Tag Archives: Sage-Hayward

Are you Getting Hijacked during Conflict in your Family Business?

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

Have you ever been in an argument with your father (or any other family member) regarding something related to the family business where you both behaved badly, said nasty things, and essentially blew your tops? Neuroscientists call this a “limbic hijacking”.

During a conflict situation it takes our brain only a millisecond to recognize a threat and move into high gear for a fight, flight or freeze reaction. Our brain calls for the release of adrenaline and reduces the production of dopamine (our feel good chemical).  Our heart rate and blood pressure increases. Our breathing becomes shallow. We start to sweat.  Blood flows out of our organs into our major muscle groups. Our pupils dilate and we develop tunnel vision. We sometimes get shaky or turn bright red.  Essentially our brain is saying “Pay Attention Right Now!” and sets us up to react without having to think.  Literally we do not have to “think” about what we are going to do because the automatic processing parts of our brain take over.

Research into the neurosciences is helping us understand this rapid and intense reaction at a deeper and more profound level. Neuroscientists suggest that the part of our brain responsible for our higher level thinking (pre-frontal cortex) has an inverse relationship to the part of our brain responsible for emotions (limbic system) and our automatic response to a threat as described above. In other words, when we react in a conflict situation we are not thinking, listening or responding with our rationale brain resources. In fact, our brain gets hijacked by our emotions.  We can virtually stop “thinking”.

Conflict is inevitable and completely normal; and therefore, conflict in family business is somewhat standard fare. So how can we learn to better handle our “limbic moments” in a family business? The good news is that our brain has plasticity which means it can learn. A simple three-step process can help mitigate a limbic hijacking:

  1. Take three deep breaths to introduce endorphins in your system which will calm you down.
  2. Stop and “think” – shift your attention away from your emotions to thinking. Think about what happened. How did you react? Why did you react to way you did? Why did the other person react the way they did? Or think about something entirely different. Ask yourself a question to start your thinking processes.
  3. Consider your triggers. “Think” about what triggered such a strong reaction in yourself and/or your family member.  Determine how you want to react the next time the trigger appears. Identifying triggers can help us recognize them more easily in future interactions.

It will be difficult to resolve a conflict in your family business if someone is experiencing a limbic hijacking. Training your brain by using mindfulness techniques (see previous blog this week) and the process above will help to strengthen your ability to manage the automatic brain responses that kick-in during stressful situations in your family business.

If you are interested in reading more about how your brain functions, please see “Your Brain at Work” by David Rock. It offers a useful overview.


Managing the Whirlwind Mindfully

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy        Sage-Hayward

Leading in a family business is layered with complexity due to the integration of the family in the business environment. This complexity is highly rewarding but also stressful and challenging at times especially for family business leaders. When trying to balance the demands and needs of the family and the business it can feel like managing in a whirlwind. New research on the brain helps us better understand how we can deal more effectively with the daily whirlwind of the family business.

Typically we perceive a stressful event using one of two automatic brain responses:

  • Adrenalin based reactions – saving ourselves from danger by fighting with, running away from, protecting or camouflaging ourselves… ….fight, flight and freeze OR
  • Problem-solving processes – where we attempt to fix or resolve a perceived problem with higher level thinking. This is where we respond wisely and appropriately, rather than adding to the stress by engaging in automatic uncontrolled reactions. Neuroscientists call this a mindful reaction.

Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally….” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Mindfulness is a mental discipline which involves focusing our attention. It is not a method of distracting ourselves or tuning out. In fact, it is about tuning in. Research by Jochen Reb previously at The University of Cambridge shows us that leaders perform better when they are mindful. They make better decisions, are in a more positive mood, and effect change more successfully in their businesses. The anxious, stressed or depressed state of mind is a distracted state (i.e., mindless rather than mindful) and has a negative impact upon a leader’s performance.

Many research findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation increases our mindful abilities and has many positive impacts on our physical, emotional and mental well-being including “neuroprotective effects” which result in reduced mental decline associated with normal aging (Pagnoni and Cekic).

Incorporating mindfulness practices into the daily routine of family business leaders promises to bring about more thoughtful, positive and constructive leadership to both the family and the business. Mindful practices are simple and yet have a powerful influence on our family and business relationships. Here are two simple ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Attend to something easy like your breathing for one full minute. When your mind drifts away, bring it back to your breathing. The repeated returning to a focal point trains your attention.
  • Take a few minutes and focus on each part of your body starting at your toes and moving slowly up to your head. This is called body scanning.

The benefits gained by family business leaders from engaging in these virtually effortless, yet influential daily practices are quite remarkable:

–   boosting teamwork, cooperation and well-being amongst family and non-family employees

–   reducing unconstructive thoughts and emotions which waste valuable mental energy

–   renewing energy and creating a clear focus to address decisions and tasks at hand in the business

–   arriving home with a positive mood after the day’s whirlwind of activities

Mindfulness deserves our attention!


