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Mindfulness In The Family Enterprise


If family enterprise is a mindset, then being more mindful seems fundamental to this effort. Awareness changes everything: You can’t address an issue or work on something until you are aware of it. So if you aren’t cultivating awareness as a leader, in your family, and your enterprises then you are at greater risk.


As a family dealing with exponential change and interdependency, Stephanie Kilroy at the Traynor Family Enterprise (an organization that self-identifies as a family enterprise) after having roles on the Family Council, in Human Resources, and on the Board of Directors, has created with broad support, a new and compensated role of Governance Director. That ability to step back and reframe things beyond the conventional way of thinking is increased by mindfulness, something Stephanie practices.


The world today is changing, that certainly includes the worlds of family, family business and the emerging model of family enterprise. Here are the factors that are deeply redefining family business and more broadly, our lives:


Exponential change, complexity, and increasing interdependency. One thought leader posits that we will experience 20,000 years of change in this century measured by today’s rate of change. As change amps up dramatically in all areas of life from technology to genetics to national security and even how we define family, remember: everything affects everything.


Innovation and entrepreneurship. There is a need to more rapidly incrementally improve all that we do (we get app updates daily) but perhaps more challengingly we have to work to learn to not unduly resist breakthrough innovation. Families have to maintain values but not mistake innovation for lack of loyalty to the values.


Reframing shareholder value to shareholder values. The bottom line may be that the singular focus on the bottom line may be coming obsolete. Increasingly traction is being gained by notions such as the triple bottom line (profits, people, and planet), as well as in the family wealth field, Jay Hughes four sources of capital (intellectual, social, human, and financial) shows there is a growing need for a more holistic way to define success for families working together.


We believe that all these factors are helping to necessitate the emergence of a family enterprise model (to paraphrase the old adage: necessity is the mother of innovation).


Over a quarter century of solid research in both the academic and medical realms have validated—for the Western mind, the legitimacy and benefits of mindfulness. It has become mainstream as evidenced by its presence everywhere from Google to elementary schools to top athletes-even the Navy Seals.


In this world that borders on chaos, we as family members, but especially those of us leading our family (business) through change realize there are risks attendant to this new environment:

  • We, perhaps especially Gen Y’s, don’t have time to reflect.

  • White space, so necessary for reflection and creativity is becoming rare.

  • Intimacy with oneself, in ones relationships, the present moment, and even with ideas is being lost.

  • A subtle but profound point is that our unproductive or even unhealthy attachment to things is easier to miss (i.e. a growing blind spot).

The benefits of mindfulness have been relevant for millennia, but never as much as today. One meditation teacher I worked with described meditation; considered the most direct route to mindfulness, as solvent for the ego. Who doesn’t know a leader that could use a healthy does of solvent for their ego (really couldn’t we all)?


That greater awareness cultivates the ability to step back from a situation or system be that your own ego, your own organization, or your own family. How do you cultivate mindfulness? A full discussion of that may well be beyond this article but simple, secular mediation is the most basic and direct approach.


Innovation and entrepreneurship: Mark Peters, CEO and President of Butterball Farms, Inc., has been a bold social entrepreneur who reframed the role of businesses in doing social good in communities through his highly innovative social entrepreneurial program The Source. This program has reframed how (family) business leaders can help develop the talent, careers, and lives of people in the state of Michigan and has become a model the state and federal government are very interested in replicating. Mark is a life-long learner, meditator, and creates time daily for reflection.


If Family Enterprise is a mindset, then being more mindful seems fundamental to this effort. Everyone, especially the leadership needs to have an ongoing practice. Then analogous to getting in shape, this needs to be ongoing. It helps to start with an assessment, ongoing benchmarks, and stated goals (both process and outcomes). What better place to combine these essential elements of life: innovation and intimacy?


Redefining shareholder value to shareholder values: The Luck Stone Company has invested a decade of adopting values-based leadership and seeks to develop its people. This work has led to the creation of their leadership institute which champions mindfulness for everyone both inside and outside the Luck Company. Their company mission is “Igniting Potential”. They are driven by why, by doing good to do well, and have a culture where the values drive the numbers- not vice a versa.


As the world becomes more complex our leaders will have to be more evolved, more mindful. Family enterprises will always be more complex by their very nature. Thus if you as a leader aren’t cultivating your awareness with a mindfulness practice, you are missing out on a way to help yourself, your family, and your enterprises.


FACT: Family Enterprise an emerging model

This is an evolving term that families, practitioners, and scholars will help define, but my perspective is that family enterprise is a mindset that puts greater emphasis on the family being aligned, cohesive and developing a practice to be more agile in dealing with the challenges facing all its enterprises (be it a family office, a foundation, and/or multiple businesses). The mindset will shift the emphasis from the business to the family and seek to capitalize the family’s involvement to make it a strategic and cultural advantage. Research shows that the top 5% of leaders tend to have a daily reflective practice.


FACT: White space and reflection for innovation and intimacy.

Ori Brafman, author of The Chaos Imperative puts forth that one of the three aspects of creating an innovative culture is white space that he defines as time to reflect. White space is vital to creating, which is what innovation is: creating change that creates value. Perhaps even more important is reflection and being present. Intimacy requires that you be present. Reflection is how we put meaning to our lives.

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