Communication or manipulation? Can you tell the difference?

Think of this week's thoughtwave as an editorial on communication in family business...

Communication is hard. The dynamics of family and business brought together make it even tougher. To be clear; you don’t have to be a member of the family to be a part of the communication dynamic in the business, you simply have to be present.

Communication, or the lack thereof, has the potential to contribute to success, failure, disaster or something in between. If you think that’s dramatic, think about the number of times where a problem could have been resolved, confronted or avoided if the people involved had communicated effectively.

Communication’s contribution to success occurs when it’s used to engage and inspire people, work through challenges and achieve sound decisions and outcomes for people and the business. Sounds simple enough, right? So, why doesn’t it happen? Because it’s not that simple and because people often pay more lip service to communication than they do the effort, emphasis and priority to make communication real and meaningful. Worse yet, they may not have engaged the brain power required to communicate.

Communication, by its very definition, is a system, process or technique and because of that it requires thought and purpose. Opening one’s mouth doesn’t guarantee that communication is occuring. It may mean that someone is doing nothing more than talking. Throw in the personal agenda or bias of an individual, or group of individuals, involved in the family business and you don’t have communication, you have manipulation.

The artful, unfair or insidious means that someone uses to serve their individual purpose has no place in family business or business in general. If it sounds disturbing, that’s because it is. Manipulation disguised as communication represents nothing more than distorted leadership, and distorted leadership leads to disaster for the family business. Distortion twists and alters the view of the business, decisions, the family, and everyone and everything that’s a part of the company out of its natural shape, rhythm and form. Distorted leadership eventually becomes disastrous leadership—creating detrimental outcomes for all involved.

In the world of family business, or any business for that matter, an individual’s bias or agenda as the foundation of decision is problematic. It has the potential to become well-practiced manipulation under the guise of leadership and communication. The greater returns and results come through communication—pure communication—in the form of objectivity, consistency, a common language of purpose and the expansion of dialogue between people to achieve optimized outcomes.

Be real or be gone. If you find yourself playing a dangerous balancing act between communication and manipulation, your leadership and communication offer no value to the future of family business. Refocus and reframe, be honest and open rather than calculating and divisive.

Over the last thirty years of being engaged in, leading, or advising families in business, I’ve watched as communication, or the lack thereof, has directly contributed to the success, failure and functional dysfunction in family business. Through my own communication, or lack thereof, I’ve directly contributed to the success, failure and functional dysfunction of my own business. No person or business is immune. Correcting for this begins with valuing the communication process and understanding the power that comes when you do more than just talk.

With intent,

P.S. I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

The Greatest Family Business Myth

A myth is nothing more than a widely held belief or idea. We’ve all likely heard a myth at some point.

Myths are stories that are based on tradition. Some may have factual origins, while others are completely fictional. They are more than mere stories and serve a more profound purpose in family business culture. Myths are the tales that explain the family’s experience.
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Why These 8 Mindsets Help Family Businesses Succeed

What makes a family business successful? What causes a family business to fail?

This past week I was asked these same two questions on two different occasions. The first time was by a reporter writing an article on family business. The second was by a business owner looking to expand his leadership view with some new perspective. Read more

The After-Dinner Conversation: 10 Things My Client Shared About the Culture of Family Business

What started as a dinner with a formal agenda and awards, turned into a conversation about what it means to be a part of a family owned business. It also turned into my favorite memory of a client dinner. The awards dinner and final agenda items had wrapped-up and most of the people attending had left. Read more

Into the Deep

Translated from Latin to English, Duc In Altum means head into the deep or go out into the deep.

I never studied Latin so I’m thankful for Google Translate. I’m also thankful for my mom and all that she means to me and for everything that she has done for me. I’m thankful for the influence of my grandmothers. My mom’s mom and my dad’s mom both helped shape the person I am today in significant ways.

Each of these women, along with my wife, reminds me of the importance of what it means to go out into the deep—to throw the nets into the water and believe in a BIG catch.

These are women of perspective who have helped shape my life, influencing me to this day. These are/were my earliest encouragers and influencers. My dad not excluded, mom was the first manager I ever knew or experienced. She was responsible for controlling and administering a large part of the business of family.

