“Know How” Vs. “Show How” in FamBiz Advice

“Know How” Vs. “Show How” in FamBiz Advice

One of the things I enjoy doing occasionally is revisit parts of my eclectic professional career and find subjects that can help me explain things in areas around my most recent incarnation as a family business advisor.

Exactly 20 years ago, I was studying Intellectual Property Law in New Hampshire (Franklin Pierce Law, now part of UNH). During a class on patents, the terms “know how” and “show how” were discussed.

The MIP (Master of Intellectual Property) program was aimed mostly at international students, many of whom came from Asia, to get a one-year intense dose of American IP Law. A classmate from Colombia, whose English was still not great, asked me to explain the difference between the two terms.

We were standing in the student lounge at the time, and there were some vending machines nearby. I always love the challenge of taking complex issues and finding ways to explain them in terms that everyone can understand.

So I started with Know How, and suggested to my friend that if he were thirsty, he should go to the machine, put some money in it, and press a button. He looked at me intently, and said, “Okay…(?)”

Then, I walked over to the machine with him, and said, “Show How: Put your dollar bill in this slot here, and make sure you flatten it out. Slide it in until the machine picks it up. Now, look at the choices and decide which drink you want. Press that button. See, this is where it comes out. Don’t open it yet, because it just dropped and might make a mess because it got shaken. Get your change out of this slot. Show How.”

He smiled and nodded. Mission accomplished. So what does this have to do with family business?

If you are looking for Know How on subjects surrounding family business, and more importantly business families, there is no shortage of it out there. Just ask my friend Google, and he will lead you to more content than you could read in your lifetime.

But just as you could look up and read millions of patents and still not be able to put the inventions into practice, most of the FamBiz content you find really would fall more into the Know How category.

I read stuff every day on the subject, much of it coming from my Twitter addiction, and there are plenty of great ideas for things that families should be doing to make sure their intended transitions from one generation to the next go smoothly.

My problem with so much of what I read is that I believe that very little of it will ever be acted upon.

This may or may not be the fault of the writer of the piece, but I often picture the reaction of someone like my father, or my father-in-law, both of whom started with almost nothing and built successful family businesses, and I simply can’t picture either of them ever putting the advice into practice.

The lack of action by many families has a couple of components to it, of course. Lack of time or urgency is usually one part, and so is insufficient belief in the worthiness of the expected benefits. I can’t help believe that not having enough “Show How” is a very big part of it.

If someone reads that having family meetings is important, they may think that it could be worthwhile, but then might get hung up on how to go about that. What is on the agenda, who gets invited, how often should we do them, how formal, what is the goal, how do we make “ground rules”, do we keep minutes, ah just forget it. Maybe next year…

Many ideas sound great when we hear them (or read them), but then we stumble when we try to implement them, because of some uncertainty in how it is supposed to all work.

There are people who can help show you how, but not nearly as many as there are out adding the vast store of know how out there. You just need to find them and reach out.








Sibling Rivalry

Getting Brothers on the Same Page

Getting Brothers on the Same Page

This week, I was approached by a colleague about a pair of brothers, who are operating a business together, who are approaching a crossroads. My colleague asked me for some input on what kinds of issues they would be facing, and how he might offer to assist them.

(This made me flash back to a blog from April 2014, about another pair of brothers who worked together).

He didn’t give me too much to go on, and I’m not even sure how much information he had himself, so I will have to fill in some of the blanks with my own assumptions. This is fine because anything I offer here cannot be prescriptive, nor should it be overly directed to the specific facts of their case.

So here is a scenario, including my assumed facts:

Two brothers, in their late 50’s, co-own their company, which they have grown over the past 30 years or so. Both have children, but they are too young to take over right now. “Frank” has a vision of somehow keeping the business in the family, while “Sam” just wants to sell.

As usual, I have many more questions to ask before being able to supply any useful answers. Here are a few that come to mind immediately:

Are these paths mutually exclusive?

Not necessarily. If Frank has an interest in staying on and eventually bringing his kids into the business, there are certainly ways that this can be done. If Sam wants out, they would need to come to a negotiated agreement on the sale price, including the terms and conditions, which would allow Frank to buy his brother out.

Frank would need to be sure that the leadership and management roles that Sam had assumed would be covered off by someone, and they would need to come up with a financing arrangement that would allow Frank to purchase Sam’s shares over time so as not to put the company at risk.

–  Can the business be run by a non-family member?

If Frank is not the type to run the business by himself and if it will be a number of years before his kids would be ready to assume key roles, the option of hiring professional outside management can also be an interesting idea.

