The Bowen Family Systems Theory—Learning It Then Using It

Here is what you need to know going in: you must learn it well enough to teach it. To be a credible facilitator and consultant, when you say you can help, you must know every detail of your plan. Using the Bowen Theory for family business issues is no different than showing someone how to work on a car, walking others through how to play a new game, or even demonstrating the current cool hip hop moves. You must know it well enough to teach it with conviction.

The Bowen Theory Was A Turning Point For Me

I have always enjoyed the mission of learning the “hows” and the “whys” of family dynamics, especially when it involves a family in business together, and that curiosity was what led me to the work of Dr. Murray Bowen.

Collaboration: Agreement On Methods And On What “Privacy” Means

After 20 years of being friends and being familiar with each other’s work, Dr. Jaffe and I were able to use our particular strengths to help solve some thorny issues, without stepping on each other’s toes or working at cross purposes. We shared information and we innovated together because we had agreed on our methods and we understood the enormity of the need for absolute confidentiality.

Stop The Family Argument By Deciding How To Order Dinner

Everyone has heard about arguments in Family Business.  Relatives in the business are all together to make key decisions. Two are deadlocked in a toe-to-toe shout-down with one saying, “I’m right!” and the other resolutely insisting “No, I’m right!” Perhaps yet another is trying to jump in with “Look at my idea!” The meeting agenda has dissolved into a process of Ready! Fire! Aim!

There is a tried and true way to end this, and here is an example. We are a group of five colleagues working together. We need to have dinner but would like to continue our work. One colleague asks the others, “What does everyone want to eat?” Instead of naming restaurants, they listened to all comments and agreed on the following:

  1. Must be suitable to continue our conversation over dinner, so that rules out a noisy place.
  2. Must be within 3 miles radius, so we don’t lose momentum in our progress.
  3. Must be able to seat five guests at 7 p.m., since that time suits everyone present.
  4. Must have selections on the menu that will satisfy one person who is mostly vegetarian.

Notice that there is not high “ownership” for any of the criteria.  After we do a quick survey of restaurants nearby, soon one or two stand out.

The operative word is ownership. So often in family business differences are grounded in whose idea is being discussed rather than what is the idea. In the Little Red Book of Family Business it says, “An Idea doesn’t care who has it.  It (the idea) has no opinion on the bearer thereof.” It is preferable to establish the criteria and then list the range of options that might be worthy of consideration. Each option is measured against the criteria, not against who proposed the idea. By eliminating the attachment to […]

Reduce Anxiety During This Crisis For Your Family Business

Your job managing the family business did not come with a crystal ball. But now, you are getting calls and emails from family members, employees, vendors, suppliers, city officials, the local press, and never-before-heard-from stakeholders about what is going to happen to the enterprise that supports so many. Let me give you a proven solution: appoint an Ombudsman.

The Bowen Theory Was A Turning Point For Me

I have always enjoyed the mission of learning the “hows” and the “whys” of family dynamics, especially when it involves a family in business together, and that curiosity was what led me to the work of Dr. Murray Bowen.

Use Values-Based Leadership To Align The Family

As mentioned in the last blog, we all know that alignment starts with the family leader (presumably you!) In Lesson 2, Pillar 1 of my self-study course, Re-Imagining Relationships For Families In Business, you went through the exercise of writing down your own core values, and giving thought to your own code of ethics. Now you know the direction you want to lead family members who also participate in the legacy family business. Lesson 3 addresses how to align your family and how to deal with any members who are not eager to jump onto the same page as the others.

Something I know for sure: anything attempted without alignment is unlikely to be long-lasting. After 50+ years of working with families, I can say that this is a lesson I’ve seen learned in the hardest of ways. As the family leader, you might dread some parts of the exercises used to discover and distill your family members’ values. Still, you must all agree on the “how-to” before you can implement an agenda of growth and sustainability. I recommend a family alignment model called Values-Based Leadership.

What Is Values-Based Leadership?

Values-Based Leadership (VBL) is defined by The Financial Times as, “motivating employees by connecting organizational goals to employees’ personal values.” In Re-Imagining Relationships, I make these four key points:

• Values precede ethics, and ethics precede performance.
• Foundational values guide decision making.
• VBL is statistically proven to deliver excellent results over long periods of time.
• VBL can be the foundation of a corporate climate that delivers predictable and sustainable results.

If you and your family agree to operate under a Values-Based Leadership model, then your “core values represent the soul of the organization, and they are likely to remain steadfast in the face of changing market trends and fads.” (Pillar 1, Lesson 3.)
Now, on the […]

Step 1: Alignment And Core Values–You First

Alignment is how learning to resolve family issues begins, and this is how my self-study course, Re-Imagining Relationships For Families In Business begins. My use of the concept of alignment is meant to be a 3D acceptance of your basic core values.

A First Step To Resolving Issues In The Family Business

I have worked 50+ years consulting in family business matters, and I recognize the clues when family members begin the process of working on “the issues.” “The issues” vary, of course, but there can turning points when a family business needs an outside opinion, maybe some suggestions, to resolve painful or contentious situations. For those family leaders who would like to do some groundwork, I’ve created an online course called Re-Imagining Relationships For Families In Business. This is a distillation of what I have seen and worked with over the length of my career. I know for sure that the relationships within the family business dynamic (or any business dynamic, for that matter) are the key to sustaining the legacy of success.

These Four Pillars Support A Successful Platform

The lessons around each of the 4 Pillars include exercises and supplemental resources to help family leaders, or the upcoming family leaders, understand and incorporate the key takeaways from each concept. Pillar 1 is all about Alignment. Right off the bat there is an exercise in values clarification because a leader must begin with what he (or she) knows about himself/herself. Then his job is to learn where the rest of the family is with their values. Once all have agreed on a values statement for the business, then they can move on to Pillar 2, which is about Boundaries. Anyone who grew up with siblings already knows that personal space is an issue that begins with the very young. (Mom! Make (brother or sister) get out of my room! Or move over in the car. Or stop playing with my toys, etc.)

Boundaries should be addressed right away when sorting out how to best get the family business moving together towards success. Oldest child may feel she should be able to step […]

Takeaways From Strategic Management Society’s Meeting In Paris

family business, consulting

It’s an irresistible combination: the SMS Annual Meeting (September 22-25), and it’s in Paris, so here I am. The meeting brought together some 1200 people, about 90% of whom have PhDs in some aspect of planning, and everyone with an interest in sustaining successful family businesses.

From the program: “Family businesses are a prevalent form of organization in most of the world’s economies . . . The aim . . . is to identify and reflect on critical questions regarding latest developments in the field of strategy . . . and specifically related to trends such as digitalization, demographic change, and political tendencies of protectionism.” The Sunday session panel chairs were Fabian and George Tovstiga, both of the prestigious EDHEC Business School (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord.) The panelists were Ludovic Cailluet, EDHEC, Nadine Kammerland, WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, Carlo Salvato, Bocco ni University (and also Vice President of FFI.)

What I want to say is that in my experience, much of the research is focused on what conditions do or do not exist in family businesses. I believe there should be more focus on what actions might be taken by family business consultants to improve overall operations. That’s always been my motivator in working with the over 500 families during my 50- year career. “I hear you. I see your issues. Now let’s do something to change them.”

Many of my peers are also interested in seeing new research be more in the arena of practical applications rather than just esoteric concepts and constructs. Our panel later that week in Paris was more centered on the gap between researchers and practitioners, and we discussed the need for greater dialogue between the groups.

It’s always exhilarating to spend time with […]

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This Is A Custom Widget

This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.