In her numerous roles as operations manager, transportation director, financial advisor, director of personnel and procurement specialist she understood “lean management” before it became popular.

There’s only a certain amount of time and resources that we are given daily and to this day, mom knows how to maximize the return on investment for both.

Her motherly wisdom, which while growing up seemed like a serious contradiction, is a cornerstone of how I operate today. On a regular basis, mom would remind me that my growth and advancement depended on me. I had to “own it.” She would also reinforce the idea that “demanding what you want is far less impressive than demonstrating why you have earned it.” Mom’s perspective was that “what you think about you bring about.” Insights like these are deep, both in meaning and in the love with which they are given.

Recently, someone asked me my view on what I had been given in life, that which I had no choice over. When I think about the draw I got on the mom card—I recognize, now more than ever, how fortunate and blessed I am.

Thanks Mom. Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all other moms as well.

Duc In Altum,


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Do you know what family business looks like? I find that most people don’t.

Family businesses thrive around the world and yet, there seems to be a misnomer that they are always small. When traveling, one of my passions is to find and experience family-owned businesses in the area. And I can tell you firsthand, they aren’t necessarily small businesses. Read more

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Leaders must be nimble and expedient in how they think about strategy. In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, you can’t fall in love with a method and abandon the adeptness to change or evolve when necessary. While a three- to five-year strategy is important and not to be overlooked, successful privately-held companies are exceptional at designing and deploying twelve-, eighteen- and twenty-four-month strategies. They recognize and value the need to be swift and adaptable.
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Context Before Miscommunication

It's Alyssa here, taking over for my dad this week with a few thoughts on miscommunication.
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Why do people do what they do?

Clients often ask me a series of “why” questions during engagements. Here's a list of the most common ones:

  • Why do people do what they do?
  • Why do leaders do what they do?
  • Why do salespeople do what they do?
  • Why does the person I work with do what they do?
  • Why does my sister/brother act that way?
  • Why does the owner do that?
  • Why did that person do what they did?

The answer, put simply, is because they want something.

Here’s the process:

  1. What a person wants and how they judge the results they’re getting (whoever that person may be) is based on their individual interests, attitudes and values.
  2. The difference between what that person wants and what they perceive they’re getting is the driver for their behavior.
  3. That person’s behavior is an attempt to close the gap between what they want and the result they perceive they’re currently getting.
  4. Achieving results means that the person either changes what they want or how they behave. (Actions).

Many times, what is illogical in action is quite logical in the mind of the person around whom the questions are being asked. The confusion comes in the gap between what they want and what they’re getting. It also comes in the space of thought between what someone is doing and the understanding as to why. And lastly, confusion comes in the gap between what the individual wants and what someone responsible for leading them wants.

The good news is that there’s a series of questions, used individually or collectively, that can help close the gap of understanding and bring greater clarity and direction to your leadership and the relationship.

Questions to consider:

  • What do you want?
  • How does what you want reflect your values?
  • How does what you want connect with what the company wants?
  • What are you doing to get what you want?
  • What actions have you taken to get what you want?
  • What exactly did you do?
  • What are you doing now?
  • Is what you’re doing helping you get what you want?
  • Is what you’re doing working?
  • What's the gap between what you want and what you’ve achieved?
  • If you aren’t getting, or don’t get, what you want, what’s your plan?
  • What do you need to do differently to help you get what you want?

The purpose of these questions isn’t abstract. On the contrary, the purpose of these questions is to expand the dialogue of awareness and understanding that leads to greater opportunities to coach and develop—practical, real and challenging. It’s not enough to say that you value the development of people or that you want to grow future leaders. You must demonstrate this value.

Why do people do what they do? Put simply, it’s because they want something.

With intent,

The Best is Yet to Come


This past month I had the opportunity to Join 400+ of the most renowned advisors, coaches and consultants from across the globe at TTISICon. As always, this was a collaborative and knowledge-packed event. It was a time of connecting with colleagues and friends in an iron-sharpens-iron environment.
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