04/14/17

Soft On People, Tough On Ideas

On March 31, 2017, in his New York Times Corner Office column, Adam Bryant published: Jessie Woolley-Wilson on Creating Benevolent Friction at Work, a condensed version of his interview with Jessie Woolley-Wilson, C.E.O. of Dream Box Learning, a provider of math-education software.

Through Bryant’s article, we learn about how language and cultural differences within her diverse family influenced Woolley-Wilson’s leadership style. Speaking about their frequent dinnertime arguments she says: “What I realized was that they were very engaged in discussions about the economy or about what was going on in different countries. I was witnessing the best part of “benevolent friction” — to be hard on ideas but soft on people — because there was a lot of love and hope about the future.”[1]

Woolley-Wilson sees “benevolent friction” as a positive thing within a work community: “if you don’t have pressure on the carbon, you never get to the diamond. You can still be very respectful, and assume everybody has a spark, but we have to subject our ideas to the toughest scrutiny because our work is important.”[2]

In a start-up company, she says: “you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so you have to be constantly learning and be adaptive with your colleagues. You might think you have a role to play, but you have to listen and be responsive to your colleagues for the team to really win.”[3]

Friction is an inevitable part of all family businesses. And here too, it can change its negative aspect to a positive.

Like start-ups, family-businesses traverse uncharted territory. And Woolley-Wilson’s leadership style provides invaluable guidance. Perhaps more challenging to implement given the dynamics inherent in family businesses, embracing the friction between family members— and colleagues—with love and listening allows you to be hard on ideas and soft on people – thereby allowing them to become productive elements in the family enterprise.

 

[1] Bryant, A. (2017) Jessie Woolley-Wilson on Creating Benevolent Friction at Work. The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/business/jessie-woolley-wilson-dreambox-learning.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fcorner-office&action=click&contentCollection=business&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection&_r=0)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

04/9/17

A Sense Of Gratitude By Any Means

One of my more important life exercises is a nightly examination of my day, starting with recognition of what I am grateful for–both large and small. So when “Want to Give Like a Rockefeller? Be Rich in Gratitude” appeared on April 1st in the New York Times Personal Business Column, it resonated personally.

The article is a brief history of the life, values and accomplishments of David Rockefeller, who died March 20, 2017 at the age of 101. It reads as a success story in the transmission of family values, high ideals and deeply felt attitudes: responsibility, humility, generosity, pride in the family legacy and one of the most important— a sense of gratitude.

“Among the values David passed down to his children was his profound gratitude,” said Lukas Haynes, executive director of the David Rockefeller Fund. “He expressed gratitude for what he inherited from his father and grandfather and his opportunity to carry it forward.”[1]

Of course few families have the wealth of the Rockefellers. But wealth is not a prerequisite for gratitude. For myself, I am grateful each day to be sharing of my unique abilities in ways that matters to others –and for the opportunities to carry this forward.

Defined as a “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”[2] It is an attitude that can be cultivated. Recognizing and developing a sense of gratitude for what you have in your life day to day has been shown to have a positive impact on your relationships, your health and even on your brain. According to Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center:

“In studies, after eight weeks of practice, brain scans of individuals who practice gratitude have stronger brain structure for social cognition and empathy, as well as the part of the brain that processes reward.”[3]

Clearly their inherited sense of gratitude has been a significant factor in the success, longevity and vitality of the heirs of David Rockefeller, and therefore may be seen as an attitude worth emulating for family businesses along the way to their own future.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/your-money/david-rockefeller-philanthropy.html
[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/why-extremely-successful-people-swear-by-this-5-minute-daily-habit-2015-11
[1] Ibid.

04/1/17

Why You Want Gravity in Your Family Business

Many decades have passed since Isaac Newton set forth his law of universal gravitation that states, in part, that every mass attracts every other mass in the universe, and since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity revealing a view of gravity where mass influences the dynamic shape of space-time.

But gravity isn’t only about physics anymore–it’s a key element in the long-term success of family enterprises.

Perhaps first used by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Senior Adviser for the global executive search firm, Egon Zehnder, the term “family gravity” describes what makes successful family businesses different from non-family businesses. According to Fernández-Aráoz, while family firms need the same operational governance structures as non-family enterprises, they also must nurture what makes them special as family enterprises.

Different than leadership, to have “family gravity” means there is at least one and as many as three family members who are—like the sun at the center of our solar system—at the center of the family organization. “These people personify the corporate identity and align differing interests around clearly defined values and a common vision… And they have strong personalities that draw talented people into their orbits and keep them there.”1  This central group focuses on a long view of the future “on the next generation, not the next quarter.”2

Like the gravity of physics, this center of “family gravity” has properties that attract—in this case the ingredients for success—and the weight to influence shape and form—in this case the dynamics and legacy of the family and the business as they travel into their future.
 
For a conversation about the gravity in your family enterprise contact me by email at rickraymond@thefamilybusinessleader.com. To talk please call: 212-777-0083.

1 Fernández-Aráoz, C.F., Iqbal, S., Jörg Ritter, J. Leadership Lessons from Great Family Businesses. Harvard Business review. Available at https://hbr.org/2015/04/leadership-lessons-from-great-family-businesses

2 Ibid.