The Purpose of “Family”

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

What is the purpose of family? It sounds like a funny question given “family” is so fundamental to the fabric of our society and to our very being. However, it may be so fundamental that it has become invisible to us. We may have lost sight of the real purpose of family as we pursue our individual goals and interests.

This time of year is a perfect time to reconnect with the real purpose or “task” of family. The first place to start is with the definition of family. My experience with families in business is that the shape of a family changes over time as newcomers enter, and sometimes, exit the scene. On occasion we need to rejig our concept of family to encompass more than just the traditional form (e.g., one dictionary definition defined family as “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household”). An example of a more modern family business consists of two parents who have separated from each other and found new partners. Some of the children from the marriage are married, some are co-habiting, and others choose to remain single but decide to have children. This modern family goes on holidays together but may still hold ownership meetings with the original nuclear family (Mom, Dad, and 4 Children). The separated couple still work side by side in the office together with one of their new partners. All is not smooth and simple, but the vision of family is clear and purposeful.

So if we can wrap our mind around what we mean by family – in that it can be defined in a wide ranging and diverse form – then what is the “task” of family? This question would likely receive different responses depending on your world view. Here is one set of thoughts on the purpose of family….

  • To create and raise the next generation
  • To provide care and safety
  • To offer affiliation and a sense of belonging
  • To give an abundance of acceptance and love despite the warts (which we all have!) of each individual member
  • To instill respect for social/cultural norms as well as the family’s unique values, norms, and beliefs
  • To teach and guide
  • To be a support system when in need and through life’s ups and downs
  • To provide life-long relationships

How would your definition vary from the above? If you were going to grade your family on how well it accomplishes its tasks, how would your family report card look? Where would you need to do some remedial work to bring up your grades?


Boundaries: Drawing a Line in the Sand

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

How good are you at drawing lines in the sand? By lines, I mean boundaries. Boundaries are the rules or limits we expect of others in our family and in our business which specify what is or is not acceptable to us. Examples of boundaries I have seen recently in family enterprise include the following:

  • Declining to speak to someone when they are disrespectful. When a daughter starts swearing at her father in front of staff at the office, the father says: “Until you speak to me respectfully, I am not willing to engage in this conversation with you”. He then walks away.
  • Refusing to create an unnecessary position for a friend of a family member. The VP of HR refuses to create an unnecessary job for the friend of a family member regardless of the relentless pressure exerted by the family member (in G2). The VP of HR insists on waiting for a real job to open up. She will then allow the family friend to apply for the position but will not guarantee her a job unless she is qualified for it.
  • Holding out for an apology. A sister refuses to speak to her brother outside of work related issues until he provides a genuine apology for writing her a nasty email about what he perceives to be her controlling and overbearing attitude/behaviour.
  • Deciding not to enable an addiction. An uncle declines to give money to his nephew when he strongly suspects his nephew plans to use the money to buy drugs rather than pay his rent. The uncle decides to pay his nephew’s rent directly. In addition, the family members working in the business have recently decided not hire a family member who has an active addiction.
  • And…I am sure you can identify many more!

Firmly holding boundaries can be easy for some and not so easy for others. One reason it can be difficult is that often people have a powerful story or explanation about the situation that serves to rationalize why they should concede during a particular encounter with another family member. They convince themselves that it is not a big deal or that by giving in they will get a better result somehow.

Our stories shape our behaviour in very powerful ways. One of the biggest challenges for members in a family business is to become aware of their own story. Unfortunately, our stories are often completely transparent to us – in other words we do not see the story as a story over which we have choice – rather we see it as truth. For example, if the father in the first example (above) consistently allowed his daughter to talk to him in a rude and disrespectful way in front office staff, his story could sound something like this: “Well, she doesn’t really mean it. She is not feeling well today. She has been having a rough time lately. I need to be more understanding and patient and then she will be too. It is not really a big deal. Everyone swears once in a while”.

The first steps in designing clear boundaries is to ask yourself some key questions:

  • What do I want to say “no” to that I am allowing right now in our family business/family relationships?
  • Why don’t I say “no” to this behaviour now? Why do I give in?
  • By continuing to allow this situation to occur, what impact is it having on me and others in our family or business?
  • What is a more powerful story/explanation that could help me to hold this boundary more firmly?
  • What do I need to do next?

The Entitlement Snare: How Entitled Attitudes Develop (Part A)

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

Entitlement is one of those sticky and sensitive issues in family business. Entitlement is a difficult subject to raise because it creates defensive (and offensive) behaviors in family members. When most families start talking about entitlement (if they talk about it at all) it feels like a blaming game: “I wish my daughter would be financially responsible and stop relying on us to pay her bills”, or “my son has no work ethic”, or “my brother acts like he can show up for work any time he likes”.

