The Season of Cheer is Here

The Season of Cheer

It’s here. There’s no running from it. Smells of cinnamon and pine are all around, and anticipation can be seen in the eyes of children who are counting down. The days are numbered before Christmas arrives.

  • For school-aged children, that means gifts, several weeks without school demands, and exciting annual festivities. 
  • For parents and grandparents, that could mean extra caffeine for late night present runs and Christmas wrapping paired with an inner peace experiencing the season of joy through the eyes of their children.

For family businesses, however, holidays can be a point of contention if you let it. (The hint here is to not let it!)

To enjoy all of what the holiday season brings, my recommendation is to leave the family business at work. When families that have a business together gather for the holidays, they sometimes have another place at the table set for discussing their business. 

This scene shares similarities with one of my favorite holiday films.

For me, preparing for the holidays means watching some of my favorite movies. At the top of my list is The Bishop’s Wife, a 1947 film (there has been a remake with Denzel Washington) that originally starred Loretta Young, Cary Grant, and David Niven. As with most movies, I can easily pull out a meaningful metaphor for an entrepreneur and family-owned businesses. 

Let me paint the scenes for you in the off-chance you haven’t seen this movie yet. (And if you haven’t, add it to your holiday movie enjoyment!) The movie is about a bishop (David Niven) and his wife (Loretta Young), who are involved in parish life. The bishop is driven to raise money for a new cathedral at the expense of everything else in his parish, including his family. 

In the midst of the holiday season and beleaguered by his responsibilities, the bishop asks God for relief from the pressure. God sends him an angel (Cary Grant) who, through a series of tricks, helps the bishop realize that his real mission in life is not to build a cathedral, but to serve the needs of his parishioners.

Does this scene sound familiar? You pray for patience and God gives you the opportunity to learn it! And, through the process, it’s revealed that what you thought was your calling, may not have been exactly what you had once thought it was. In family business, the same wisdom can occur. 

In fact, in family businesses, the entrepreneur can have tunnel vision at times. 

A focus on building a cathedral (the business) and impact relationships with the parishioners (the family) unintentionally. Family and business lines are blurred to the point where it’s not unusual for business discussions to dominate family gatherings. And during the holidays, this poses a challenge, especially for family members who are not active in the business. No one wants to feel unwelcome at the Christmas table. 

In the film, the bishop not only focuses on building the cathedral but in the process ignores his wife at the expense of their marital relationship. The angel becomes smitten with the bishop’s wife, which creates a competition between the bishop and angel for the wife’s affections.

Just as the bishop realizes his real mission—to serve parishioners—entrepreneurs should realize their mission too, and it’s not solely on business development and growth. Instead, family business owners are also called to steward family traditions and rituals along with their spouses. These family and holiday rituals are what bind families together and create the richness in families that makes holidays so lasting and special. These rituals also contribute ultimately to the well-being of the business, and pours into the additional equity that family businesses cherish most. 

Whatever your tradition, the holiday season poses a wonderful opportunity to set aside the stress and strains of the business and celebrate all the special rituals that bind your family together. For me, the family is what makes the holidays special. As families celebrate the holidays, every person who is a part of the family helps to build the emotional value of the family. This strengthens the family and continues to inspire, strengthen and infuse family values into the family business as well.

The family’s values are the core culture of the family’s business. 

However, by talking too much about the business during family celebrations, you could inadvertently alienate family members who are not actively involved in the business. So, keep normal business discussions in the boardroom and out of the holiday gatherings.

Here are some tips to seek new and innovative ways to celebrate that are inclusive and family-oriented. 

  • Provide clarity with those in the family business about what your expectations are for the holidays. Spend time talking with each other before the holidays arrive to make sure you all understand what you want to get out of the holiday season.
  • Focus your time and energy on activities that celebrate family traditions and the blessings of the holiday season. If your family has outgrown your traditions, create new ones that allow you to experience the joy and love of your family.
  • Limit business discussions or save them for a regularly scheduled family meeting. Sitting around the table on Christmas is not where business should be discussed.  
  • Most importantly of all, it’s important to have fun with each other and connect or reconnect with those family members you often don’t see. 

The holiday season provides great opportunities to emphasize those family values that are the bedrock of your family. As you plan family activities, understand that less is more. Consider what you can do to create balance and harmony and to enjoy the family and life you’ve created.