The Hero’s Story is Significant


Over the holidays, I attended the annual Seattle Business Magazine’s Family Business Awards Dinner. It was a fantastic event, honoring family businesses who deserve recognition in categories such as: Best Practices, Community Involvement and Family Business of the Year.

During the dinner, Chris Schiller, Managing Director of Cascadia Capital, gave a compelling introduction to the Family Business of the Year award.

I would like to quote Chris, as I thought his words were applicable to those of us who ork in guiding and consulting with family businesses and/or their families.

Chris began his talk by saying: “In thinking about tonight’s wonderful celebration of family business, it struck me that the eminent mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is much like the story of family business. All of the family businesses in this room have followed a similar path to Joseph Campbell’s hero, with you or one of your family taking the risk to start a company, then embarking on the journey of building your business, meeting tremendous challenges and personal struggles on the journey, finding various mentors (maybe including the family business advisors in this room) to help you overcome those challenges, and then crossing over into a period of transformation that leads to your ultimate success as a business and a family.

For all of you family businesses in this room, you likely have not arrived yet… rather your story continues to grow with your current generation and the next generation coming up. Often the journey is more important than the destination, as they say.

As investment bankers, my Cascadia colleagues and I live in a world of left brain… financial statements, revenue and EBITDA, numbers. Often the value of a business is ascribed largely to these numbers. However, what I have learned and what drives us, rather, is the stories of our family business clients. We are able to exercise our right brain to tell our client’s story to the market in a way that we find the optimal partner that embraces that story, and thereby sees value that others do not see in just the numbers. These stories are really what drives our passion for working with family business. “

These words were inspiring for me. Thank you, Chris, for speaking them and then letting me share them here. The story of the business is so important for families who continue their businesses across generations.


I Made a Startling Observation about Leadership

I recently noted something I want to talk about. A little while ago I attended a “town hall” meeting of a group to which I have been a member and one-time leader for well over a decade. At this meeting of about 200 people, I experienced a phenomenon that may have always been there. Let me explain.

There are members who feel comfortable in criticizing the leadership, the direction and other parts of the organization. They are vocal in their criticism, sometimes sparking controversy and sometimes adding fuel to fires already lit. But, often, something changes within them, that they do not see, when they become titled leaders of the overarching organization of the group.

Suddenly, as if a switch has been activated within them, their criticism transforms into a call for peace and understanding, for tolerance and respect. Those who criticized now call for an end to “negativity”, the negativity they had sparked or fueled, themselves, at one time.

Until recently I had not noticed anything askew about this change. But, for some reason, I now focused my attention on a question. I asked myself: “Why, as leaders, do we shut down criticism, when as followers we initiate or support criticism?” As leaders we tend to seek harmony and while as followers we tend to seek a voice. But so often, neither listens to the other. Each merely wants to shut the other down.

I find it interesting that we cannot look at both criticism and the role of “leadership” as being two sides of the same coin. Neither are inherently “better.” Neither are inherently “right.” I believe voices want to convey something even if their expression, or the words themselves, seem divisive. Leaders are not necessarily parents or moral authorities but can think they are, because they have been given implicit responsibilities or titles.

How do you view criticism? Do you try to shut it down? Do you tolerate it? Do you know how to speak to it, so it feels heard, while still maintaining your center? How do you view leadership? Does it have an implicit authority that overrules a “voice?” How do you build a bridge to listening and collaboration when criticism and harmony live together?


Finding My Way Back to My Core… I’m Ready

There are unexpected and unwelcomed times when I find that I am “off.” What do I mean by “being off?” It is those times that I feel off balanced, feel like I am reactionary rather than thoughtful and somehow, for some unexplained (to me) reason, cannot get back to my center, my core. I find myself mucking around in emotional states and unable to get out of them.

I try to trick myself by putting myself into another emotional state but that doesn’t bring me back to my center. It merely creates more gunk. It is so weird. Eventually, I remember what I must do. I have to say, when I first discovered this, twenty plus years ago, I was stunned by its power. I return to what is at the center of my being, my values.

Values represent the core of who we are. They represent our essence and when we lose sight of, forget or deny our core, we lose our focus. When we are adrift from our center, we take on different characteristics and find ourselves in the world of emotions with their endless judgments, pushes and pulls a circus-like universe of joy, disappointment, criticism, comparison, etc. None of it forwards the core of who we are.

I have been swimming in my emotions for the past few weeks, and only now, by writing this, am I realizing that I have abandoned the guidance my values provide and the compass they are in my life. Okay, I am ready, wisdom, go ahead, rule!