Entitlement, as defined here, means the belief that one deserves or is at liberty to access certain privileges that others are not based on arbitrary factors such as family lineage. In other words it is an unrealistic or unjustified sense of deserving some type of benefit. Those who are labeled as “entitled” in a family business are a target for criticism, and judgment and even resentment, even if only behind closed doors. The entitled are considered fully to blame for their entitled behaviors, attitudes and transgressions. Too often there is a great deal of energy consumed by strategizing on how to work around these folks and address the issues they create.

However, entitlement is a two-way street in that liberties may be taken by the entitled but those privileges were likely bestowed on to the entitled by parents or other family members at some point, either intentionally or unintentionally. In addition, when unwarranted liberties are taken, too often there is no or inadequate consequence within a family firm.

The development of entitlement is a complex and layered process. Sometimes clear rules or boundaries are not clearly articulated because it is assumed that children, siblings, or cousins should know the rules.  Sometimes family members do not hold their ground when boundaries are pushed or challenged which children and certain personalities are prone to do. Sometimes too much is given to the next generation without requiring of them an offsetting contribution. Sometimes parents worry too much and take accountability for things the next generation should be accountable for.

As a family and a family business, one place to start is to stop blaming those who are considered entitled and recognize our role in the development of the entitlement snare.

Part B: The Entitlement Snare: Exploring Our Boundaries coming later this week.


How Research on the Brain is Helping Forge our Understanding of Good Leadership

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

I am particularly intrigued by the recent research being conducted in the world of neuroscience. We are learning more about our brain and how it functions everyday (not just when something goes wrong with it). I believe this body of knowledge is particularly relevant to leadership and to families running businesses together.

We know for example that when we recognize someone for a job well done that their brain releases a chemical called Dopamine. Dopamine rewards us with a sense of pleasure. Likewise we can also experience a downward spiral in our confidence and performance when we do not receive positive feedback over a long period of time.

We also know that our brain receives and processes negative comments and rejection in the same way as it receives physical pain. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is not true as far as our brain is concerned.

For me the most exciting aspect of this research is that it provides the evidence for why leadership development is so critical for the next generation of leaders. Leaders are not just born, they are also developed. Some of the executives and business owners I have worked with in the past have needed proof of why good leadership principles work. For those less relationship oriented personalities, the new discoveries in neuroscience are providing the evidence they need to lead in a more powerful and effective way.


Families in Business: Loving Each Other for all our Warts and our Wonders!

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

If you have not seen the youtube video about Bella and Tarra then today might be just the day to see it!


We are all hardwired with our own special recipe…and none of us are put together with 100% perfection. We are each born with unique capabilities and capacities. Our differences are sometimes surprising because we share the same gene pool.

Bella and Tarra remind us that we can still get along, care for each other and have fun together –  even though we might see the world from very different places.

Today is the day to tell our family how much they mean to us. (Although we should not reserve this for one day out of the year!)

Happy Valentine’s Day


Public versus Private Self: The Need for Self-Regulation in Family Enterprise

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

In life we have a public and a private self. This dynamic proves to be particularly complex when we consider the family business landscape. Our family is our private world – the business is our public world and yet in a family business they are intricately intertwined.

When we are in our family system, we operate with our private self. We not only let our hair down but we also let our guard down. Often we are willing to speak to and behave towards our family members in a way that we would never do to a stranger or a colleague. We are our best selves in our family but we most assuredly are also our worst selves in this realm.

When we start work each day, we have our “social controls” on. We are conditioned to behave and act a certain way when we are in public. It is like wearing our Sunday best dress. We put a smile on our face for our customers and for our employees.

For families in business together this dynamic can be particularly complicated.  It can be difficult to have a fight at dinner one night and expect to be friendly and at ease in the office the next day.  A father and son may have a particular challenge in their relationship where there is a great deal of anger and frustration on important matters but they must “turn off” the emotions associated with this challenge in order to function effectively in the business as partners or boss and employee. Family members must learn to self-regulate so that employees do not walk around the office on egg shells because they are dealing with “father and son” rather than “the boss and an employee”.

Self regulation is much easier said than done. The first part of self-regulation is self-awareness. Frankly, self-awareness is the easier of the two. Self-regulation takes intention and enormous discipline and practice.  It is like learning anything new, it takes a great deal of time and patience because we fail and fail again before we develop competence in what we are trying to learn.

Self-regulation starts with regularly facing the truth about the gap between our intention and our actual behavior  We have an infinite capacity for self-deception! Too often we point the finger at others and live in denial about our responsibility in the matter.  Self-regulation is facilitated by accountability. Accountability is both a defense  against our capacity for self-deception and a source of information about what is getting in our way which is often ourselves.

Ultimately, we need to pretend that a stranger is in the room every time we talk to our family so that we eventually treat them with a great deal more respect. In this case our private and public self would become more aligned and be more consistent with our value system.