The 3 Key Elements to Fostering Purpose in Unsettling Times

When a business is part of the family and as a family grows, the style of communication and agreements often need to change. Families that begin in first generations directing process, setting direction, and even making decisions for next generations, find that this mode of engagement meets with resistance (overt or covert) as the next generation takes on roles and responsibilities.

As a family grows, in breadth as well as in depth, these forms of communication that worked when the family was small start to break down. To counteract them, it is essential to step back from the day to day to day operations of the business and begin to ask about the “why” of the family business.  The value to purpose materializes and begins to take center stage. If not addressed, member may prescribe their own “why” making it more difficult to reach consensus or set meaningful and sustainable direction.

What is essential about purpose?   Purpose becomes an anchor. It becomes a compass and becomes the reverence point when contention and disagreements arise. Purpose reminds people of the overarching reason they are doing “the thing” and what its intended reach and focus is. Having a purpose to refer to can reduce the tension that can surface when people are championing their own thing.  Instead of one voice giving the family support, without purpose thee are now individual voices looking to further their own agenda.  

Three key elements to bolster purpose include the family story, both original one and the ongoing one that is updated as warranted. The second key element is the written mission statement which the family has agreed to foster and develop. The third key element is governance, not based on rigid directives, but instead, built on the furthering of the family values and its mission, a springboard to action. Governance is a set of guideline or standards for the family to uphold at home and in their community.

I have seen, in today’s COVID environment, how some families are being torn apart. They don’t have their purpose; they don’t know why they are together. Instead they find themselves at odds as individual voices are looking to further their own agendas. And why not? They don’t have an agreed to collective purpose. It’s heartbreaking. They are contacting me because they can’t talk to each other without breaking into heated arguments about the future of the family business. They are seeking resolution.

I have also seen families who have formed their purpose and found how valuable this has been to their communications, their trust, and their ability to steer their ship through the choppy waters they are in.

Purpose is a centerpiece for a family business’s longevity. It is the glue to keep family members connected as new generations develop. It is the focus that keeps the family viable as a unit through the generations. Purpose is the soul of the family.  

Email me for more information about my programs, resources, books, and workshops on building strong families.

How a Teaspoon can Transform Worry and Fear

We are not living in an easy environment, right now. There are few places to hide, less distractions and more ability to stay tuned to the absurdities, atrocities, and problems around us. So much so, that our emotions have taken us into the realm of fear and unabated worry.

A question, framed in frustration and a yearning for true connection, keeps echoing in my mind: When will we ever learn?  Pete Seeger, a folksinger and leader in the peace and civil right movement of the 1950s until his death in 2014, asked this question in a song he penned in 1955, Where Have All the Flowers Gone with lines that are as relevant today as they were then.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Taken husbands every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

He may have written in a different environment, but the relevance of his question resonates today. When will we ever learn? Pete Seeger responded to the essence of that question in this way:

I tell everybody a little parable about the ‘teaspoon brigades.’ Imagine a big seesaw. One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons, and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, ‘People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but it is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in.’ Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years — who knows — that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, ‘How did it happen so suddenly?’ And we answer, ‘Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years.’

Our duty is to grab the teaspoon located in our hearts, fill it with wisdom and then bring the actions that express the illuminating facets of wisdom to the world. 

A Project to Consider During this Unsettling Time

During this time in the “unknown” when we don’t know when things will settle, when we will return to normal or if we will, whether the COVID-19 will infect us and if so, to what degree, here is an idea to activate.  

The family story is an important story to keep, to treasure, and to pass down. Imagine your children learning more about your parents. Imagine your children’s children not only learning more about you, but also learning more about their great grandparents, the ones they may never meet.

The story is about the questions you ask. Often people will ask questions that solicit quick and easy answers like where someone lived, where they went to school, where they grew up and where they worked. These are all well and good, but they don’t, on their own, make for a compelling story, one that future generations can use to understand their heritage, to give them more confidence about their own history.

