Category Archives: Family Business Values

10 (plus one!) tips for strong families (Part 2)

Deb Houden
Deb Houden

For the first five tips, see part one of this blog post!

6) Accept What Others Can and Cannot Give

Accepting what others can and cannot give is tied to being the change agent. Strong family members accept that others are different and may not be able to give what they can give. Not everyone is a great communicator. Strong family members recognize that and check in. Brother is uncomfortable talking on the phone? Text him. Sister has trouble taking on too many tasks? Ask how you can help her. Of course we can point and say, “They should. . .” but why? Strong family members accept what others can or cannot give by adjusting their own behaviors to meet their other family members ½ (and sometimes ¾) of the way.

7) Don’t Dwell on the Past

Don’t dwell in the past, either. Stay in the present and allow your family members the same courtesy. Enough said.

8) Cheer on Other’s Success (no matter how small)

A healthy family I know sends out text messages to others in their family when something good happens. A family member I know shared his son’s success in making it to the Dean’s List his first semester of freshman year.  Immediately, the brother texted his nephew saying “Great job.” This not only allowed the family member to share their success, they paid it forward by acknowledging the next generation’s success. It is a quick pat on the back. Strong family members find a reason to say to each other “Good job!”

9) Realize No One Owes Them Anything

As there is a distinct difference in feeling an obligation vs. an opportunity with the family business, so too is the belief that you have been blessed with the ability to do for yourself.  Entitlement is the poison of families and businesses. No one, not even our parents, owe us a happy family business. We owe it to ourselves. It is when individuals feel fortunate to have a family business that they strive to make it better. Strong individuals focus on what they can give, instead of what they are owed.

 10) Reflect and Adjust

The strongest leaders are those who reflect on their decisions and make changes. The strongest family members are those who review their behaviors towards their own family and make adjustments as needed. Did they hurt someone? Then they apologize immediately. Did they reach out to say, “How are you doing today?”  Did they share in the joy of their nieces or nephews triumphs? Did they keep their mouths shut and open their ears? What did or didn’t they do, and what do they need to adjust?  Strong family members reflect each day on their own behaviors and change what needs to be changed.

11) Don’t Expect Immediate Results

Strong family members understand that any relationship needs continuous attention.  It is not a one-and-done kind of deal. A family I work with continually addresses the challenges they face.  They realize that years of negative behaviors cannot change overnight and their family is now fixed.  They look for incremental changes and face each day knowing that they are working towards something years from now in which they can look back on and smile.

10 (plus one!) tips for strong families (Part 1)

Deb Houden
Deb Houden

Many of the families that we work with use their strong relationships as a competitive advantage for their business.  The underlying trust and goodwill towards each other are distinct benefits when individuals know their family has their backs and are there for them. The workplace is a pleasant, productive environment where employees are confident in how decisions are made.  However, there are also families where the relationships are a distinct disadvantage for the business. The tension between members makes the environment uncomfortable; the employees are not sure who to please or are getting direction from multiple members who disagree with each other.

Inevitably, when the relationships are troublesome, there is blame: “If I could just get my brother to stop meddling in my department;” or “She micromanages every action in her department.”  I call it the “If I could just get them to…” trap.  The finger pointing goes outward instead of inward. Strong families are made up of individuals who point the finger at their own nose and challenge their own behaviors.

Here are 11 behaviors that individuals from strong families do to keep their competitive advantage:

1) Don’t Waste Time Playing in the Pity Puddle

Life is full of challenges; it gets rough. Blend family and business together and it can be a tempestuous storm. Strong family members don’t waste time by thinking woe is me. They get themselves out of the Pity Puddle by focusing on their gratitude list. And they really focus on it.  When I work with families who are having trouble, their homework assignment is to focus on what they are grateful about each other. And sometimes it’s hard! Strong family members don’t stay in the Pity Puddle long – they focus on gratitude list and add to it every day.

2) Laugh at Themselves and with Each Other

Strong family members realize that they are human and subject to some not-so-pleasing behaviors themselves. They fight against being defensive and are able to laugh when others point out their shortcomings. Laughter is a wonderful elixir. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and produces a general sense of well-being. When we can laugh at ourselves, and with our family members, we can produce a shared sense of feeling good. Strong family members look at reasons to laugh at themselves and with (not at) each other.