Not all family businesses pass directly from parent to child; often some trusted managers assume top roles for a number of years while the next generation completes their years of preparation to take over the top job.

–  Has an outside buyer been identified?

If an outside purchaser has been identified, a sale of the business, whereby both brothers actually cash out, could be a blessing in disguise. Sam can close the book and move on, and Frank would be free to do as he saw fit with his proceeds.

–  Could Frank help his kid(s) run another business?

Some parents love running a business and long for a relationship with their children in which they can pass on that love to their offspring. But many times the particular business of the parents is not in a field that captures the imagination of their kids.

How about taking the proceeds and finding a business opportunity in a field that the children are attracted to, and helping them start their own business in that area?

–  Where should the brothers begin?

Ideally, Frank and Sam can discuss all of these options before going too far down the road with any particular option.

–  Beware the advisor who only carries a hammer!

Too often, guys like Frank and Sam are not sure where to turn, and they take the first piece of advice that comes their way if it sounds plausible. Remember the saying about a man who only has a hammer, who looks at everything as if it is a nail?

Business advisors, most of whom specialize in one particular area, are also prone to this type of reflexive advice. For big decisions like these, taking the time to look at ALL of the options makes the most sense.


Lessons from Estée Lauder

I recently read a very brief piece on Estee Lauder, who was described as a “family business icon” by the Family Firm Institute (FFI). They also stated that her motto was “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”

I found her motto very interesting, especially the second sentence, where she mentions selling something in which she truly believes. Obviously if you do not believe in what you are selling, it is very difficult to do a good job of selling it.

It also struck me because the word “sell” has a variety of meanings and connotations, which have also evolved over the decades since she likely came up with her motto. And as someone who despises coming across as a “salesman”, it forced me to think through her motto to try to find a way to make it work for me.

There is also the part about the difference between selling a product like cosmetics versus selling a professional service, like family business advising. The sales and marketing contexts and processes are very different. But I was determined to find the “gold” in her motto in a way that could be useful to me.

As a solo practitioner, what I am selling is myself, in many ways, and some people are over-the-top when they talk about themselves, while others are “under-the-bottom”, if you will allow me to invent such an awkward antonym.

Since I am someone who lives at the lower end of this scale, it is always a stretch for me to “sell myself”. When someone seems to be trying to hard to “sell me”, it is a huge turn-off, so I naturally assume that others also hate this tactic, and I try to avoid it, and sometimes I try too hard, to my detriment.

Back to Lauder’s motto, though, she states “if I believe in something, I sell it”. She did not say somebody, so for me, the take-home message is to focus less on the “who” and more on the “what”.

For those of you who are regular readers (thanks!) you may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about “who I am” being more relevant and important than “what I do”, so the trick is to try to find the right balance, and to come up with the proper messaging of what I can to do help business families, along with the personal branding of the guy who delivers those services.

I am so much more comfortable selling an IDEA, as opposed to myself, but I also understand quite clearly that nobody would buy the stuff that I am selling if they were not convinced that I am someone that they can trust to work with some of their most precious valuables, the members of their family.

When speaking with others who do this work, I often bring up the phrase “spreading the gospel”, so allow me to attempt to lay out what this gospel is, because that is what needs to be sold.

Let’s start with a tag line that I recently came up with, which is still a work-in-progress:   “I help business families turn their transition dreams into a workable plan”.

For a family, this is hard work, and if they don’t start early, learn to work together, and have the crucial conversations that they need to have to do the work well, there are lots of negative consequences that will likely arise, not just for the business, but also for the family.

Very few if any families will undertake this work on their own, without professional external advisors. We do exist, but the families are not always “ready” for the hard work to begin, often until it is nearly too late.

If you are such a family, or if you currently advise such a family in another professional capacity, please reach out to start a no obligation conversation.







I’m Not the Only One

Last week I mentioned that I had attended a Sam Smith concert in Colorado with my daughter, and then this week in Toronto I was attending a course where one of the instructors was talking about a client who had had an “A-Ha” moment, which culminated in the woman exclaiming “I’m not the only one!”

If you are not a fan of Sam Smith, allow me to explain why I found this relevant; “I’m not the only one” is the title of one of Smith’s first hit songs, so the timing of this exclamation makes this mandatory blog material for me.

Smith’s voice is incredible and I love his songwriting too, but they will only serve as the intro to this week’s blog.

My stay in Toronto turned out to be very interesting and will certainly be quite useful to me going forward, helping me to do a better job of engaging client families in the difficult work they need to do around the subject of transitioning their businesses to the next generation.