Asking questions that open your parents up to talking about the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with those challenges bring shape to an elder’s life. Asking questions about what is truly important to an elder will open the windows to the impact they have made.

Storytelling is important. If you want to learn more about capturing your family’s story, contact me at bhaj@focusandsustain.com, as I am now offering, although it is not yet on my website, a storyteller’s kit to capture that family story to share with your family for generations.

During this time in the “unknown” when we don’t know when things will settle, when we will return to normal or if we will, whether the COVID-19 will infect us and if so, to what degree, her is an idea to activate.  

The family story is an important story to keep, to treasure, and to pass down. Imagine your children learning more about your parents. Imagine your children’s children not only learning more about you, but also learning more about their great grandparents, the ones they may never meet.

The story is about the questions you ask. Often people will ask questions that solicit quick and easy answers like where someone lived, where they went to school, where they grew up and where they worked. These are all well and good, but they don’t, on their own, make for a compelling story, one that future generations can use to understand their heritage, to give them more confidence about their own history.

Asking questions that open your parents up to talking about the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with those challenges bring shape to an elder’s life. Asking questions about what is truly important to an elder will open the windows to the impact they have made.

May you and your family’s health stay well.

The family story is an important story to keep, to treasure, and to pass down. Imagine your children learning more about your parents. Imagine your children’s children not only learning more about you, but also learning more about their great grandparents, the ones they may never meet.

The story is about the questions you ask. Often people will ask questions that solicit quick and easy answers like where someone lived, where they went to school, where they grew up and where they worked. These are all well and good, but they don’t, on their own, make for a compelling story, one that future generations can use to understand their heritage, to give them more confidence about their own history.

Asking questions that open your parents up to talking about the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with those challenges bring shape to an elder’s life. Asking questions about what is truly important to an elder will open the windows to the impact they have made.

Storytelling is important. If you want to learn more about capturing your family’s story, contact me at bhaj@focusandsustain.com, as I am now offering, although it is not yet on my website, a storyteller’s kit to capture that family story to share with your family for generations.

May you and your family’s health stay well.

The Family Story Can Develop Strength, Confidence, and Empathy

We love good stories. We love to hear good ones from friends, enjoy watching riveting ones on the screen, we like to read them in books. Stories bring us into a world bigger than ourselves, rich with possibility and full of emotions that tug at our heart strings.

Then why don’t we have our own family stories? Oh, I know, those ones are boring, right?! Not right!

Family stories can be amazing guides for our lives when told with the power of intriguing events, heart wrenching emotions, and difficult challenges that were overcome. We think our own family stories are pedantic and bland and they are when looked at as endless details of this and that. But that’s not the family story to capture. Family stories that captivate and that serve as compasses are the ones that capture the strong family narrative of compelling “whys” and useful “hows.”

Sara Duke, a practicing psychologist who worked with learning disabilities, found that “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.” Now there’s an insight! Her husband, Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University who was involved in a 1990s study exploring myths and rituals in families, examined this conclusion with his colleague, Robyn Fivush. They tested the hypothesis in their “Do You Know” test which measured Sara’s results against psychological tests Marshall and Robyn had their children take. They found that “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.” Wow!

A key word for me, in the quote, is “more”. I find the “more” to include, in family stories, that which compelled the past family members to make decisions they made, their motivations, their beliefs, and what it took to meet challenges they faced. I want their story to be rich with their values and motivating principles, rather than lifeless with the details of what they did, where they lived and who they were surrounded by. Adding the “more” creates a rich platform for present and future generations to develop their strength, confidence and empathy, all strong traits of worthy individuals.

How Sustainable is Debt, Really?!

Debt has become ubiquitous but is it sustainable?

Just one year ago, the Feds reported that consumer debt had increased by another trillion dollars since 2013. $1.6 trillion in school loans, $1.4 trillion in auto loans and $1 trillion in credit card debt.