3) See their Family through Rose-Colored Glasses

Strong family members look at their family and see the good, not the bad. We all have a choice in how we want to view the world; we all have a choice in what we see in individuals. Strong family members choose to look for the positives in their family, not dwell on the negatives. It is easy to say that your family is dysfunctional. Our own worlds are all about our perceptions of them. Strong family members tend to view their families as a source of strength and good.

4) Don’t Let Others Have Power over Them

Strong family members believe they control their own emotions. They accept that it is their choice to be bothered by someone else’s behavior. Strong family members rarely believe other’s drive them crazy. They are able to walk side by side without reacting. They check and control their emotions so they can interact instead of react.

5) Be the Change Agent

Strong family members don’t repeat negative messages about each other. They don’t keep their family stuck in the same place by waiting for someone else to change. They accept that if they keep doing what they’re doing, they are going to keep getting what they’re getting. Strong family members accept that they need to be the change that they seek in the situation. By being the change agent, and staying the course, others will be able to change, too.

Our next post will share six more tips about what strong families do to keep their competitive advantage.

Getting more out of 2015

Kristi Daeda
Kristi Daeda

Earlier this year, Kelly LeCouvie wrote here about the book Essentialism (a book I have not got around to reading yet – perhaps that should be my New Year’s resolution?), and the importance of the “disciplined pursuit of less.” Amy Schuman and Stephanie Brun de Pontet wrote about mindfulness and its benefits for family enterprises for The Family Business Advisor.  Just today I had multiple conversations with people who used words like “anxiety,” “pressure,” and “time-sensitive.” In our conversations with family, friends and colleagues, we see these themes repeated – there’s seems never to be enough time, energy or attention to do all of the things that we want and need to do.

It follows that our lives – often over-scheduled, over-committed, and awash in information – won’t accommodate the things that are most important to us unless we make them a priority and put them first.

So, in honor of the closing of 2014 and with a hopeful look at the coming year, here are some questions that I’m asking myself to help me plan for my priorities first. I hope that they spark a thought or idea for you as well.

  1. What happened in 2014 that should continue in 2015? Perhaps you had an incredible family vacation, or started regular coffee dates with a valued friend. Maybe you found great business insights from an unexpected source. The stand-out moments in our lives can seem like a one-off, but we can welcome more of them by creating more opportunities for them to happen. How might you make more of these opportunities in the coming year?
  2. What’s important to you that, if you don’t plan for it, could fall by the wayside? This year, with busy schedules and being scattered across the U.S., we weren’t able to get my extended family together for the holidays. To avoid that in the future, we’ve already started the conversation about Thanksgiving 2015. The same can happen to things like family meetings, personal health, strategic planning, or time for training and mentoring younger family members. Making a commitment before other things get in the way – especially a commitment to others – creates an anchor that the rest of our obligations can revolve around.
  3. Where did you spend time this year that most engaged or energized you? It could be time serving your community, planning for the future of your business, reconnecting with loved ones, meditating or exercising. Which places, activities and people naturally recharge you? How can they play a bigger role in your life in 2015?

With some thought and a little planning, we can all have more of what’s important, and not just what’s urgent or expected, this year.

Understanding conflict in the family business (Part 2)

Otis Baskin
Otis Baskin

Although conflict in a family and therefore a family business is natural and inevitable, it does not have to be destructive. If it is expected, conflict can be managed into productive behaviors. Denying and avoiding conflict only exacerbates its destructive potential.

I often work with families that have major differences regarding the direction of the business they own but never openly discuss the varying opinions among themselves. The fear that bringing up any disagreement will be harmful to the harmony of the family, hurtful to the previous generation, or otherwise destructive to the business keeps important decisions from being made with all the information available. Limited input into major decision making processes always leaves a business vulnerable to out-of-date or short-term thinking. However, if conflicting ideas can be heard without destructive behavior, the result can actually be increased harmony because everyone has confidence that the final decision was made with all points-of-view and as much information as possible.

