood.

Jim, a decade or so older than me, who had married one of my cousins, reminded me that as a youngster, I had confided in him at the cottage by the lake, that “I don’t wanna do what my Dad does”.

I do not remember sharing that thought with him, or anyone else for that matter. But I do remember thinking it, many, many times.

Family business. Plenty of drama for the whole family.

Rest in peace Uncle Stu.

Tell it to the Judge (Part 1 of 2)

Lately the subject of “judging” has been recurring in my life and thoughts, and therefore also in my blogs. Since there are so many ways to look at judges and judgement, my view is that discussion of this subject will always be worthwhile.

Three weeks ago, we looked at being “judicious” versus being “judgemental” in the blog Judgement, Not Judgement. A couple of weeks prior, I related the wonderful experience of serving as a judge in the Family Enterprise Case Competition, in Vermont, a Global Hub? What the FECC?

There will also be an upcoming blog about a court case, featuring a real judge. I actually went and sat in the courtroom at a murder trial for a day, a few months ago. It was a case of patricide that made national headlines, and I am looking forward to sharing that experience with readers.

This week’s post is about who gets to judge, and in what context. Pope Francis, before getting involved in the US Presidential campaign, was becoming known for saying the phrase “Who am I to judge?” when asked about various people in various circumstances.

Some people were not happy with this seeming abdication of the “responsibility” to pass judgement on what is right and what is wrong, but I think that he may be on to something.

So if even someone as high up the totem pole as the Pope is able to withhold judgement, who does get to judge?

As is so often the case, it is all about the context. One of my favourite mantras is “Give me context”. This is where our friends the economists would substitute, “It depends”.

So let’s leave behind the warm and fuzzy “listen without judgement”, “who am I to judge”, and “stop being so judgemental” and move to what is ultimately THE context that I take closest to heart, that of a business family.

In Parenting and Family Business Leadership, we looked at how people play the dual roles of business leader and parent. Today I want to extend that concept to how these separate roles are judged as being fulfilled successfully or not.

The easier place to begin is with the business. It seems pretty simple to judge the performance of a business, because there are a multitude of quantitative factors that everyone and anyone can easily see.

Is the business profitable, is it growing, are its customers satisfied? How many people does it employ, how many locations does it have, how many countries do they do business in. The list is literally endless.

So it is relatively easy to judge a business, but does that mean it is just as easy to judge the business leader? I think not. Now it can get trickier, because when you want to look at the personal leadership qualities of the person leading the business, the things that people consider become much more qualitative in nature.

Let’s jump over to the family side before we run out of racetrack. The dual roles of business leader and parent are difficult to balance, most people will agree with that.

But how do we judge the role of the parent? As a parent, when I observe other parents dealing with their children, it is sometimes hard NOT to judge them, at least internally, and compare how they handle a situation with how we would have done so.

Ultimately, the best judges of anyone’s parenting abilities are their children.

That is the biggest, deepest thought that has struck me recently, and I haven’t seen it, read it, or heard it anywhere.

If, and it is a big “if”, parenting is something that you wish to do well, the only true judges that matter in your evaluation are your own children. Their judgement is the only one that can ever matter.

Of course this now gets us into so many other questions, especially around the timing and methods of getting their evaluation and judgement of us, their parents.

We will pick this up again next week. Meanwhile, hug your kids and try to stay on their good side.


Brainstorming your Family Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–         Traditions; Reputation; Loyalty

–         Money; Memories; Trust

–         Supportive; Caring; Community

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

–         Dysfunction; Limiting; Stressful

–         Gossip; Meddling; Conflicts

–         Secrets; Façades; Bullshit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need help getting started?  [email protected]

Évolution ou Révolution? À vous de choisir…

Évolution ou Révolution? À vous de choisir…

Étant né dans une famille entrepreneuriale, j’ai toujours eu un intérêt à suivre leurs différentes façons de faire. On peut y voir de très beaux exemples de pratiques qu’on voudrait utiliser comme modèle, et d’autres qu’on voudrait éviter à tout prix.

J’aimerais partager une façon de penser à ce sujet qui m’est venue à l’esprit dernièrement.

Dans n’importe quelle famille, au cours des années et des décennies, il existe une certaine évolution naturelle. On est né, nos parents prennent soin de nous, et éventuellement, nous avons nos propres enfants, et nous prenons soin d’eux.

En même temps, nos parents vieillissent, et ils bénéficient du fait qu’ils ont eu des enfants, qui deviennent une ressource pour eux, quand ils ont besoin d’aide. Les enfants finissent par prendre soin des parents.