Young adults pay for education as if it were a home with no promise of jobs at the end of the college experience. Car financing has become so easy with leases instead of ownership, and credit cards are almost a prerequisite to doing business with some companies.

It was only two generations ago that baby boomers were introduced to the “magic’ of credit cards. Before then, it was cash or a benevolent extension of credit between a known retailer and customer. Today, credit cards finance lifestyles, rather than fit into a financial plan or strategy for financial control.

Accumulating debt can be easy while getting out can be very difficult. Some find they must declare bankruptcy to right their financial behaviors. Some gain help from debt reduction programs.

I think it is important to keep your financial picture in front of you, so you are aware of your spending habits versus your earnings. Watch over your spending monthly with quarterly and yearly actual monitoring of your spending against its budget.

As money is not all about spending, it is important and beneficial to add a component of savings and investing to your financial behaviors. Having savings will give you a sense of freedom and responsibility as you watch money accumulate in your own account for emergencies. Investing gives you a sense of getting ahead and feeling of confidence.

A Mighty Thank You

When I think of you who have been affected by my blogs

I see shimmering stars light my path

When I think of you who have focused on stewardship

I am touched by a commitment to best practices

You, in your dedication to a richer and more meaningful life

Make me smile from ear to ear with joy

I applaud your commitment to lives and legacies that matter

May your commitment to 2020 give you the capacity to see far!

What is Fair?

I bring this up is because of a recent action taken by a local school district which bothers me.

In high schools around the country, administrators plan early for their upcoming school year. During the summer they are already planning for the next years curriculum and end of year graduation ceremonies.  These ceremonies are a special and final opportunity to recognize students for completing their high school requirements and for excelling in academics, sports, extracurricular activities and other non-academic areas of high school life.  Specifically, colored cords and stoles are worn by those who have excelled in various subjects, sports, and activities. These cords and stoles are proud external representation of accomplishments to many parents, teachers, administrators and students.

A school district near me has decided that special recognition is not inclusive.  Yes, we knew that.  This particular school district sent an email to parents letting them know that next year there will be no recognition of honor. It might make others feel excluded. The school wants everybody to “…feel recognized and honored for all that they have achieved over their high school career.”  So, how does excluding some from being recognized for their achievements honor all they have achieved? What about those who have not completed their requirements?

I think this is over-reaching. High school is a gateway to adult life. Adult life sometimes recognizes those who have gone beyond baseline achievement. As students, I think it is important to understand and to deal with this discrepancy, rather than dismiss it. It is okay to recognized other people’s success rather than attempt to lessen the other person’s worth by having their achievements go unnoticed.

Fair is a word with a lot of personal emotion imbedded in it. Is fair equitable? Is fair political or hierarchal? Is fair to act like we are all the same and every effort always equates to the same result or consequence? Is fair a decision I make?  What is fair?

Leave a comment with your thoughts on this.

Learn Where Life and Money Intersect for Money Mastery

I received a call from a gentleman who was referred to me. He was concerned about what his kids would do with his money, once they inherited it.

He told me he spent fifteen years building a company that he sold to another company for a generous profit. He said this new cash and stock infusion was significant to him. It represented an achievement he had worked hard to gain. He knew that the money was enough for he and his wife to live on and enough for his kids to benefit from but that’s not what he wanted the money to do. “I don’t want the money to provide so much security that life becomes a series of reality tv like experiences for my two teen age kids, caught up in the moment without any particular drive or interest. They’re already putting pressure on us about increasing their allowances and buying them new cars. It’s gotten tough on my wife and I to deal with this without feeling resentful.”

As our conversation continued, he revealed that money was never given to him as a child. He had to work for it. His wife also never had a lot growing up although she was given her parents’ car when she was 16 with the knowledge that she would have to turn it over to her brother when she was nineteen and he was sixteen. They couldn’t understand or appreciate their children’s covert and overt demands for money.

