Responsible Stewardship is Key to a Successful Legacy

For families with businesses, there are issues 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.

Leave me a comment on your thoughts or experiences on this important topic. I would be delighted to read your comments.

How Will You Be Remembered? How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

How do you want to be remembered? How will you be remembered? Is there a gap between the two responses?

If so, identify an element to that gap that you can address and take action on. Then, craft the first action step you can take towards bridging that gap. For example, a woman I spoke with wanted to be remembered as a creator of evocative paintings. When I asked how she would be remembered she said that she would not be remembered as a painter as she kept her paintings in her studio.

Realizing that she would most likely be remembered differently than how she wanted to be remembered, she decided to put a few pieces on walls in her home. She did not stop there. She organized an art show for family and friends. What began as a bridge to gap the distance between how she wanted to be remembered and how she would be remembered became an annual “Get Connected with Art” Show (now celebrating its eleventh year) where select artists, their families and friends came together to share their legacy through art.  Art pieces were sold, auctioned, and given away. This woman is both ecstatic and amazed at what resulted by addressing a gap to her legacy. She will now be remembered for her art…and much more.

How will you be remembered? How do you want to be remembered? Are they aligned? What is the first step you can take to bridge the gap? Let me know your thoughts on this topic.

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The Experience that Connected the Family Beyond the Photos Was Worth So Much

Knowing she was dying, Anne wanted to make sure her children knew who all the people in the pictures were. So, together, they went through five albums and hundreds of loose photos that reminded Anne of her past, her heritage, the things she did, and the people to whom she was connected by blood, but knew little about.

 

The first time I stopped by, I was shown where the photo albums and most of the loose pictures were located but Anna did not open the albums.  The second time I came over, Anne instructed two of her adult children to show me the pictures on the guest room wall and explain who everyone was in those photos. But her children were unsure of who these people were. Yes, they had listened as their Mom went over the pictures with them, but they quickly forgot the information as these people did not mean anything to them. The photos were merely pictures of the past without anything more to connect with them.

 

So when I returned to the room where Anne had set up her daily life, I asked her to step back, in her mind, to a time of her life, when she was a little girl, 10 or younger, I could see her expression change as she remembered that time in her life. I then asked her to conjure up someone, perhaps a school teacher, a religious teacher, a sports coach, a friend’s parent, an after school organizational leader, someone who had a tremendous positive impact on her. Without hesitation, she exclaimed that she was thinking of her friend, Lisa. I asked Anne to describe Lisa which Anne did, a smile growing on her face, her eyes sparkling with joy and contentment. I then asked what one stood out as being a powerful trait that Lisa had. Again, without hesitation, Anne gazed into my eyes and boldly stated: “Acceptance. Lisa showed me then, as she always has, the power and possibility of acceptance.” Delving into the importance of acceptance to Anne became a powerful point of Anne’s story. Tears welled up in her eyes as she talked about the power and beauty acceptance has had in her own life.

 

I, who has known Anne for ten years, felt a shock wave confirming my own experience of how important acceptance has been to Anne. Anne confirmed this by saying acceptance is one of the most important principles and traits to her. She smiled. I looked over at her adult children, who had witnessed this conversation and their eyes expressed a sense of shock as they just learned something about their mother they had never known. It was a profound moment of great bonding.

 

As her children witnessed a greater sense of their Mother, tears came to their eyes. They said: “We have gotten to know our mother more powerfully in this conversation and in ways we will never forget and in ways that we can carry forward and nurture. We wish we knew the people in the photographs like that. This is where the connection is, not in the scene they are in or the pose they have struck.”

Even a Family Tree Needs Nourished Roots to Flourish.

I know where my roots are because I read the last name of my great, great, great, great grandfather on a dividend check I receive from the family every quarter. My last name is not the same as the ‘founding father’ as I come from one of the branches, not the trunk of the family tree.” That was the beginning of a recent encounter with a Gen Y member of a family that continues to build and develop its legacy now into its sixth generation.

He continued: “I’ve Googled the man we see pictures of at the family reunions because I needed to know more about our origins. I felt isolated from the roots.  I needed to know who he was and find out what we had in common. Although it was weird to have to research him online, I discovered something in my research.”   And this is where his matter of fact tone became excited like he had just found out where the hidden treasure he had been seeking was buried.

“I discovered that, although I have a different last name than he, I am a lot like him; an entrepreneur who really enjoys the challenges and payoffs of risk in business, someone who enjoys building businesses. In fact, one of my uncles recognized the commonality between me and 5 times great grandfather. This uncle has the same last name as our ancestor. He told me that I hold the spirit of our ancestor and wanted to nourish that in me.”