J’espère que mes enfants seront là, disponibles et motivés pour me venir en aide quand j’en aurai le besoin.

On pourrait décrire cette situation comme une évolution. Les membres de la famille passent chacun par toutes les phases de la vie, de façon assez prévisible, dans la majorité des cas.

Mais là, arrêtons de parler de familles en général, et concentrons-nous sur les familles entrepreneuriales. Il y a beaucoup de différences entre ces familles et des familles dites “normales”, mais nous allons viser une caractéristique en particulier.

Je ne présume pas que toutes les familles qui sont menées par un entrepreneur qui a eu beaucoup de succès sont pareilles, puisqu’il existe beaucoup d’exceptions à la règle.

Mais trop souvent, les entrepreneurs qui ont bâti leur entreprise, et ainsi leur fortune, ont beaucoup de difficultés à laisser leur place à ceux qui suivent.

Ce n’est quand même pas trop surprenant. Ils ont réussi leur vie en se battant à tous les jours, très souvent face à du monde qui les doutait, et qui leur disait qu’ils ne réussiront pas. Malgré ces obstacles, ils ont quand même survécu, et même triomphé!

Éventuellement ils atteignent l’âge de 65, 70, 75, 80, et tout le monde se met à les questionner sur leur avenir, sans vraiment cacher leurs opinions, qui penchent sur l’idée de ralentir, passer le flambeau, jouer au golf, et voyager.

Ces gens ont passé leur vie à contredire ceux qui les questionnaient, pourquoi changeraient-ils maintenant?

Le plus gros problème revient au sujet que nous discutions tantôt, l’évolution. Nous avons constaté que l’évolution était plutôt naturelle.

Mais quand on essaye trop fort de combattre l’évolution naturelle, il y a quelque chose d’autre qui arrive. J’appelle ça la Révolution.

Pendant que l’entrepreneur atteint 65, 70, 75, etc., qu’est-ce qui se passe avec ses enfants? Ils arrivent à 35, 40, 45, 50, etc., mais la place qu’ils s’attendaient à prendre n’est toujours pas libérée. Au début, ils patientent, pensant que le “jour J” arrivera sans doute bientôt.

Malheureusement pour eux, ils risquent d’attendre beaucoup plus longtemps qu’ils le souhaitaient, ce qui sème les graines de la révolution.

Il n’y a pas de solution miracle à ce phénomène, mais j’aimerais vous donner un peu d’espoir.

D’abord sachez que dans la grande majorité des familles, les parents décèdent avant leurs enfants, donc la nature est toujours de votre bord, si vous êtes parmi ceux et celles qui commencent à manquer de patience.

Mais sans farce, j’ai quelques conseils qui vous seront peut-être utiles.

D’habitude, la confrontation ne fonctionne pas très bien, mais le silence non plus. Des conversations, ouvertes, honnêtes, et qui mettent les cartes sur la table, sont de rigueur. Mais quand on pousse trop fort, trop vite, on risque de provoquer de la résistance.

Le respect et la patience sont aussi importants. Certains disent que ceux qui ne veulent pas partir ont peur de perdre leur identité et leur raison d’être. Aidez-leur à surmonter ces défis, réconfortez-les de toutes les manières possibles, mais soyez prêt à recevoir des objections tout au long du trajet.

Ces options sont préférables à la révolution, mais parfois la menace d’une révolution est quand même nécessaire. Mais avant d’y arriver, pensez peut-être à rentrer une personne externe, pour faciliter les discussions. Vous en connaissez sûrement au moins une.


Adding Objectivity to a Father-Son Relationship

Adding Objectivity to a Father-Son Relationship

Every week in this blog I choose an idea to explore with readers, and hopefully inform as well as entertain.

Sometimes I write about a subject that jumped out at me during the course of the week, and other times I dig into a folder where I keep ideas germinating until their time is deemed right.

That “right time” usually comes when the subject comes up again and triggers a bit of an “Ah-Ha” moment in my head, making me believe that the germination phase must be complete.

This week’s subject sort of fits into a few categories, including the one where I think I have the ideal angle to approach the idea early in the week, and then by the weekend when it comes time to write about it, I really can’t figure out where to start.

So, let’s start at the beginning, when the idea of looking at a relationship with someone “subjectively” versus looking at it “objectively” first crossed my radar screen.