First, find as much in common as possible before there is a conflict. For families, this can generally be done by spending some time defining the values that have made it possible to have the great blessing of a successful business. What are the stories of grandparents and great grandparents that everyone finds inspiring and enjoys telling with regard to the success the family has enjoyed? What are the “truth sayings” that have been passed along within the family? How have these beliefs and values influenced the development of our business in the past? How can they be useful in today’s environment?

Second, people should not be forced to give up their individuality to participate in the blessings of their family business – they simply need to value the important things they have in common. When the day-to-day operating focus is on common principles that are important to everyone, differences can be accepted without the fear that “we no longer know who we are.” Grounded in the knowledge that they have a set of core beliefs in common, family members can listen to differing opinions and value all perspectives; talk about problems rather than people; seek common interests and develop “both/and” rather than “either/or” solutions as often as possible.

Yes, communication is the key but it must be respectful, caring, and carefully managed.

Managing unsolvable problems: Understanding paradox (Part 3)

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we have talked about the need for “both/and” responses to paradox. Easy to say, but how to put into practice?

Let’s take a fictional example based on actual situations. Bizco is a 35 year old real estate company, growing and profitable, moving from G1 to G2. From the beginning, mom and dad, along with their son and daughter, have set a goal of building BOTH a strong family AND a strong business. And, they have succeeded!

How? They started early!  While the children were young, the family actively participated together in volunteer activities and travelled together, building strong relationships and open communication. The parents spoke openly with their children about the growing business, its contribution to the community, and the values that guided the business’ growth and decision-making.  Although the parents encouraged the siblings to consider a career in the family business, they were clear that employment would be based on qualifications and skills, not family status. At the same time, they encouraged the siblings to explore their individual interests and passions with no pressure or requirement to come work in the family firm. The parents also demonstrated through their actions the power of a strong, mutually supportive family.

As the siblings entered college, the sister participated in the business’ summer internship and began to develop an affinity to real estate. Brother was more interested in animal medicine and found summer employment in a local vet’s office.

These different interests reached their logical conclusion, and the decision to employ the sister but not the brother in the family business came logically and without drama. The brother pursued his interest in veterinary medicine, but remained an active and supportive family member to his sister and parents. They continued to travel and volunteer together, now including in-laws and grandchildren. Employment of one sibling and not the other had no negative impact on the family, which continued on its supportive and loving way. And, since ownership of the business will pass to both siblings, they have begun meeting as owners to learn and plan for the future.

The family’s emphasis on family AND business started very early. As the years went on, the two were proven to be compatible — not in conflict.

We have looked at the most fundamental — although not simple — paradox for family businesses and gained insight into the importance of starting early and being consistent in supporting a “both/and” approach. Please share your questions and experiences with us!


My deep thanks to Dr. Barry Johnson for his pioneering work and inspiration in this field. Please see www.polaritypartnerships.com for more on polarities and paradox. 

Managing unsolvable problems: Understanding paradox (Part 2)

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

To read the first post in this series, click here.

Which to choose: Family first or business first?

Those who recognize the presence of a paradox would say: “Yes, both!” However, many families feel compelled to make a choice.

Let’s look at one case where this paradox was not managed well. The fictional Smith family often worried about the family interfering with the business, and over the years, set out to pursue business-first decision making. A merit-based employment policy required family members to work outside the company for five years and earn their MBA before applying for employment at Smithco. Family members were expected to be more qualified than non-family applicants, and could only apply to the company when an open, existing position matched their skills and experience.

On the five-person Board, two slots were designated for family directors. To qualify for consideration, the family member had to have at least 10 years of demonstrated success in a top business leadership role and at least five years of experience on a Board of Directors in a related field. No family meetings or family council was felt to be needed.

Now entering its fourth generation of family ownership, only one G3 family member was working in the business and she was nearing retirement. No G4s had expressed interest in the business because most were pursuing careers in other fields and other cities. The two current G3 family directors were nearing their retirement age, and serious doubts existed as to whether any G4s would qualify as Directors.

The current owners of Smithco, while proud of the non-family management and directors that had been so important to its continued success, were quite disconnected from the business they owned. Outside of dividends, they experienced no benefits from their family ownership and knew very little about the business. Because of these factors, a committee of the board has begun exploring sale of the business.