What stunned this Millennial family member was, even with their annual meetings and reunion, how removed from the family tree some family members felt.  This Millennial noticed how comfortable his generation was in receiving dividends from the family fortune and not asking any questions about its origin, its continuation, its purpose, or how they could impact its amount. The family no longer even talked about the meaning of the money or where it came from. They just wanted it to feed their lifestyles without contributing to its growth or its maintenance.

This Gen Yer asked and was given the opportunity to make a presentation at a recent family reunion. He titled it: ‘Don’t Kill the Tree.’ He talked about the value of the roots, his great, great, great, great grandfather had set to sustain their family for generations. He said he felt uncomfortable with receiving a check every quarter for doing nothing.  He introduced an idea to the family, a new tradition of mentoring. New family members would be coached by an established member in understanding the history of their family’s financial success and tie it to the principles the family was founded on.  He wanted and wanted others to know the value of the money they were receiving.

This young man earns my applause.  He understands that the dividends, while providing income, will not, in itself, keep the family together. As this young man noted about his family, the continuing dividend made his family quiet, complacent and uninvolved. He wanted to bring the heart and heartbeat back to the family tree, restore the essence of his family and the values expressed by the ‘roots’, his great, great, great, great, grandfather set. All it takes is nourishing the root of the tree.

What is your family doing to nourish its roots for generations to come? What do you see other families doing to sustain their roots?  Leave a comment.

Thank You for Being Part of My Fulfilling Year

Reflecting

 

Thank you for who you are to me—people of grace and profound commitment to bringing a richer weave to the fabric of life-your own and the world around you.

 

When I reflect on you,

You who have deliberately chosen to direct your lives

Purposefully and with great meaning

I see shimmering stars lighting my path

I see the beauty of persistence and determination in you.

 

As I think of you

I feel the essence of the freedom you feel

When enduring strength and power replace your initial fears and doubt.

I am touched by your commitment to being your best

With your Legacy, your Life and your Money

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

We welcome your comments

The Annual Family Letter, Try It You Might Like It

Most people travel to family celebrations for their annual holiday events. They bring with them new gifts, new stories, and familiar smiles. The celebration is fun yet temporary, a moment together. Eventually memories of the conversations and the rush of seeing each other are taken over by life’s daily demands and schedules. The events fade into an archived folder called “the past”, stored somewhere in the brain. And the intentions you had last year to have more meaningful and more together time with everyone as a group, fade into tomorrow’s pile of things to do…next time.

But some families do things a little differently and this is where I want to focus our attention this week. Some families produce and convey an annual family letter. This letter celebrates the accomplishments of the family as a group. It reminds the members what they accomplished together to further the mission of the family, the mission they all find their place in and support because they have carved their place in it and are recognized for doing so.

The family annual letter acknowledges plans that were undertaken and not accomplished not to blame but just to note in review the year. It is co-written by all family members who share their successes and initiatives that perpetuated and progressed the family mission. It often includes the family’s values, its mission statement and tells how the initiatives for the year sought to further the mission of the family. The family annual letter is a format to close the year in acknowledging successes and challenges.

The letter also carries a preview of goals for the year ahead. It frames the upcoming year so family members stay connected, enthusiastic and on point with their roles and responsibilities to the family as well as their individual goals. It is a terrific way to keep the family connected. It is a phenomenal tool to keep a record of the past while driving momentum into the future.

My family has created an annual letter for over twenty years. What about you-what have you done or what will you start this year to keep your family connected?

Grandparents and Grandchildren Share a Unique Bond

There is something unique and special about the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. There is that innate connection coupled with a generational skip that can bring a sense of freedom and trust not present between a parent and a child.

Let’s look at a few ways in which grandparents can add richness and long memories to the relationship with their grandchildren.

Grandparents can add a sense of fairytale to the family. Being so much older than the grandkids, from the children’s point of view it almost appears as they lived in a different world. Their view and experiences are a novelty to the grandkids. “You had two hours of homework to do every night? When did you get to play with your Xbox? You didn’t have one? What was it like to play outside all day?”

Grandparents have a great knowledge of the history of the family. They know who the elders are. They can even talk about people in photos that the grandchildren will never know. They add a sense of continuity and can add to the value of the family heritage and legacy.

Grandparents often can impart advice and wisdom to a grandchild more easily than a parent because they are a little more removed from the pressure of attention and parenting. They can help in mending emotional fences and adding perspective when teasing hurts a grandchild. They listen differently than parents do, often less judgmental and more understanding.