It was last winter, during a training program on Bowen Family Systems Theory, when one of the instructors, Erik Thompson, who also served as my coach, suggested to me that I might benefit from trying to look at my relationship with my father “more objectively”.

That sounded like it made a lot of sense on the surface; how could being “more objective” be seen as bad?

Actually, I am no longer 100% sure whether he suggested being “more objective” or “less subjective” towards my father, since they are simply two ends of the same continuum.

For now, please just play along with me and join me in the quest for “More Objectivity”, and “Less Subjectivity”, as being something to strive for in a relationship.

Now it gets a bit tricky for me, and for those of you who know that my Dad passed away in 2008, you may have already figured out why.

What was being suggested to me as a worthwhile endeavour, namely looking at one of the most important realtionships of my lifetime in a new way, was surely going to be complicated by the fact that there could really only be one protagonist in this play, the other key player already having already exited the stage, permanently.

Luckily for me, those who have studied Bowen Theory for the past few decades have discovered that great progress can still be made, given sufficient willingness and effort, if one takes the time to seek out the oldest surviving relatives of those who are no longer around, as a proxy for seeing someone in a new light.

After sufficient prodding from my coach, I visited my Aunt, my father’s older sister, and I asked a lot of questions. The ones about their childhood, dealing with their “family of origin” as Bowen called it, were the most eye opening. Stories that I vaguely recalled from Dad now took on a new meaning, helping provide context, which allowed me to see him more “objectively”.

The fact that the viewpoint came from a third party also helped, of course, to add objectivity.

I have since been able to “let go” a good number of the “hard feelings” that I may have been allowing to “taint” the memory of a man who was so central to my life and upbringing.

Most people truly do try to do their best for their children, and much of what they think is best comes from their own experiences growing up in their own family.

If you take the time to understand people and where they truly came from in their own families, growing up, this new point of view will help you see them less subjectively, and more objectively, which can be quite helpful in leading one to be less judgmental towards them.

And if you can start making these types of inquiries about someone’s childhood while they are still around, that would be even better. I wish I had.


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.


The Preferred Embodiment of Family Business Success

London FBThe Preferred Embodiment of Family Business Success

The title of this post was designed to elicit a raised eyebrow, and kind of a “hunh?” or “WTF” response from readers. If you recognize the term “preferred embodiment” you are very likely part of a small minority of readers. Allow me to explain what I am attempting to do with this week’s blog.

We have all arrived where we are today via a unique journey, during which we have played a variety of roles at various stages of our lives. Occasionally, I like to revisit previous stages of my life, and see what I can learn from trying to tie certain aspects of things I was working on back then with things I am working on now.

“Preferred Embodiment” is a term that is very familiar to anyone working in the sometimes obscure world of intellectual property (IP), namely the patent area. IP comprises Trade Marks, Copyrights, and Patents, along with some other related subjects including trade secrets, software patents, service marks, etc., along with the licensing of the rights associated therewith.

Sorry for sounding a bit too much like a lawyer there, but this is part of my past. I actually did attend law school, but only for one year, as part of the journey I referred to above.   It was exactly twenty years ago, as I enrolled in the MIP (Master of Intellectual Property) program at Franklin Pierce Law, which has since been absorbed into the University of New Hampshire.

This was during a time in my life when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, despite the fact that I was in my thirties. Our company held a handful of patents on some innovations that my father had come up with and developed, and after selling our operating business, in addition to the real estate and investment accounts we owned, this small IP portfolio was our most significant asset.

I had discovered the MIP program and decided to enroll, after securing the go ahead from my Dad, as well as permission from my wife (she said “OK, but do it now, before we have kids”).

So what about the “preferred embodiment”? Well, if you have ever read a patent, you know that the preferred embodiment is the best part. There is a lot of stuff that is usually a pretty dense read in the first part of the description, which is almost always purposefully difficult to understand, even by people familiar with the particular technology.

After getting through all that mumbo jumbo, you get to the good stuff, where the applicant must tell you what their invention really is, in its “preferred embodiment”, i.e. the best way to use it. For example, you could take all the parts of your lawn mower and turn them into an avant-garde sculpture, or, you could assemble them into a machine that cuts the grass, that is, its “prefered embodiment”.

Turning to the subject of family business, as I almost always do, how does the term “preferred embodiment” apply? I’m glad you asked.

One week ago today, I was in London, attending the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference, enjoying the educational component, taking a course called The Professional’s Toolbox. The instructors used a series of PowerPoint slides over the course of the day, and one of these slides just happens to summarize my view of the “Preferred Embodiment” of family business.  I wanted to insert the image in the text here, but somehow I could only put it at the top of this post. I bit anti-climactic, but I think the point is very clear.