A sale is not necessarily a negative outcome, but if the goal of the family was to remain a family business, balancing their business-first approaches with some attention to family-first actions might have led to a different outcome. Family-first actions such as educational family meetings for family owners not working in the business, tours of facilities or summer internships for younger family members could have yielded vastly different results.

The Smith family worried that unqualified family influence on the family business would bring about its destruction. Paradoxically, keeping family away from their business may well have created the very conditions they most feared.

Taking one side of a paradox to the exclusion of the other, always leads to suboptimal results. In our next post, we look at a positive example of managing the “Business First/Family First” paradox.


My deep thanks to Dr. Barry Johnson for his pioneering work and inspiration in this field. Please see www.polaritypartnerships.com for more on polarities and paradox. 

Managing unsolvable problems: Understanding paradox (Part 1)

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

A paradox is a special kind of problem that has no solution. Paradoxes can only be managed, they can’t be solved.* Family businesses — like all systems — wrestle with tough challenges that, upon closer examination, prove to be “complementary opposites” or paradoxes. Some examples:

  • Family AND Business
  • Harvest AND Invest
  • Tradition AND Change

The wisest response to these paradoxes is to find ways to value and pursue BOTH values, even though it may appear  —  and feel  —  impossible.

Paradoxes are made up of two desirable values that appear to be in conflict but, in fact, are complementary. Choosing one to the exclusion of the other will yield predictable difficulties, but finding ways to pursue BOTH will yield superior outcomes, stronger relationships and more effective communication.

What’s the difference between a paradox and a problem? A problem can be solved, decided, put to bed. For example: Should I hire my daughter, yes or no? Should I invest this year’s profits into the business rather than paying a dividend, yes or no? Should we introduce a new product this year, yes or no? These problems may be difficult, but once decided and solved, we move on.

In contrast, a paradox can’t be solved, it can’t be put to bed. With the paradox of “Family and Business,” which would you choose? Which side of “Harvest and Invest” is superior? Which value would you select for “Tradition and Change?”

Hopefully, your choice in all of these examples is: “Yes, both!” The key to paradox management is recognizing that choosing one, to the exclusion of the other, will bring predictable problems. As you recognize the paradox, you know the necessity is to support both.

What paradoxes do you encounter in your family firm? How do you find the both/and solution?

Recognizing the presence of a paradox is the first step. Managing the paradox with skill is the next step and we’ll examine that more closely in the next post.

“We need a new way of thinking about our problems and our futures. My suggestion is the management of paradox, in that paradox can only be ‘managed’ in the sense of coping with…Paradox I now see to be inevitable, endemic and perpetual. The more turbulent the times, the more complex the world, the more paradoxes there are. We can, and should, reduce the starkness of some of the contradictions, minimize the inconsistencies, understand the puzzles in the paradoxes, but we cannot make them disappear, or solve them completely, or escape from them. Paradoxes are like the weather, something to be lived with, not solved, the worst aspects mitigated, the best enjoyed and used as clues to the way forward. Paradox has to be accepted, coped with and made sense of, in life, work and in the community and among nations.”

Charles Handy, The Age of Paradox, 1994


My deep thanks to Dr. Barry Johnson for his pioneering work and inspiration in this field. Please see www.polaritypartnerships.com for more on polarities and paradox. 

The most valuable values for smooth transitioning

David Lansky
David Lansky

In my previous blog post, I noted the “Value of Values” in the course of a family/business transition.

Two values I believe to be of particular importance to the course of a transition are Trust and Integrity.

I think of Trust as deriving from several factors:

  • Competence – Trusted parties are good at what they aspire to.
  • Honesty – They speak the truth, even when difficult to do so.
  • Intimacy – When speaking the truth they are caring and compassionate – they don’t believe in “brutal honesty.”

Integrity is a quality that is demonstrated by consistency between words and actions.

Families suffer, trust is undermined and lots of hard work is diminished when words and actions don’t match.

Family vision, family policies, and  family value statements can help to guide a smooth transition. However, a sure way to sabotage progress is to dismiss those words with careless (or uncaring) actions. Integrity means “walking the walk” –  that we act consistently with our vision of family; that we follow policies that we agreed upon; and that we are true to the values we have aspired to.