Grandparents have traits that grandchildren often inherit, ones that skip generations. I for one inherited from my Grandma a great love of music which neither of my parents had. Although she and I expressed our musical passion differently, we shared a love for singing and an appreciation for composition that no one else in our family embraced.

What has the relationship with you grandparents brought to your life? How do you promote the relationship between your own children and their grandparents? I would love to hear from your experience.

A Family’s Hidden Anxieties Can Harbor a Ticking Time Bomb

Murray Bowen was a trained psychiatrist in the 1950s and 1960s. He introduced breakthrough concepts in regards to common anxiety patterns found in families. Little did he know, at the time, that he would have a chance to “test” these concepts with his own parents and siblings.

In 1966, while he was teaching at Georgetown University, in Washington D.C., this world renowned family therapist flew back to his childhood home in Tennessee. A family crisis was escalating in the family business, of which he was a shareholder. The third-oldest sibling, Murrays’ brother, nicknamed June, who was running the business, was seeking control of this business. Dad supported him, Mom did not. The extended family was taking sides.

When Murray arrived he found the family at great odds. Here he was, a practicing psychiatrist, making great discoveries about family dynamics, now in the midst of his own family issues. Family members were talking about each other behind each other’s backs. He found himself feeling profoundly frustrated and depressed that no one would deal with their issues directly. After he left and could reflect on what he had experienced, he decided the time had come, he would use his own family as an experiment to test his developing concepts.

His strategy involved writing separate letters to his brother June, his younger sister, and their mother revealing the gossip spread behind their backs. Murray wanted to provoke conversation and bring issues out in the open to resolve long standing family tension. To his brother he wrote about the concerns, he, Murray had heard from other family members over the years about June’s inability to lead. June was irate. To his sister, Murray wrote that he had asked their brother June to watch over her, because other family members thought she was the emotionally charged sister. She was incensed.  And to their mother, he told what was in the other two letters he sent, that he was trying to infuriate his brother and how he, Murray, could push more buttons if necessary. He told his mother not to mention this letter to anyone.

In early 1967, he returned home to see how it would play out when he lit the fuse to “fan the family flames.” A family dinner took place the second night Murray was home. June and his wife, Murray, June’s sister, and their parents were present.  It didn’t take long for the confrontation to begin as references to the letters were made by June and the letter he received as well as their sister and the letter she received. June threatened Murray with a lawsuit and accused their mother of playing favorites with Murray. Their sister that said she was tired of being treated like a sick child. Murray confirmed that he and their Mom had been conspiring for years about who, other than June, would lead the family business.

As you can imagine, it was epic. Mom was outraged, denied everything and promised she would never tell Murray anything again.  The planned dinner ended up in a drama of personal attacks. Emotions that had not been expressed in years, if ever, were released.

The next day Murray went to June’s house and his brother, for the first time in years, felt at peace. Feelings were out in the open.  Their sister and parents felt the same.  At last, the issues were out. Everybody felt that it wasn’t necessary any longer to hide behind their words.   From this incident, the family’s relationships improved. This was a life changing experience for the entire family. 

Eventually this experiment led to Murray’s breakthrough theory for diffusing family anxieties where patterns have been built and supported. Bowen found that ”the degree of anxiety in any one family will be determined by the current levels of external stress and the sensitivities to particular themes that have been transmitted down the generations. If family members do not have the capacity to think through their responses to relationship dilemmas, but rather react anxiously to perceived emotional demands, a state of chronic anxiety or reactivity may be set in place.”

Many families struggle with effective communication around sensitive topics. How does your family deal with sensitive issues? Do they wait for the ticking time bomb to go off? Do they pass it on to another generation to deal with? Do they remain silent on the subject? Is there a process to talk about subjects with respect and without tension? Leave me a comment. I would love to hear about your experience in this subject.

 

We Found Meaning behind the Noise

The moment had come. It was Christmas Day.

Individual families shared their morning together with their traditional breakfast of pancakes, muffins or eggs. They opened their Santa stockings and family gifts with glee, humor and wonder.  Now it was time to get their coats, scarves and gloves on, hop in the car, and ride to the bigger family dinner and gift exchange celebration.

One by one the cars drove in to the appointed house and parked…almost. Because the great debates and casual yet striking comments were already in play.  “Are we all meeting at 1 or 2? If it’s 1p, we’ll be late.” “Oops I forgot some of the appetizers. I think they are in a paper bag on the kitchen table.” ”How about if you park in front? No, I want to park on the side. That way I can decide which door to walk in.” “This is my first Christmas alone. It feels weird but I’m glad I’m here.”