It is so darned simple, it is almost embarassing to share it as something useful, but at the same time, I know that it is forgotten or overlooked by many people, who should know better, far too often.

It is not always easy to achieve, but it is always worth striving for. And it is OK to ask for help when you need it.

(Thanks to Pramodita Sharma and Andrew Hier who taught the course, and one of whom I presume put that slide together)


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.


Harnessing the Next Generation in the Family Businesss

Que faire avec les jeunes?

En juillet, j’avais écrit un blogue qui répondait à une question posée par une participante lors d’une session du cours Triomphe, de l’École d’Entrepreneurship de Beauce, à laquelle j’ai eu le plaisir de participer comme invité.

Cette semaine, en emménageant mon nouveau bureau, j’ai tombé sur le dossier dans lequel j’avais gardé les autres questions auxquelles je n’avais pas eu le temps de répondre, et le “timing” était parfait, puisque j’avais déjà décidé que j’étais dû pour écrire un blogue en français, et je n’avais pas encore trouvé un sujet à mon goût.

J’ai choisi une question venant d’un homme qui approachait la soixantaine, et qui avait des enfants adolescents.

Voici la question: “J’ai deux enfants qui sont trop jeunes pour la relève, mais qui sont intéressés aux affaires, et à être dans l’entreprise dans le futur. Que faire?”

J’aime beaucoup cette question, surtout parce que le questionneur l’a déjà séparée en deux pour moi, ce qui la rend plus facile à répondre. Je m’explique.

Les jeunes sont “intéressés aux affaires”, et ils ont un désir à “être dans l’entreprise” un jour. Remarquons les différences.

Aider nos enfants à développer leurs intérêts, que ce soit aux affaires, aux sports, à la musique, etc., est un des plus gros plaisirs qu’un parent puisse avoir, surtout si le sujet en est un dans lequel le parent a aussi un fort intérêt.

Mais soyons clairs ici; un intérêt “aux affaires”, c’est-à-dire le commerce, les finances, l’achat et la vente de produits et de services (en général), ne doit pas être confondu avec MA compagnie, qui produit et vend quelque chose dans un marché (en particulier).

Je vous suggère fortement d’aider vos enfants à developper et explorer leurs intérêts et leur compréhension de tout ce qui est connecté avec les affaires, l’argent, leurs finances personnelles, le marketing, l’immobilier et les hypothèques, etcetera, sans les limiter aux activités de votre entreprise.

Les opportunités pour ce genre de discussion se produisent litéralement à chaque jour, et dans une variété de circonstances. À la maison, écoutez la télé ensemble, prenez le temps d’enregistrer les épisodes de “Dans l’oeil du dragon” ou Dragon’s Den ou Shark Tank.

Il existe également des émissions axées sur la restauration, l’immobilier, et toutes sortes d’activités commerciales. Il y en a peut-être moins de ces programmes à la télé francophone, mais c’est une autre bonne raison et occasion de faire un peu d’immersion anglophone, ce qui les fera aussi du bien à long terme.

Quand vous vous promenez en ville, en auto ou à pied, remarquez les annonces et les commerces, et parlez ensemble des enjeux, des stratégies, des prix, de tout ce que vous voyez.

Les occasions de découvrir et de développer les forces et les intérêts particuliers de chaque enfant ne cessent de se produire. Il s’agit simplement de les reconnaître et d’entamer une discussion.

“Pourquoi McDo met l’emphase sur ses trios? Est-ce qu’on sauve vraiment de l’argent en choisissant le trio versus l’achat des trois items séparément?” Et, “mais pourquoi ils veulent me faire ‘sauver’ de l’argent quand ils essayent de ‘faire’ de l’argent sur la vente?”

Avec ces discussions, vous apprendrez beaucoup sur vos enfants, et aussi à vos enfants. Et en même temps, ils deviendront, malgré eux, ce qu’on appelle en anglais “financially literate”, c’est-à-dire, ils seront plus à l’aise avec tous les sujets entourant l’argent et les affaires.

Selon moi, c’est un des plus beaux cadeaux qu’on peut offrir à nos enfants, même s’ils décident un jour de poursuivre leur carrière dans un autre domaine.