I spent four full days with a couple dozen people who were attending the course,“The Role of the Most Trusted Advisor” given by BDO and their SuccessCare Program.

SuccessCare is the brainchild of Grant Robinson, who teamed up with Daphne McGuffin in the late 1990’s, and they have been working non-stop ever since, “training competitors” to help spread the word about how important this work is for families to plan and execute their generational transitions.

McGuffin was relating a story about an event where they were explaining the importance of getting families to have the crucial conversations required to put the issues on the table so they can be dealt with.

One woman, after hearing other people ask questions about their own situations, which had some remarkable similarities to what she had been living through (silently), suddenly exclaimed, in a joyful voice, “I’m not the ONLY one”.

How nice it is to realize that others are going through the same difficult dilemmas that we are.

More often than not, people in business families imagine that their situations are unique. In one way they are, of course. No two family situations are identical; the sheer number of permutations and combinations of children, in-laws, birth order, gender, etc. are enough to guarantee that, and we have not even factored in any business issues.

But even though the family is unique, and the business is unique, and their ownership structure may also be unique, that does NOT mean that the issues they are faced with are also unique.

The obstacles that business families face when working through their inter-generational transitions are very predictable, and they have been for hundreds of years.

It is a huge undertaking, filled with complexity, and the stakes are high. Not only that, it is NOT something that you get to do over and over again until you get it right; it is kind of a “one off”.

The good news is (you knew that I would get to the good news, didn’t you?) that there are people out there who have been down this road before, who know the ropes, and who can help you.

And more and more of them have been trained to help families work on the subject in ways that address the family’s unique circumstances, desires, and goals.

They are being trained by great people, through SuccessCare (now part of BDO), and IFEA (Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors) and FFI (Family Firm Institute).

Their programs are all a bit different, but what they have in common is that they recognize a few key points:

  • Every family is unique
  • A multi-disciplinary team of advisors is best
  • Transitions take years to undertake properly

The key is for the family to find the right person to lead them through process. There are people who can help, and “I know I’m not the only one”.


Rendez-Vous with a Purpose

This week was a very interesting one in my life, as I enjoyed some time in one of my favourite states, along with some of my favourite people.

The state is Colorado, and the occasion was the annual “Rendez-Vous” of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI). It was my second time attending the Rendez-Vous, following up on the 2014 edition last July.

The people that I met there in both 2014 and 2015 were without exception fantastic collaborators with whom I look forward to exchanging again and again going forward. Of course that doesn’t automatically qualify them all among my “favourite people”.

Last year I made the trip to Denver (actually Broomfield) solo, but this year, I travelled with my own collaborator, my 14-year old daughter. She also helped me celebrate my birthday the day before Rendez -Vous, which included a visit to the Broncos training camp in the morning and a Sam Smith concert at the Red Rocks amphitheater at night.

She also proved to be an excellent navigator using the maps on my phone, getting us everywhere with very few missed turns. But let’s get back to the PPI conference.

PPI has only been around since 2010, but already boasts over 350 members, including some 200 who were present this week, which is an impressive turnout. I recognized a few dozen names on the attendee list from last year, and a couple dozen faces as well.

Along the way I met even more interesting people, all of whom shared one common characteristic: A willingness to share and to learn from each other, about the subject of helping families plan their wealth and busness transitions, while focussing on the FAMILY.

As usual, the Rendez-Vous featured a couple of inspiring keynotes: Ian McDermott on Developing an Innovation Mindset on Thursday and Matt Wesley on the Power of Family Culture, on Friday. I heard nothing but positive comments about each of them.

On Thursday afternoon, we were also treated to a panel featuring Jay Hughes, Joanie Bronfman, and Stacy Allred, discussing Fiscal Unequals in Relationships, about couples that feature a woman with much larger wealth than the man. It was fascinating stuff, moderated by John A. Warnick, the founder and “heart and soul” of PPI.

Along the way, there were 4 rounds of break-out sessions, and the only complaint I heard was that it was so hard to choose which ones to attend, since there were so many interesting topics, put on by so many great speakers.

For my part, I truly enjoyed Buddy Thomas’ “Beyond Collaboration: Advisory Team Coordination as a Specialty Profession”, as well as my friends Karen Laprade and Kyle Harrison’s “Reveal or Conceal: a High Stakes Game for the Whole Family” in which we experienced the “Samoan Circle” method of discussing important topics in a large group.

As a student of (and big fan of) Bowen Family Systems Theory, I also got a lot out of Elaine King and Marianna Martinez’s “Establishing Family Governance Strucutures using BFST” on Thursday, before the final breakout session on Friday AM.