As each car unloaded their secret Santa gifts, their gag gifts, the animal toys and extra children’s amusements, with olives, almonds, pates and cheeses, Martinellis or Mimosas, the Christmas festivities were underway.

After warm greetings and brief, casual conversations, we picked the order of choosing or stealing the annual gag gifts wrapped in all kinds of wrapping, from crumbled up paper bags to elaborate paper and bows, and fake receipts hanging out of boxes, all made to deceive…or not. From chocolate to rain snow globes, from International Crane Foundation socks to a penguin toothpick holder, the gag gifts were chosen and stolen to laughter and fun.

We then segued to special photos or books from the year we wanted to share. It was satisfying to watch a shy one decide to talk about one…then two pictures they took. They felt so proud and part of the circle in what they shared. It brought us closer as we caught a deeper glimpse into lives, some of which we had fleeting moments with this past year.

With a closer bond growing between us, we went to the table to being the dinner with a serving of tangy and light Watercress soup to whet the appetite for the bigger meal to come. We each shared in a challenge we faced or accomplishment we attained, what we learned and how we could support each other going forward in meaningful and connected ways. We felt great gratitude in having three generations around the table together sharing and wanting to vivaciously support each other.

After the main meal of pesto infused salmon on a bed of angel hair pasta, and circled in peas and broccolini, we returned to the living room and opened out Santa’s gifts, our gifts to one another.

With dessert, we followed up with ways we would support those who wanted people to lean on, encourage those who wanted to feel more love and belief in them, and commitments to visit those who felt that their physical distance was an issue.

We were grateful to find the love, gratitude and meaning we share with each other behind the noise of the casual conversations we know only too well how to have…endlessly.

How did you find meaning with your chosen family this holiday season? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear.

May 2015 bring you meaningful and lasting connections with your family.

Part 2 is the Will, but Part 1 is Often Overlooked to Dire Consequences

Jennifer and Lily were sisters. When they were young they played dolls together as so many sisters do. Of course, their brothers, Peter and Tom would not join their sisters in doll play. They were out in their forts taking sides against the enemy and sometimes, each other.

Years later the girls stayed connected to each other; only now it was around the goings on in their families; their dolls had been put away a long time ago. Their brothers, on the other hand, who went into the family business, talked shop most of the time.  They vetted their frustration with their autocratic dad who would forget to include them in important business decisions and directions. Just the other week he signed an agreement with an offshore distributor, about expanding into Asia at a time the business was losing market share in their core markets.  The brothers were now in their late thirties and early forties. Wasn’t it time to bring them in to conversations that their Dad reserved for his two golfing buddies and his business attorney?

Nothing changed until one day, in his office, their Dad suddenly had a fatal heart attack.  Neither the two brothers nor their sisters were prepared for this. Their parents had divorced years earlier and although their Mom was devastated by the news, she would not be part of the instructions in the will.   Any thoughts, wishes, pleas or understandings were of no use now as the brothers and sisters gathered in shock.

The will was distributed to each adult child. The siblings seemed satisfied at what they read. The two daughters, to their relief, were given cash while the two sons were given merely the struggling business in equal shares…to their dismay. They knew how to talk about Dad together but not how to manage a business together; plus, given this business with its precarious financial state, they wondered if they really received anything of benefit.

Fast forward five years later; the brothers who initially thought about selling the business, were able to stabilize the company and then watch it rise back up to a positon of strength. They now had a business of value and with a bright future. Their sisters, those with the cash, $1 million each, were out of money. They spent their inheritance on cars, family trips, clothes and things they don’t even remember purchasing. It didn’t matter. Their money was gone.  Now, they were thinking of suing their brothers for part of the estate they never received-the business.

Let’s take a look at this situation. This family was ripped apart by an idea that sounded good on paper: money to one set, the business to another but in all reality, this good paper idea turned into a point of contention. The sisters and their brothers, who grew up together under the same roof, found themselves with different inheritances.

The will was well crafted by outstanding attorneys who knew the Dad well. But documents cannot serve a bigger purpose than what they state. If documents are meant to serve a bigger purpose, the conversations of purpose and intention need to happen between the will maker and the beneficiaries, the parties who will be served by the functionality of the will. When this doesn’t happen the probability of squandering, spending, or squabbling over the assets is high, very high.  The brothers weren’t prepared to inherit a business. The sisters were not prepared to receive cash.

Are you paying more attention to the passing of the assets or the passing of purpose and responsibilities to your family? Think about it, it’s an important question to ask yourself.

Leave me your thoughts. I would like to hear from you about this important topic.