Si les enfants démontrent un jour un désir de devenir entrepreneur et de se lancer en affaires, vous pourrez certainement regarder la possibilité de les engager dans votre entreprise. Mais ne soyez pas surpris ou déçu s’ils décident plutôt un autre marché ou opportunité, qui s’enligne plus avec leurs intérêts et forces.

Votre entreprise est un actif que vous pouvez vendre à quelqu’un qui ne fait pas partie de votre famille. Après, si vous voulez aider vos enfants à se lancer en affaires dans une business qui les motive vraiment, allez-y. Et ça sera leur entreprise! 

Understanding your family business goals

“Who You Are” versus “What You Do”

A few weeks ago I came across one of those “motivational quotes” that various people like to post on social media, and for some reason, this one resonated with me. It was on my Twitter timeline, from Dan Rockwell, whose Twitter handle is “Leadership Freak”.

Here is the quote:

“Who You Are Is More Important Than What You Do”

At the time I was in the process of finishing of my latest “white paper”, Sticky Baton Syndrome, ask Prince Charles, in which one of the issues I dealt with was the way a business founder will often have difficulty letting go, precisely because so much of their identity is tied up in “what they do”.

How can you transfer your business to your offspring and then “retire”, if you think of it as the equivalent of dying? If they stop “doing”, they believe that they also stop “being”. But is “what you do” really that important?

The concept of contrasting “doing”, versus “being”, is in no way novel, in fact the coolest twists I have seen on this come when you add in a third element, such as “fitting in” or even what a person “will do”.

But how is it that some people are more concerned with how they are seen by others for their “role” compared to their true “self”?

The owner of a family business will often be somewhat of a “public figure”, depending on the size of both the business and the community in which they live, so often “everyone” knows what you do.

But of all the people who know what you do, only a much smaller number, those with whom you have the closest relationships, will really know “who you are”.

So which is more important?

Think about the last time that you actually met someone famous. When that person’s name comes up in a conversation, you will likely say something like, “Oh, I met him. He seemed like a really nice guy”.

You actually feel like you have some special viewpoint on the person’s character, even if it is only based on a brief exchange.  But that is exactly my point. It is feeling like you know “who they are” that is special, even if everyone knows what they do.

When it comes to the rising generation in a family business, it is also a very important thing to keep in mind. Are you raising Junior to be the next President of the company, or to be the best person they can be?

Are you parenting your children to play key roles in your family business, because that would suit you, or are you trying to raise future responsible adults who will find something that they would like to do, based upon who they are?

Some people expend a great deal of effort clarifying what they “do”, because it is important for people to understand your abilities, especially if you are hoping for them to pay you to do those things.

In many ways, I envy those who have careers that are simple to describe. A guy shows up at your door dressed in white clothes with paint splattered on them, a roller in one hand and a can of paint in the other, it is not hard to guess what he “does”.

But if you are part of a business family, and you need to bring in someone to help prepare a generational transition, or you have communication problems, or you have a situation that needs an outside mediator, I suggest that you spend some time figuring out who that person “is”, before allowing them to “do what they do”.

A major reason why I write these posts every week is to help people figure out who I am, even if they can’t always put their finger on what I do.


Transition Planning: No Day at the Beach

We are in the dog days of August, and I am currently at our cottage, just trying to unplug a bit. We are experiencing unseasonably hot weather here on the Atlantic coast, so I am thankful for the air conditioning system we had installed in our new place.

The other day we went to the beach, an easy 5-minute drive, or a leisurely 20-minute kayak paddle via the Chockpish River. It was really hot that day too, but the water was great, even if I only waded in knee-deep.

So what better time for me to unveil a recent evolution of one of my favourite analogies, which just happens to involve a beach?

I say it is an evolution, but I am not sure that is the correct word. My point is that I have often used a swimming metaphor to describe one of the differences between my father and me.

He had much more impulsive tendencies, and was often tempted to dive right “into the deep end” of the pool with new ideas, while I preferred to “get my feet wet”, and then walk progressively deeper into the water, slowly but surely, like at the beach.

I am sure that I am not the only person who uses a “phased in” process of going for a swim at the beach. In my younger days, my preferred entry was to run into the water and dive in as soon as the water was deep enough to safely take the headfirst plunge.

Ten to fifteen seconds, and I was in, soaking wet and cooled off from head to toe.

Nowadays, my entrance is much more relaxed, and there are even a few discernable stages:

– Walk in slowly, up to about my hips.

After getting used to the water temperature around my nether regions for a couple of minutes…

– Wade in a bit deeper, slowly but surely getting in up to about my armpits or shoulders.

