Business is Business and Family is Family

As families come together for Christmas, it is appropriate to discuss the balance in our lives between business and family. In a healthy family business there is a clear line separating business and family. In other words, business is business and family is family.


But in most family businesses the line between work and family gets blurred. Am I talking to my parent or the CEO?  My daughter or my employee?  In ranching, where you live inside your business, the line may be nonexistent.  When you are at home, you are at work and when you are at work you are still at home.  


This boundary between work and life is important.  Without it, what we do becomes who we are.  If what you do is who you are, who are you when you stop doing?  How do you make the transition to the next generation?  It often happens over Dad’s dead body, literally.  Without the line between work and life, how do you hold family members accountable in the business without having a food fight at Christmas dinner?


The line between family and business becomes sharper when we hold regular WOTB (Working On The Business) meetings.  WOTB meetings focus on the important issues facing the business. They provide an effective forum for having business discussions and making strategic and tactical decisions.   


It is probably unrealistic to keep business related discussions out of the bedroom and away from the dinner table. If you are lying in bed staring at the ceiling in a cold sweat at 2:00 a.m. worrying about your cash flow, you need to be able to express those concerns.  But that’s WATB (Worrying About The Business) not WOTB.  If you had held some effective WOTB meetings you’d be sleeping at 2 a.m.  That is especially important this time of year because that’s about the time Santa usually tries to do his thing.  If Santa skips you this year, you may need to do more WOTB next year. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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  1. Wow! There’s a lot of good stuff in your comment. Let’s start with your comment about “separation of self from ideas…” That is a really powerful way to approach things…and not only when it comes to separating the business relationship from the family relationship we have in our homes and businesses. If we can separate our selves from our ideas, then when out ideas are challenged, we it’s just our ideas being attacked, not us. Wouldn’t it be something if we could debate our ideas with a completely open mind so that if you have a better solution than mine I can embrace it. Unfortunately, too often we are more concerned with being right than getting the best solution..and I think that stems back to not separating ourselves from our ideas.

    As far as how to do all this, separate our family life and our business life, our ideas from ourselves, etc…well, I think there are 3 things that can help:

    1. It starts with being aware of our tendency to merge all of these things into one blurry mess. We need to have enough self awareness to notice when we blur the lines. Getting defensive in a conversation about issues is a pretty good sign that we are blurring the lines.

    2. Recognize the value of keeping our business life and family life and our selves and our ideas separate. Then commit to approaching that goal. (I doubt that it is possible to do that 1005 of the time.)

    3. Learn and apply tools to make it happen. You mentioned WOTB meetings, and they are an effective way of addressing business issues separately from family issues. But there are other tools that can be used in or out of WOTB sessions that can help. A couple of these include, Edward DeBobo’s 6 Thinking Hats and the empathic listening process we teach in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course.

    The 6 thinking hats provide a structured process to explore the up side of an idea, the down side, the known facts, what is unknown, potential alternatives and the emotions surrounding an issue.

    Empathic listening means listening to understand. Most of the time I think most of us listen to respond, not to understand. When someone is talking to us, it is often only 4 or 5 words into their first a sentence when we are formulating our reply…at that point we’ve stopped listening.

    I’ve started to ramble here, but your response to my article are appreciated and thought provoking. Thanks.


  2. Dave,
    Thanks I always look forward to the information you share.


  3. Dave, I liked the article, and then I thought, so how does one affect this idea. Now, I do know, myself, but working with others I have come to realize that people do not always understand how to separate personhood from business, how to separate a sense of self from their own idea. So, people need to learn how to actually have a WOTB meeting, how to communicate, how to develop ideas and discuss them without getting into deeper personal politics. There are always some politics, but separation of self from the ideas, the tasks, the activities, and the business does allow us to move through conversations more easily, to learn, grow, and accomplish different ends. How to communicate, how to facilitate has possibly a greater affect on the benefit of the meeting than the ideas themselves. I can have a good idea, but I cannot affect it until there are others willing to join in, and first they need to join in on the conversation in a proactive, non-defensive, way. I often talk to my chilren about the benefit of working with the process of conversation. When a person, becomes positioned, the “conversation” ends and begins to veer towards a debate …. and who “wins” then?

    Best to you,

    George Kahrl. Winifred Montana. I used to ranch in Willow Creek, but sold the real estate, moved the operation, doubled the carrying capacity and diversified and came to understand fully the adjunct of “…. land and livestock”. Two very different assets, and different business considerations. It was easier for me as I am a sole operator. I have no other family members involved in the business so changes are more easy for me to affect.
    I took a Ranching for Profit course about ten years ago in Bozeman. I took all the flip chart sheets home and nailed them to the wall of the shop. I retook the course in the fall of 07 and have enjoyed both.

    Happy Holidays,

    George Kahrl


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