Archive for September, 2010

The unique feeling of being born into a family business-it’s hard to describe if you’ve never lived it

 I was in an initial meeting with a client last week when he began to share with me all the feelings and emotions wrapped around being born into a family business.  Before he got too far into the story I stopped him and said, “believe me– I know what you’re talking about.  I was born into a 50-year-old family business which eventually grew to the ripe old age of ninety!”

It’s hard to describe that feeling if you’ve never experienced it.  In most families, the family business becomes almost like the number one son or daughter the family is so proud of.  Everything and everybody else can feel a little bit jealous and envious of how much attention the family business gets.  The business becomes a center point of discussion at holidays, family events and the evening dinner table.  It takes on a life of its own.

As a youngster growing up, you inevitably begin to either dream of the day you’ll join the family business or you have a growing feeling of disdain for all the attention and focus it gets in your family. Both of those paths are loaded with land mines!

One of the things we work on in our family business coaching is to help families distinguish between three systems.  The family system, the management system, and the ownership system.  The problem is with most families, all of those systems get confused and lumped into one.

Healthy families know how to distinguish between the different systems.  They pay close attention to maintaining separate identities within each of the systems.  It’s important for a family to know who they are as a family without the identity of the family business.  One of the most common challenges I see is younger generations having a difficult time establishing their own identity, value system, and leadership voice having grown up inside the family business.

In my family, like many family businesses, the founder or current leader of the business casts a big shadow.  That shadow or legacy can be a source of pride or a source of anxiety for the up and comers in the business.  We work with the emerging leaders and give them tools to be able to sort out and develop their own unique talents and skills that can build on or complement the skills of their predecessors.

When young business people can begin to create their own distinct and healthy identities, both within the family business and within their own nuclear family, they are well on their way to being happier, productive business people.

Being born into a family business is a unique feeling.  It’s something that I can now be so proud of, but at earlier points in my life caused a certain amount of uncertainty and frustration.  I was fortunate enough to have many life experiences, and a strong and supportive family that allowed me to create an identity outside of the family business.

Be aware of how your family business might be impacting your family system.  Find resources and tools to allow your family to have open and productive dialogue to create strength and health within three systems.

“Listen In”: Shift in Energy When You Start Being Their Coach

Let’s listen in to my coaching conversation with a senior executive at a large utility company early in my coaching career. I was developing my thinking about how when leaders transition to become coaching leaders it would impact their relationships with their direct reports.

Listen in

Coach Pete – “So it sounds like you know Mary is capable of more yet she doesn’t seem open to your suggestions. Is that correct?

Client – “Yeah, she seems a bit defensive whenever we try to discuss some of her performance gaps.”

Coach Pete – “Have you ever asked her point-blank if you could “coach her? ”

Client – “I have been trying to work with her with a coaching style but I’ve never actually asked her if I could coach her.”

Coach Pete – “Would you be willing to make that explicit request of her? I would be interested to see what happens when you do that.”

Client – “Okay I’ll ask her in our one-on-one meeting next week.”

(at our next coaching session)

Coach Pete – “Did you ask Mary if you could coach her?”

Client – “I did.”

Coach Pete – “What happened?” 

Client – “It was almost like the whole energy in the room shifted.  It was like all of the sudden she (her direct report), was listening to me from a whole different place.  It was like suddenly she became more open to what I had to say and receptive to new ways of approaching things.”

That lesson hit me right between the eyes and reinforced what I had instinctually believed.  When she was able to explicitly call out a different relationship with her direct report it created different energy, different openness and different results.  That is what is available with coaching.

Tapping Into Renewable Energy

Tamara Woodbury, the CEO of Girl Scouts, Cactus Pine Council says, “One of our greatest sources of renewable energy is the human spirit.”

As the coaching leader, that is the energy you are trying to tap into!  Have you noticed how on workdays people tend to hit the snooze button twice and drag themselves out of bed to go to work?  On weekends, we just jump out of bed and get going toward something we love to do.

What difference would it make in your business if people came to work with that kind of energy every day?  That is the kind of energy that is available and can be brought out by a great coach.  The mission of Coaching is to help people uncover what matters most to them and identify their greatest strengths. 

When you learn what matters most to people, you begin to tap into a new level of energy that is not often found in the work setting.  Couple that energy with a higher degree of personal accountability, a clearer focus on results, and you begin to get a sense of what coaching can bring you as a leader.

 As people get clear about what is most important to them, and what their greatest gifts are, one possible scenario is they decide they are on the wrong team or in the wrong position.  As a leader running a business, it is better to have people who are fully committed and engaged in what they are doing.

Most people are not in this state of renewable energy, they are in various states of sleep walking, resentment and discouragement.  This energy has incredible productivity and morale value to corporate America every day. Coaching can tap into this renewable energy.