After another body temperature adjustment phase…

– Finally taking that final step, diving in head first and finally being “all in”.

I promised you an analogy, which I haven’t forgotten, and as regular readers know, I like to tie things in to issues that business families are living through.

But please recognize that while I was working my way IN to the water, the image I want you to picture is someone working their way OUT of their business.

The 180-degree switch will admittedly change the perspective, but let’s concentrate of the three phases, because that is where the value of this comes in.

My view on the exit of a founder from his or her business also has three crucial steps:

  • Handing over day-to-day Management
  • Turning over the long-term Leadership
  • Transferring all of the Ownership

You could imitate the teenage me, and do all three at once, getting it over with as quickly as possible, but these complete transfer “events” are most often associated with scenarios involving unexpected death, and would not be recommended by anyone.

Alternatively, if you sell to an outsider, you can also have a much quicker exit.

But transitioning a business from one generation of a family to the next should not be viewed as an event, but as a process.

Ideally it is done over a few years (minimum 5?) one step at a time, just like gradually walking into the ocean at the beach.

– Knee-deep is handing over day-to-day management.

– Shoulder depth is leadership and medium-term decision- making.

– The final plunge is share ownership from one generation to the next.

There are no hard and fast rules to all of this, of course, but open communication and thorough discussions, including regularly scheduled meetings to discuss your progress are a must.




For more about this subject, including a variety of perspectives on the challenges involved, please click here to read, download, and share:

Sticky Baton Syndrome – Ask Prince Charles

(The most recent “whitepaper” in my Quick Start Guide Series)


Planning your Dreams and Dreaming about Plans

Spending quality time planning for the future is something that just about everyone should do, but which very few actually do in sufficient quantity and detail.

There are so many reasons why this is the case, like the fact that:

  • we are very busy putting out today’s fires;
  • we kind of think we know where we are going, and we figure that everything will kind of work out anyway;
  • we really aren’t sure how or where to begin.

In most cases, it is some combination of all of these elements, and even a few others.

To their credit, many advisors who specialize in helping people with long term planning have developed various approaches and processes to help engage clients in these important tasks.

Coming at this as I do, from a holistic family point of view, where I specialize in helping business families and families of wealth with their long term “Continuity Planning”, the process can get a bit hairy. Let me explain.

There are a lot of moving parts in a family, where each person is important and has their own views, priorities, and desires. There are lots of stakeholders, if you will.

Add in things like different generations, gender differences, in-laws, those working in the business versus those not, and you can start to see how complexity rears its ugly head.

Now let’s look at some of the subjects that need to be addressed:

  • Who will manage the business in the future?
  • Who will “lead” the business, how will decisions be made?
  • How do we get from today’s realities to the best set-up in the future?
  • Just when will the leading generation cede control to the rising generation?
  • Who will own how much?
  • What are the legal, accounting, tax, and insurance questions that we need to address as part of this planning?

Most of the answers to these last questions are found with the help of specialists in the various domains. The advice industry, however, is still very much based on a “silo” approach, and while everyone says that they “collaborate” with professionals in other disciplines, they do so with varying degrees of ability and success.

OK, so I am sure that some of you are saying, “Yeah, yeah, I know that, but what about your “dreaming” and “planning” stuff that you teased us with in your headline?” Here goes.

I have been developing a process to address these issues for families, and in so doing I came to an “A-Ha!” moment of sorts a couple of weeks ago, based on the planning and dreaming points of view, and which I am convinced will be the heart of its success. Here goes:

  • You do NOT plan your dreams, but you MUST discover them so that you can then plan on achieving them.
  • When the dream is for a family, and not just an individual, communication is vital for the co-creation of the dreams.
  • Just as you do not plan the dream, you do not dream up a plan either, you must develop the plan, which then helps you arrive at your dream.

The tool, or process, that I am currently putting the finishing touches on, is based on a “Business Model Canvas” that I found on my wife’s desk at home. It is a tool that she uses in her job coaching social entrepreneurs.

Rather than calling mine a Canvas, I have entitled my tool a Blueprint, as in “a photographic print that shows how something will be made” and “a detailed plan of how to do something” (a couple of definitions I found via Google).

The Blueprint looks at the three circles important to Business families: Family, Business, and Ownership.

We look at where they are now, the dream of what they could look like in the distant future, and the plan for the transition to get them there.

It may look simple, but it is actually quite a detailed process to help families discover their dreams, and work together to develop the plans to achieve them.