Share with me how your values lead you in your life, how you recognize when you have deviated from them, and how returning to them brings you back to the center of who you are.

Trust is like a Spider Web

In a book I recently read, trust was defined in one word: predictability. That was powerful. And I began to inquire: “Is that all? Maybe that’s what trust comes down to.”

So, I started looking at trust more carefully, or more specifically, my use of trust, I understood it to be more than predictability. But what more was it? I looked at trust for me and saw that what was missing in this one-word definition were the additional components that give trust its almost mercurial characteristic. I would like to mention them here.

I have found that trust includes a sense of reliance in someone’s character. Where predictability infers expectation, reliability infers consistency. Whether it is a sense of reliance in their sincerity, their competency, or the way they show up, reliance in someone is a major ingredient to trust.

Another component to trust rests in understanding one’s motivations. Motivations reveal intentions, priorities, goals and needs. When I understand someone’s motivation, I can bestow trust.

Yet another component to trust is the feeling of true authority born by experience and not merely by knowledge. When I sense that someone is a student of what they are talking about, rather than a transmitter or information, I can grant trust.

What I find interesting about trust is that we can provide trust quickly, slowly, or not at all. There seems to be a continuum for the application of trust. I have found that this continuum revolves around feelings of safety, feelings of reciprocity, and feelings of being understood. Trust is a mighty bridge to building and sustaining connection. And like a spider web-strand which is ten times stronger than steel at its same weight, trust is a strong bond between people. And again, like the spider strand which can be easily broken and change the nature of the web, trust can be broken or withdrawn suddenly, and like the spider web, changes the nature of the relationship to which it was bound.

Let me know your thoughts on trust. How do you experience trust? How do you dole out trust? What causes you to withdraw trust?

Starbucks Offers More than Coffee and Tea

In his book, Onward, Schultz wrote: “Stick to your values, they are your foundation.” He said these were key to rebuilding Starbucks.

Schultz demonstrated the fundamental benefit to a company having values, and using them to build their presence. “It is our mission to make sure the world sees us through those lenses.” He wrote.

Starbuck’s values are: Community, Connection, Respect, Dignity, Humor, Humanity, and Accountability. “They are visibly evident and often referred to in meetings and prior to key actions.

Values not only impact a company; they also impact our individual lives. What are your values? What role do they have in your life-are they directors in your life, or merely white noise around your life?

In a fast-paced world of deadlines and expectations, where impatience can override wisdom and expediency overrides understanding, values can get swept aside for “later.” This can have disastrous consequences in communication, in decisions and in the choices one makes.

Values are part of an intentional life. They form the foundation of success. Howard Schultz recognized the essential nature of this. Like Starbucks, how do you make your values the cornerstones to your life?

Values have Power, Massive Power

Values, what is the point of focusing on them? Although we rarely talk about them, our values are the foundation of ethical action. Values are both personal in their meaning, aligning with personal beliefs and universal in their understanding of its relative importance in people’s lives. Values have been studied by various disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, theology, art, marketing, and behavioral sciences. Yet most of the time, we are oblivious to their impact, influence or importance in our lives. It is as if we want to prove values are unimportant by doing or being anything else than what our values direct us to do or be.

For example, I know that I can fill my time with activities, activities that ensure time is being spent and filled without thought to their significance to living a meaningful life. I can make piles, I can get the piles done, I can schedule, I can even avoid contacting people I am thinking about in favor of “getting things done.”

But all those return to their proper secondary or tertiary position when I ask myself these questions or reflect on the statements I am going to ask you to consider. As I reflect on the responses, it recalibrates my focus to that which is truly important to me. I think it may do the same for you.

• You have been asked to lead a team of advisors, all of whom are dedicated to their work and all of whom are committed to a best outcome: what values do you want to bring to this new team?
What other values do you think would be valuable for this team to consider?
• Describe what led you to pick these values.
Define these values with the relevance and meaning they have for you.
• Identify one of your top values. Talk about an experience where you expressed that value well.
• Think of a person in your life, who, in the last five to ten years, has had a powerful, positive impact on your life. Describe how they impacted you and how that experience has enriched your life.

Now, step back for a moment. See how you have just connected to your values and how that has affected you just now. Values have power.

Let me know what you experienced that brings your values to the forefront of your life.