A Partnership Like No Other

Coaching is a very unique and special partnership.  As a manager, people know that you are fundamentally trying to get them to be in compliance and produce certain results.  But, as a coach, there tends to be more of a feeling of partnership towards your mutual success and development.  That partnership creates a different energy and willingness to be open to new ways of looking at things and being taught.  That new energy is usually based upon trust and is the foundation for the whole coaching relationship.  When a manager shifts their energy to that of a coach, it can make all the difference in the world.

Lou Holtz On “Why Coaching”

Lou Holtz, the famous Notre Dame Football coach, did a wonderful job of answering the “why coaching” question: 

He writes, “Coaching gives one a chance to be successful as well as significant.  The difference between those two is that when you die, your success comes to an end.  When you are significant, you continue to help others be successful long after you are gone.  Significance lasts many lifetimes.  That is why people teach, people lead, and why people coach.  As I leave the field of play, I enjoy the feeling of being a winning coach.  But more important, I hope that I have been a person of significance in the lives of those young men.”

Coaching creates a stronger and deeper connection to people and their willingness to work hard and stretch for extraordinary levels of business results.  But, as Coach Holtz says, “Even more important is that I believe the impact you have as a coaching leader runs deeper and wider into how people live their lives and in turn impact others.”

Who Is Your Bill Shover?

Bill Shover is a coach and central character in my story and made an indelible mark on my life.  In fact, he is still an important influence.  The truth is, when I was a 12-year old and met Bill, I was not in a great personal situation.  My father had serious personal challenges and was pretty much out of the picture.  I did not have a lot of reason to be confident in who I was, although from an early age I was mesmerized by sports and spent hours in the front yard shooting hoops and imagining that I was making the final shot to win the NBA championship.

 Bill Shover took me under his wing in the Kachina Little League in 1974.  I got a sense pretty quickly that Bill had a process for what he was doing, a great spirit about what he was up to and a real compassion for the underachiever.  I really felt like I was fortunate to be picked on his team. 

Bill was encouraging and compassionate from the very beginning.  His coaching approach was about working on the fundamentals and understanding the game.  This approach instilled a certain amount of confidence because we kept repeating the fundamentals. 

As Bill and I met recently, (30 years after being coached by him in little league), he recounted this story.  He said, “When I started working with you, you were really not a very good hitter, but if you remember, we kept working and working on the fundamentals and eventually you began to get the bat on the ball and get them into the outfield for some very nice base hits.  You really became a good hitter!”

He also shared that he was coaching his older son in American Legion ball at the time and that he was arm-twisted into taking a team in the minor leagues. Here I thought I had been so blessed to be picked by Bill Shover, but the truth of the matter was he got a minor league team with the bottom of the barrel players (the early version of the Bad News Bears).  Luckily his son TA was a good ballplayer and Bill knew how to make ballplayers out of young boys who were a little lacking in the talent department.

That was an important step in my life.  Through his patience, encouragement, support and process of practicing the fundamentals, I did in fact become a decent hitter.

A really great thing about Bill and his process was that he knew how to have fun.  This is something I have carried through into my life and my executive coaching.  When we have fun, or lightness as I like to call it, we tend to be better learners and are free to bring out our natural energy and talent.

Early on, Bill made it very clear that he was about playing players who worked hard.  This was an expression of one of his values, a critical piece of coaching. I knew if I showed up at practice, worked hard and applied myself, Bill was going to give me my fair share of playing time and perhaps start me, even though I probably was not at the top of the talent list.  Bill rewarded hard work and determination.

All of this led to a greater sense of self worth from my perspective.  It felt good to have a champion like Bill rooting for me in my corner.  He would cheer any time we did something right.  He would also make sure to point out if we missed the mark.  This is another hallmark of a great coach.  They are attentive to details, both the positive details and the details for areas with room for improvement.

I was fortunate enough to have Bill draft me in a second and third season.  By now he knew my commitment to improvement and I knew his system.  I was a loyal fan, and he was a devoted coach helping me improve my baseball skills and personal confidence. 

When Bill and I had lunch recently, he said to me, “I had 334 kids and not one of them tried harder than you.”  Imagine how great that felt and here he is in his 70s, I am in my 40s and he is still coaching me and contributing in a very positive way.  What a special relationship.

Family Business Coach – Fundamental Rules to Harmony

Family businesses run the whole range of very dysfunctional to top notch business.  What makes a family business go one way or another?  There are some basic fundamentals that are essential in running a profitable and harmonious family business.

Compensation –

  • Make sure it is in-line with what they actually do
  • Make sure it is in-line with how well they do their job
  • Do all family members have ownership in the company?  If not, what is the criteria used to designate “owners”?
  • A family member should not make the same amount as the CEO just for being part of the family tree

Disputes –

  • Have procedures in place for how to deal with family disputes – whether it is using a family business coach, legal team, HR department, etc
  • Have a written policy on hiring family – this needs to be VERY specific with process of being considered, hired, and what the qualifications are to be an employee.

Family vs. Business –

  • What is the role of in-laws, if any?
  • Is family business an off-limits topic and holidays and other family functions?
  • Remembering that family is far more important than any business