If you are managing a family/business transition how are Trust and Integrity being cultivated?

What it means to be values driven

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

Many people associate my home city of Atlanta with our airport (home of frequently missed layovers!), traffic (if you’ve had the misfortune to drive our highways), or the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest. Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of our newest landmarks, and one that I hope will grow to be one of our most popular: The National Center for Human and Civil Rights.

While the role of Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement is well known in Atlanta and around the world, the information on human rights is less well documented. As a consumer, I was particularly struck by the information on human rights violations in the production of chocolate, flowers, soccer balls, and mobile phones.

So, how does this relate to family business? Unlike the disconnected minority owners of public companies, who invest solely to make money, owners of family owned businesses can choose to purse objectives that balance ethics and values with profits. They can choose industries, customers, suppliers and business practices that may not be the most profitable, but are choices that they can be proud of.

I recently worked with an ownership group that articulated their driving shareholder objectives as: “How we make money is as important as how much money we make.” Owners of family businesses have a unique opportunity to shape how they make money, and in doing so, shape the lives of their owners, employees, communities and other stakeholders.

Defining what’s right for your generation

Deb Houden
Deb Houden

“We’re doing it that way because that is what Dad wanted. And for as long as he is alive, that’s how we’re going to do it. It was Dad’s dream, he built it, he gave it to us, and that’s what’s important. We have to honor Dad.”

The statement silenced the rest of the siblings who were trying to have a discussion around the development of a shareholders agreement. The agreement was a “last man standing” contract where upon the death of the shareholder, their shares were retired and the remaining owners had a larger stake in the company. The sibling group of eight were in their 50s and 60s, and contemplating their own future. Some of the siblings worked in the company but most did not. One of the siblings had been diagnosed with a chronic illness that had the potential to shorten her life, and she wanted to understand the consequences of her ownership for her children. She understood the children were to receive the financial gain for the sale of the stock back to the company, but one of her children also worked for the company and hoped to become part owner one day.

While there were many facets to the discussion, I stopped the conversation and asked all of the siblings to step back a bit. Why would their dad want the agreement to read like that? What would be the purpose of formulating such an agreement? The fourth child answered, “Because he wanted the decision making to be consolidated so no one who was running the company would have to ask anyone else for permission to do something.”

I asked the remaining siblings if that was true. They all nodded in agreement. I proceeded to ask why their dad would have felt so strongly about consolidating decision making. Then another sibling told me the story of their dad, his father and his uncles. It was a story of destructive work habits and entitlement that strapped the company and angered the siblings’ father. He eventually bought everyone out and turned the company around. Their father had a very compelling reason to have the shareholders agreement written in the way that it was. However, it was now time for the siblings to come together to decide what was right for them as a group and their families going forward.

Each generation must navigate their own waters. Each generation must decide what is right for them, and what to pass forward. Each generation must face the tension of what is right for their nuclear family, and what is best for the whole and come together to negotiate a decision. And the successful negotiation can only happen through communication.

Often as consultants we are asked to speak or write on best practices. We are asked to give advice on what works best. The problem with those answers is that in order to be a best practice we must answer, “It depends.” The best answer is that each group must come together to review, to communicate, and to decide together a path that moves the family and the business forward in a constructive way. What is best for one family enterprise may not be the best for another.

I was reminded of this the past week when I listened to a webinar on the next generation and how they need to individuate and differentiate from the family. They need to become their own person and understand their own identity, their own strengths and weaknesses. When they can stand on their own, make their own decisions in a healthy way, these children become an adult who can bring a lot of positives to the family and the business, regardless if they work there or not. It is the same with each generation of a family business. They must understand where they came from, appreciate the hard work of the older generation, but decide what their own strengths and weaknesses are, what they need to do for each other as a whole in order to put their own stamp on the family and the business.

The next time you are in a family meeting, work in individual generations to decide:

  • What are our strengths as a group?
  • What is a potential area that could make us unravel?
  • What do we want our generation to be known for?
  • What happens if we do nothing?

Honor your past and hope for the future, but don’t forget to make (as a group) your own impact on the family business.