By Michael D. DeVine
I have heard from several clients that they never really get a chance to talk with their father, but they do get to talk with the owner of the company (who happens to be their father) every day. Another client told me that although he knew the volume of stocks that his brother traded, he only recently learned that his brother had had a cancer scare.
When you work side by side with your family, sometimes it is easy to forget that you are relatives and not just co-workers or business partners. That’s why it is so important for business families to take time during the holidays to reconnect with each other—to bring the family back into the family business.
Let’s conduct an experiment. Close your eyes and think of your favorite family holiday tradition. Visualize every part of that memory—the people, foods, activities, music and more. Think about what it was like as a child, how that tradition made you feel, and how much you looked forward to it every year.
Of course, things changed over the years as everyone got older, but those memories are ingrained into our brains, including every emotion we felt when we had these experiences in the past. Even though we are now adults, those memories take us back to a time when we didn’t have the weight of the world on our shoulders, such as all the pressures that come with running a family business.
When we get to the point of people acting like business partners and forgetting that they are family members, problems develop that only serve to hinder the running of the family business. What starts out as increasingly distant relationships and reduced interactions (such as not telling one’s brother about a cancer diagnosis) can evolve into a total communication breakdown. Pent-up hurt feelings escalate over time, and things get said in meetings that never would have been said in the past. Then before you know it, there is an erosion of mutual trust and respect within the family and the business.
But it doesn’t have to be like this! Every family can do something about the situation before it gets to a breaking point. That is why we love using the holidays as a yearly recalibration for business families. The end of the year is when most people—including business owners—take time out of their work schedules to be with their family.
Family holiday traditions bring back memories of the love and security we felt flowing from our parents or the bonds we felt when we were together with our siblings. They carry tremendous emotional power.
Memories of cooking or setting the table together on Thanksgiving, going as a family to church (or to a Chinese restaurant) on Christmas Eve, anticipating Santa’s arrival, lighting candles and eating latkes on Hanukkah or even emulating the cast of Seinfeld and engaging in feats of strength on Festivus make us feel like kids again. These emotions help us remember where we came from, who we are and how much we care for each other. When we engage in these activities today, we stir up the same emotions and family connections.
After the holidays, make an effort to carry the good feelings and happy memories into the office. Instead of making a harsh comment out of anger in a meeting, remember that you are a family. Hold your tongue or rephrase your comment out of respect for your loved ones.
We understand that it can be difficult to corral all of the family into one place. Often, adult children with families of their own have created new traditions. But just one family event is all it takes to hit the reset button. So, if you are thinking about bailing out on the annual family Thanksgiving touch football game, maybe you should reconsider.
Michael D. DeVine, M.S., LPC-S, is the owner and CEO of DeVine Consulting, which provides executive coaching and leadership development as well as family business advising (www.devinetalentconsulting.com).
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