After a couple of meetings to understand their concerns and objectives, we decided to put together a 3-part financial program for the family. The first section was the “Financial Conversation.” This gave the kids an opportunity to express what money meant to them, their experience with money and what challenges they had with money. Their parents could only ask questions if they needed clarification on what was being discussed, not questions to judge or criticize. Then the parents had a chance to talk about what money meant to them, their experience with money and challenges they have faced with money.

Doing this in an environment where each participant felt like they could say what they wanted without fear of reprisal or judgment was crucial.  Each member came away from that meeting with a greater understanding of what money meant to themselves and to each other. This created a bond between them which we are now using in an exercise which involves an experience around money that the kids are doing as a team. They will report on their outcomes at the next meeting.

It is important for life and money to intersect so they can support each other rather than conflict with each other. It is critically important to do so in families where money matters so money and life can each be talked about with understanding and purpose rather than with judgment and directives.

Is Silence Always Golden?

Think back for a moment, back 2 generations and bring your grandparents to mind.  Can you name all 4 of them? If you can, I have another question for you: can you name their hobbies and interests …for all 4 of them? And if you can, I have one more question for you:  do you know what they stood for, or, said differently, what they believed in? Interesting? You are an exception if you know what even two of your grandparents believed in.

Now, join me as I take you one generation further back. How many of you can name your great grandparents…all 8 of them? In a room of 100 people, when I ask this question, I am amazed at how few can name all their great grandparents.

With the first set of questions, usually about 95% of the room can name their grandparents, about 65% can name their hobbies or interests, and less than 20% can name what all four pf their grandparents stood for.  Going back one generation further it is rare when more than 3% can name their great grandparents.  This is tragic because research has shown how beneficial it is for a child’s well-being to understand their family’s storied history.

In the 1990s, Dr. Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, along with a colleague, Dr. Robyn Fivush, tested a hypothesis. This initial thought was developed by a psychologist who found, while working with children that “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”  Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush developed a measure to test this hypothesis.  From responses, they concluded that the more people knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, their higher their self-esteem and the successfully their believed their families functioned.”

Is silence always golden? No! How are you sharing your family story?

For more information, read here: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html

2 Critical Issues Facing Family Businesses

For families with businesses, there are two big problems that surface as the family grows and ensuing generations get involved or migrate away from the family business.

Conversations about the business that may have started in the living room at home, moved to the kitchen, then a conference room then to a board room, often become a struggle as families grow and as individual agendas develop. Working well together, across generations, can become tense when visions are not aligned, and responsible stewardship is not defined. Competing and contrasting priorities due to generational differences, ownership positions, and desires for the business as contrasted with desires for the family harmony, surface.

It is not natural to manage such complexity. Like a garden who needs proper care and maintenance to stay healthy, relevant, and vibrant, a family is best served by developing a disciplined and purposed component to their family and family business dealings and becoming responsible stewards of what they are growing and eventually, passing down.

Determining an initial purpose to both the family and family business initially separate the two entities so they can clearly define themselves independently. Agreeing on and articulating the value, vision and mission of each entity across generations is key to being responsible stewards. Adapting and becoming comfortable with change is the responsibility of each generation.

Questions to consider asking at home:

  • Who do we want our family to be, as a family?
  • What do we want our family to represent in the community?
  • What is important to us as a family: what do we believe in? What do we stand for?

Creating purpose, mission, vision and family teams to develop the family’s success goes a long way to sustaining intergenerational trust and sustainability.

Questions to consider asking about the business:

  • What is the purpose and mission of the business?
  • Is the business meant to develop as a business or build family wealth?
  • What do we need to do to support our working together?
  • How do we communicate business information so it does not take over or interfere with the family environment?

Knowing the purpose of the business, communicating that to the family, developing trust in leadership development are all critical to successfully passing a business legacy and leadership from one generation to the next.