Family businesses have been around for centuries; in fact, it’s how many businesses we know today were formed. Walmart, Chick-fil-A, and Ford Motor Company may be a few brand names that ring a bell for you. And while every business has its own unique nuances, I would suspect that if we could have been a fly on the wall of some of the family business meetings at these companies and others, we would uncover some consistent themes.
- They likely stumbled upon moments of frustration or differing opinions which could have caused disagreements.
- They probably came across questions around leadership, succession, and legacy next steps.
- I feel confident that even among their most successful moments, they had their fair share of wrong moves and learning opportunities.
- And it’s likely that when it came time for a change in leadership, not everyone was on the same page.
No family business is immune to challenges. Not yours. Not mine. Not a family business that has made it big time. Not even the fictitious family business that is highlighted in one of my favorite classic films, Dodsworth.
Have you ever seen the movie?
If not, let me give you a bit of context. The 1936 film stars Walter Houston, Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor. Sam Dodsworth, played by Walter Houston, is an entrepreneur who owns an automobile manufacturing company. He opts to sell his company and retire without a plan for his future—not unlike many real-life entrepreneurs and family business owners I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
As soon as Dodsworth retires, his wife, Fran (who is played by Ruth Chatterton), begins to plan their extensive trip to Europe. Throughout the process, however, both Dodsworth and Fran encounter differences in their expectations for the trip. Again, another occurrence probably all of us can understand well.
Their differences are similar to what my former colleague, Jeff Rothstein, referred to as “What’s the Deal?” His assumption was that all couples have an implicit deal that is never articulated and processed appropriately, and yet it governs how they interact with each other. Jeff posited that when couples move into their 60s, they begin to discuss and question their expectations for their golden years. From his perspective, this is an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about the topic and recalibrate expectations to uncover a common understanding about their future together.
Nearly all couples have implicit, unmentioned, assumptions about their marital relationship. As couples mature and consider retirement or changing their work relationship, many have not considered a plan for the future. They have no resources, no practice, no roadmap, and when they look ahead, they feel adrift. While this is common, it doesn’t have to be your experience.
Life Career Planning can position families (and relationships) for a positive future.
I help family businesses address this change within the company and within their leaders using a process I call Life Career Planning. Using Career Life Planning techniques, I help them reevaluate their lives and realize a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Both the entrepreneur and their spouse can turn their dreams into reality and, in doing so, the couple enjoys peace of mind about their future. Most importantly, the process helps them devise a common perspective of their values.
When this collective planning happens, couples can effectively share their goals and dreams with each other in a manner that honors and engages both. They redirect their wisdom and their knowledge of life to produce a realistic, engaging plan for meaningful work and leisure time. They look ahead by looking back. Together.
Nineteenth century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard extolled, “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.” To me that means we recognize, embrace, and celebrate our accomplishments so that we can use them to energize the future.
Life Career Planning unfolds in three simple stages that help draw the entrepreneur and spouse from the past to the future. Harvest the past. Turn the soil. Plant new seeds.
Harvest the Past
You can harvest the past by celebrating the blessing of your life. The couples I get to help own and let go of regrets and hurts of the past which is a meaningful and required part of moving forward. I offer pathways that encourage candid exchanges and mutual encouragement. As the couple harvests their past, they can stand in the present to make conscious choices about what they want for themselves, their family, and their business.
Turn the Soil
What do you want to do next? Where do you want to go? By turning the soul, the couple speculates on all they might like to do. To get there, they may talk about their personal purpose, what’s meaningful in their lives, and the role that spirituality plays in their work and life. They discuss how to be content by aligning their gifts with all areas of their lives.
Plant New Seeds
The future is possible and can be done together. As the term implies, planting new seeds puts the couples’ new ideas into a plan for the future. They create a new dream together based on their explicit, shared goals and values—the discussions they have had in harvesting and turning the soil. Many aspects are drawn together: work, relationships, money/wealth, community service, leisure time, health, and spirituality. By recognizing and aligning all of these aspects, the couple builds direction into their future and an enthusiasm to engage in it.
In the case of Dodsworth and Fran, their vastly different expectations were highlighted during their European travel. Fran was youth-obsessed and wanted to embrace a spontaneous and impulsive lifestyle. Dodsworth wanted a more secure lifestyle to enjoy experiences and the wonders of the world like viewing the Northern Lights and appreciating the mysteries of the universe. Had Dodsworth and Fran realized that entrepreneurs are driven by their dreams, they could have anticipated their differences and avoided the tragedy that their relationship would soon befall.
To achieve this new dream for work, your challenge is to understand your purpose and identify what gives heart and meaning in relation to your work.
- That may mean you don’t have to leave your company, but instead, change your job descriptions from day-to-day management to much less demanding daily activities.
- It may require you to become the architect and designer, with your family, of the new ownership and management system of your company.
The new dream for the family is the most important part of Life Career Planning. It is an opportunity to directly confront the question of “What’s the Deal?” and renew your relationship with your spouse and children and redefine your role as grandparents. It also is an opportunity to perpetuate your legacy for the benefit of your community and your family. And, it’s an opportunity to create a new dream for leisure time as a couple and to do all those things you have never had the time to do together, but also is an opportunity to plan and do things you have wanted to undertake individually.
With an appropriate amount of planning and discussion with your spouse, you can avoid the pitfalls that Dodsworth and Fran encountered and, instead, you can ensure that your golden years are truly the best years of your lives.