Hubler For Business Families

The Forest for the Trees

To enjoy the holidays, leave the family business at work

Key Takeaways:
  • Talking too much about the business during family celebrations can alienate relatives who are not actively involved in the family business.
  • The family's values are often the core culture of the family's business.
  • Advise entrepreneur clients to seek innovative ways to celebrate that are inclusive and family-oriented.

The music of the holiday season fills our lives. Images of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and family gatherings around the hearth dance through our heads like sugarplum fairies - or at least that is the popular mythology we think about for the holidays.

But for members of family-owned businesses, the holidays can be a very different story.

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.

The Bishop's WifeFor me, preparing for the holidays means viewing some of my favorite movies. At the top of my list is "The Bishop's Wife," a 1947 film (recently remade with Denzel Washington) that originally starred Loretta Young, Cary Grant and David Niven. (The film will be shown on the Turner Classic Movie network on Sunday, December 23, 2012, at 8 p.m. EST.)

The film is a metaphor for an entrepreneur and family-owned businesses. The story 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.

In family businesses, the entrepreneur often becomes so focused on building a cathedral (the business) that family relationships suffer. During holidays, it's not unusual for business discussions to dominate family gatherings. As a result, family members who are not active in the business may feel left out of the family - as if the business were the family.

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 fictional bishop realizes his real mission - to serve parishioners - entrepreneurs should realize their mission is not only to serve the business but 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.

Whatever your tradition, the holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to set aside the stress and strains of the business and celebrate all the special rituals that bind families together. For me, the family is what makes the holidays special. As our family celebrates the holidays, we build the emotional value of our family. This strengthens our family and continues to inspire, strengthen and infuse family values into the company.

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 and your entrepreneur clients 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.

During this holiday season, seek new and innovative ways to celebrate that are inclusive and family-oriented. You and your entrepreneur clients can form a "family holiday committee" to evaluate whether your family holiday celebration is working. If so, keep doing it; if not, create a new approach. Put the family in charge first and keep it there.

Here are some ways to strengthen your holiday celebration:
  • Be clear with each other about your expectations 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.
  • Do your best to focus your time and energy on activities that celebrate family traditions and the blessings of the holiday season. In those instances where you've outgrown family traditions or the family has become too large to reasonably continue the traditions, create new ones that allow you to experience the joy and love of your family.
  • Do your best to limit business discussions or save them for the boardroom or for a regularly scheduled family meeting. Sitting around the table on Christmas Eve is not the appropriate forum for airing business activities, successes and problems.
  • Most of all, go out of your way to have fun. It's important to have fun with each other and connect or reconnect with those family members you often don't see. In the event you see your family regularly at work, go out of your way to renew, rekindle and enjoy a side of your relatives you would otherwise not see. Here are some suggested family icebreakers to be discussed in a group:
    • What's your favorite holiday memory?
    • What's the most exciting thing that’s happened this past year?
    • What is your biggest dream for the new year?
Here are some other ideas:
  • Take a multigenerational family photograph.
  • Learn about each other's kids - your nieces and nephews.
  • Hide a special small toy or prize in the holiday pudding; the winner receives a special gift.
  • Have a holiday cookie "bake off" with your grandsons and granddaughters.
  • Do your best to focus your time and energy on activities that celebrate family traditions and the blessings of the season.
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.

Blessings to you and your family. Have a happy holiday season!

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