The Importance of Living a Meaningful Life Through Your Values

Values provide us a compass by which we live our lives. Although values are always present, we rarely give them much thought. Much like a compass we use on an unfamiliar hike, values provide us the platform from which we direct our lives. We judge based on the consistency of values utilized by someone.


The Barrett Values Center, in 2010, found, in researching more than two thousand private and public institutions in more than sixty countries, that: “Values-driven organizations are the most successful organizations on the planet. They found that values drive the culture as well as contribute to the employees’ fulfillment. In the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, the noted the same outcome in companies they observed over several decades.


Martin Seligman, a leader in the positive psychology movement, found, through his questionnaire, that signature strengths and values fundamentally contribute to a meaningful life.


I remember, many years ago, thinking that emotions were fleeting and mercurial. They seemed to be missing a key ingredient to living fully.  When I was first introduced to the concept of values I thought they were a wonderful state to aspire to.  Years later, when I identified my core values, I felt a strong resonance and connection to my life. I realized that I could live from my values and when I did, life was clearer and more satisfying, with richer meaning and depth. I realized that they were my compass, the one I had been missing and to which my emotions could not relate.


What are your values? How cognizant are you of them on a daily basis?

Do Not Forget the Past; It Provides Mighty Support

When we forget those who have come before, like our great- grandparents, we forget our history. When we forget our history, we must begin again leaving new footprints that are themselves, swept away and forgotten as our great grandchildren look back at photos of us and wonder who we were.


Contrast this with those families who have captured, and meaningfully nurture the values and enduring traits of those who have come before them as a pillar to support their own lives today and tomorrow.


If you do not care how your family will thrive or if it will drift into a fog of insignificance, your family’s history will play out as it has for centuries for most families. Great grandparents have no meaning, they have been forgotten. New generations start afresh as if nothing came before them.


But if carrying on the spark of “what matters most” to your family, as a group of like-minded connected individuals, then your family story is an important element to your family’s success. And you must create that story. It will not create itself.


Researchers at Emory University found that “…family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world.”  When adolescents can see the values and traits they share with past family members, they form a stronger sense of well-being and a stronger sense of identity.  This Emory University study also showed that ​there is real benefit in sharing the stories about where the family came from, both geographically and through their values. Family stories keep families connected through generations by its narrative.


Your story, the one that will live on, will include how you met challenges, what successes have meant to you, what values you deem to be important and why and how they have guided you. Your story will describe how you came to value what you do value so those who come after you can understand themselves better by hearing from you. When they understand themselves better, they have more confidence and feel more secure in a world where those without this foundation, struggle to be seen and known.


Do you have a family story in your family, one that benefits its members, is shared because it came from the “author’s” experience?  Let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts on this important recommendation.







Connect with Loved Ones over the Holidays by Trying This

It’s time for the family gatherings again. You know the ones I am referring to: where people cluster in their usual groups, talking about the weather, travel hiccups, politics; where people cluster around the food taking bites in short and informational filled conversations; where someone introduces a topic they know will fuel the flames of emotional reaction. Yes…those dynamics.


This year you can come to a family celebration prepared to add a dollop of meaningful connection. Bring a series of questions with which you can connect more personally with those you engage in conversation.


Start by asking someone to share something significant that has positively impacted them this year. Listen as they share that event or experience with you. Then follow up by asking them either: how this significant impact they experienced benefited them or ask them how this significant impact made them feel.  And again, just listen. When you do, you will find that they will share with you a value of theirs that is important to the core of who they are. This will connect you to them in a very personal way that small talk cannot.


I find that asking questions like these, at the end of the year, to be a wonderful icebreaker and connector with friends and family.


Let me know how the outcome of having this conversation at your family gathering. I would love to hear your comments.


Being “The Greatest” Lets You Shine

Remember the phrase: “I am the greatest!”? It was a statement proclaimed repeatedly, in different ways, by the great boxer Muhammed Ali to reporters and to his opponent. He believed it and he became it. Which came first, his belief or his statement? I do not know. I do understand it was one of the tools he used to become the icon he became.


You may not be a boxer who needs to pump yourself up before the fight, however, you are someone who I would like to consider the phrase “I am the greatest!” for a moment and say it to yourself, for you are the greatest. You are unique and the greatest in something you do, how you do it or in who you are. The question is: How are you the greatest?


To find out the answer to this question, ask yourself: “What are the values you hold dearest to your heart?” and then list your top three. These are the values that identify your greatness. So, take the time to identify and define them. Then, use them to guide your decisions, your actions and your movements.


You are the greatest. Now, let that part of you shine.