For the finale, I chose to attend Rodney Zeeb’s “Developing Leadership in the Rising Generation” which was a great choice for me, as it allowed me to hear and learn from someone who has been at it for a couple of decades longer than me, but whose ideas, methods, and philosphy are very much in line with my own.

I have now been to 2 Rendez-Vous events, and the combination of the high caliber of speakers, the fascinating topics, and mostly the spirit of sharing and collaboration of every last person with whom I engaged, all add up to the fact that I have already marked July 27-29, 2016 on my calendar.

I will not miss it, and I look forward to meeting many other great new people there too, as well as renewing and deepening relationships already begun in 2014 and 2015.


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.


Family business consulant

Underpromise and Overdeliver on your Exit Plan

The concept of under-promising and then over-delivering is not a new one, not by any stretch of the imagination. However, early this morning upon waking, I believe that I came up with a novel application of the idea.

My usual weekly blogging schedule has me selecting a subject on Thursday or Friday, writing on Saturday, reviewing and posting to my website on Sunday, and putting up a link on LinkedIn and Twitter on Monday.

I am composing this on Wednesday, July 1, which happens to be Canada Day. Perhaps it is the fact that as day off work, it felt a bit like a Saturday, which may have inspired me. But I think it was more a case of the confluence of a few things that I have been working on that so inspired me.

I recently committed to writing some longer content pieces, which I have dubbed the “Quick Start Guide Series”. The first such Guide is entitled “My Kids in My Business?”, and it is available on the Resources tab of my website.

It seems kind of lame having a “series” in which only the first output is available, so I have quickly begun working on the second piece, which will be called “Sticky Baton Syndrome – Ask Prince Charles” (working title), and which is slated for August 2015 release.

Let’s just say that I have been reading a lot of stuff that is out there about how to encourage the senior generation of leaders in family businesses to loosen their grip on passing the baton to the rising generation.

Simultaneously, I have recently been spending a good deal of time working with a colleague, who works the “wealth management” side of the street, and together we have been developing a methodology and tool for working with business family clients.

We are trying to find the most useful way to help them begin the process of planning for the intergenerational continuity of their enterprising families and the wealth contained therein.

We are tentatively calling it the “Blueprint”, and we are just entering trial mode with a select number of families as we work on the exact application and sequencing of the intervention.

What I can tell you for now is that I had a bit of an A-Ha moment when trying to figure out how to piece together the “Current Situation” part of the Blueprint and the “Next Era” portion.

(Basically, the Blueprint is a three-part affair: 1) Where are we now? 2) Where do we want to go? 3) How do we get there?. No reinventing the wheel, just structuring the discussion).

The trick, I discovered, is in setting the date for the “Next Era” part. You see, asking a business founder to picture things after they are gone is always a dubious proposition at best, so there are many nuances that need to be thought through.

For the purpose of illustration, we might exaggerate and invite the person to look at things in 2065. Can we agree that you will not be running and owning your business in 50 years? Unless we are dealing with a young entrepreneur, we all know what the right answer is.

So if 2065 is surely part of the “next era”, what about 2055? 2045? I think that you can see what I am doing here. But how far do you reel it back? As you get closer, you can step back in 5-year increments.

And where do you stop? Glad you asked, because this is where the “under-promise and over-deliver” comes in.

Why don’t we let “Dad” under-promise and choose a year that is “too far off”, and then as the plan comes together, and he can see how the rising generation is pulling up their socks and getting ready to take over, we can always let him “over-deliver” and in fact leave a few years ahead of the plan?

It sure beats the other way around.


Look Forward, Don’t Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they rarely have happy endings.


What Is a Family Harmony “Breakthrough”?

Because I like to consider myself somewhat of a communications specialist, I attach a great deal of importance to my choice of words, as I always want to be as clear as possible about everything I say and write.

There is already plenty of miscommunication and misunderstanding going on out there, I certainly don’t want to add to it. I much prefer to help to try to clean things up instead.

At the behest of my business coach, Melissa, who has been working with me for almost a year now, I recently added a simplified service offering on my website, which we dubbed the “Family Harmony Breakthrough Package”. I have to admit that the word “breakthrough” took a while to grow on me, but now I love it.

Let me explain it a bit, in the hopes that its full meaning does not get lost in the “marketing-ness” of the way it may sound to some. I am all about the family harmony part, it was Melissa who came up with the “breakthrough package” part.

I won’t explain what family harmony is, but the other two words are something I would like to clarify. Let’s start with “package”.

In the field of family business advising, the offer the consultant makes to the family can never be easily and clearly defined to everyone’s satisfaction, and this contributes to the hesitancy that many families already have when it comes to bringing in an “outsider” to help them.

So, inspired by some coaches who offer a “six-month package”, or a “nine-month package”, I have now launched what I call the Family Harmony Breakthrough Package, where the term “package” is designed mostly to set out the stages and the boundaries of what is involved.

The package has pre-defined steps, has a clear starting point and end point, and a deliverable. The timeframe can vary due to complexity and logistics, but 2-3 months is about average. When a family signs on, they know in advance what to expect in terms of the process.

I believe in the adage that it is important to under promise and over deliver, and that is the main reason that I hesitated to use the word “breakthrough” in the name of the package, but as I stated earlier, it grew on me. Let me tell you why.

Many families, if not most families, coexist in a state that I like to call “okay”. Everything is “okay”, pretty much. You may know this state by another familiar term, “fine”. Everything is just fine.

Okay and fine are a good place to be, right? Well yes, but…

A typical business family has a large number of moving parts, and an even greater number of relationships. On a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, “okay” and “fine” are much better than “crappy” and “lousy”.

One of the advantages that family businesses have over others is their long-term view, as the business is set up to provide for the needs of the family over future generations. Thinking long term, “okay” and “fine” just won’t cut it.

The key people will grow into new roles, the founders will age and exit, and the people involved will see their relationships change too, and not always for the better.

The breakthrough comes when some time and effort is put into looking at, thinking about, and planning where these relationships are now, and talking about how the people are going to work together in the future. There is a whole heckuva lot of inertia to overcome, and few families will do this on their own, without an independent outside expert to guide them.

The time to act is when things are going well. On my business card, I say that I am a “facilitator, coach, and mediator”. It is much more pleasant to work the first two roles, and less fun to mediate a dispute.

The back of my card has my tagline: Helping business families create the harmony they need, to support the legacy they want. Is your family ready for a breakthrough?


There’s Only So Much I Can Do

A few years ago, I adopted a new “mantra”, or “credo”, after a particularly stressful few months of my life. “There’s only so much you can do”, is how it went.

It is not that I had been a perfectionist beforehand or anything, but I was working pretty hard on a project and I became frustrated that it was not being as well received by everyone as I had hoped, and I became sensitive to some criticism of what I was doing.

Then one day it dawned on me that I was never going to make everyone happy, no matter how hard I tried, even if I bent over backwards. I resigned myself to doing my best, being satisfied with the effort and the result, and thinking, “to hell with it if some people aren’t happy”.

I actually began to frequently repeat the phrase around the house, so much so that my wife actually printed it out and framed it for me to put it up in my office, where I continue to see it daily.

If you have been paying close attention though, you will have noted a slight difference between that mantra and the title of this blog post. I still like the mantra as it is, but I have also come to a major realisation recently, which had me switch out the word “you” and bring in the word “I”.

Now I want to be clear about the reason for the change in words, and also to say that one saying is not necessarily “better” than the other, but that they are slightly different.

My wife might cynically say to me that my preference for the first person pronoun stems from the fact that I always act as if “it’s all about me”, but I would beg to differ.

Instead, I am looking at it more from the “personal responsibility” perspective. When we see the pronoun “you”, it looks like a second person pronoun, but it isn’t really, in this case, is it?

If I were to say, “there is only so much you can do” to a particular person, in response to a particular situation, then yes, it clearly is a second person pronoun.

But if I say it in the usual context in which I made it my mantra, it is really saying that there is a limit to what “any person” can do, which really makes it a third person pronoun, and what does that really mean?

To me, it is kind of like giving up, and not taking responsibility for MY part in it. During my coaching training, the course leaders often used a technique to drive this point home when a participant would use the pronoun “you” as I way to escape responsibility.

For example, someone would say, “you know, it’s really difficult, because you feel silly, you feel like you might be misunderstood, etc.” The instructor would feign confusion, and say “excuse me, who? Who is ‘you’? Do you mean ‘I’?”

If the person is speaking about himself, then the correct word is “I”, first person. But what is the reason for not saying “I”? In these cases, I think that the person is either trying to de-personalize it, and/or make it seem that that is the reaction that “any normal person” would have.

For me, saying that there is only so much “I can do”, is starting to feel more natural. It can be difficult to get someone to be more personally responsible for their actions, but like any habit, practice, more practice, and even more practice is required.

Once you have that down pat, there are surely others things you can work on too. Here is a suggestion: get rid of the word “but”, and substitute the word “and” in its place.

You may be surprised how much negativity you can get rid of with that simple change. And there is only so much I can do to make you try it!