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Articles - Stress in the Family Business

Survivor Entrepreneurs; Strengths lie in vision, efficiency, leadership

Thursday, March 11, 2004




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

If you recognize yourself in this short quiz, then you are probably a survivor entrepreneur, someone who overcame great obstacles to accomplish their dreams in life. Many entrepreneurs fit this profile.

For example, if you are impatient with details, it is because you are a big picture thinker. You are a visionary who can see the outcome before the average person. While the details are important in creating the outcome, without the vision, your life can become nothing but maintaining the details of life. You are impatient with details and with people who spend their days committed to details. But without those detail people, would you have anyone to help you turn your dreams into reality? Others don't really work too slowly, but it appears so to the survivor personality.

Because your survival depended upon quick action and attending to what was immediately necessary to accomplish your dream, this type of entrepreneur has honed efficiency to a fine science. Grass does not grow under your feet. Your gaze is constantly on the horizon, looking for the next opportunity or the next problem to solve.

If you're a passenger in the car (which is usually not the case!) you tell the driver to turn right at the next intersection before arriving at the intersection. It seems slow and inefficient to you to tell the driver only as you arrive at the intersection or even after you have passed it, which is what the "slow" people do. However, those slow people do enjoy the ride more than you do. For them the fun is on the way to the destination.

Your ability to do a lot of work is based upon efficiency and vision. Because you already can see where you're going and because you are constantly scanning the environment for improvements, you are a marvel at being in the right place at the right time. However, when you err, you are exceptionally hard on yourself.

Yes the survivor entrepreneur makes things happen. He or she is a bundle of energy that few can keep up with. Because of your uncanny insight and charisma, you have the ability to be a great leader too. People admire you for your talents. They want to share in your good fortune by helping in some small way.

Be aware of the important responsibility that you carry. A leader who engenders this kind of trust has to be extremely ethical. Do not assume because your charisma has won people over that those same people fully understand what they are agreeing to. You are the one with the vision. You need to be responsible to lead people where the need and want to go, not just what is best for you.

Many survivor entrepreneurs underestimate their strengths. They often assume that others have the same level of tenacity, the same ability to work hard that they do. They may think others are lazy or weak because they can't keep up. The survivor entrepreneur believes that all it takes is applying him or herself to succeed. However, it's important for the survivor entrepreneur to realize that your big picture thinking is what has made you successful, not necessarily hard work. Because you can anticipate fairly accurately what the next move should be this saves you time, energy and many mistakes.

Others who do not have this skill must learn by trial and error, a timely and more laborious step-by-linear-step process. Not everyone has this visionary ability. It is your gift and one that should be used generously and wisely. Others have different gifts to contribute that are just as valuable, but without visionary ability, they really can't so easily understand what you grasp in an instant. So take the time to walk them through what you know. When they do understand your picture, you may find that the detail person or the linear thinker has a profound contribution that you overlooked.

The word survivor is used to describe this type of entrepreneur because you have overcome extreme hardship to arrive at your successes. Some of you grew up in poverty. Some of you never knew one or even both of your parents. Some of you have overcome illness, physical disability, a poor education or learning problems to achieve the American Dream.

Some people wither in the face of adversity but not the survivor entrepreneur. He or she views adversity as a challenge, as an opportunity to prove what he or she is made of. The adversity may not be pleasant, but conquering it is a thrill. In a crisis the survivor entrepreneur is the hero.

However, it is important for survivors to be careful not to make a life of surviving. Some survivor entrepreneurs keep creating crises in their lives, often unconsciously, so that they can get the thrill of mastering the crisis. The entrepreneur may be able to handle this excitement but your family and friends may tire quickly of the emotional roller coaster.

Save the surviving for real adversity and take the time to stop and smell the roses with the ones you love. There are deep and profound rewards in the tiny things that occupy ordinary life too, if you will explore that territory. Just ask your child or grandchild to lead you to this simple life, even if only once in a while.

Entrepreneurs should tackle the new year with new priorities

Thursday, December 25, 2003




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Remember good stress is as draining as bad stress. January can be a time to recoup and restore your energy and peace of mind.

January is also a time to build a foundation for the goals you want to accomplish this year. It's a long cold spell until our spring arrives in the Northwest. Use this time to rest, reflect and plan, but don't be too busy. Time enough for that come April.

However, entrepreneurs are usually not ones to take this advice.

With the distraction of the holidays behind them, they quickly launch into new projects come January first. Entrepreneurs are good at accomplishing goals, but not all that good at establishing healthy goals.

Before you launch into your typical January behavior, however, I'd like you to finish reading this column and gain a better understanding of how to make New Year's Resolutions that actually stick this year.

Many people walk around with feelings of fear and unworthiness. They are afraid to ask for what they want and therefore continue lives of failure, loneliness and desperation. Entrepreneurs fall victim to this mentality too.

You may think that entrepreneurs represent the epitome of going for what they want. However, often what drives an entrepreneur to success is a deep-seated fear of inadequacy, or a desire to impress others.

With many entrepreneurs, the focus is on what they don't have, not on what they do have. I have had many a self-made millionaire tell me they wished they could do their life over and have different priorities.

Those different priorities would include true understanding of the self and planning a life to maximize deeply held values and beliefs.

Let the New Year bring self-acceptance.

Because January first brings us the opportunity to make New Year's Resolutions, I think it is about time to start a new tradition, that of appreciating ourselves for who we are. As one bumper sticker proclaims, "God doesn't make junk." Let your New Year's Resolution this year be "I will accept myself totally and unconditionally and be the best I can be this year."

If you can appreciate who you are, that each and every day you are making a valuable contribution to your community by just doing your everyday thing (not overachieving), then you will have a much more prosperous new year.

You will notice your talents more and strengthen them. You will notice your flaws more too, but you can build a plan to correct them.

Those opportunities that always come to others, will finally come to you. The opportunities have always been there, but your tendency to focus on losses and inadequacies prevents you from seeing the obvious and taking advantage of it to make your life work even better.

If you have been successful accomplishing other people's goals, think how much you can really accomplish if you lead your own life.

Change your paradigm.


OK so it is hard to shake off years of self-imposed negativity or a belief that if you are not perfect or the best, you have failed. And you have failed at all previous New Year's Resolutions, so why should this time be any different? This time, however, you have a new paradigm to work with. Instead of focusing on what's wrong in your life, you are going to pay attention to what is right. These tips will help you get started.

100% of the people in the world have problems, serious problems at some time in their lives and usually regularly. You are not alone in this.

  1. You are not broken just because you are hurt (or angry, or ignorant, or misinformed, or make a mistake). Remember that being hurt is a symptom of something that needs changing.
  2. Bad things do happen to good people. Being good is not the goal. Maturing is.
  3. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. If you continue to brood over the past, maybe it's because you haven't learned from it what you need. Search for the lesson.
  4. Not everything in life can be changed, nor should it be. Accept the things you cannot change.
  5. Trust that you have the resources within yourself to make the changes you need and want to make. You may not know what those resources are, but trust that they will come to you one way or another.

Self-acceptance turns crisis into opportunity.

OK, so now that your paradigm has shifted, do you notice anything different?

Are the colors a little brighter? Is there a bounce in your walk? Are you making more money?

Do you feel love all around? No? Well that's because, you still have work to do. Just because you think differently doesn't mean there's nothing left to do. Now the hard work of change is necessary. But at least you have the right attitude to get you to your goals.

If you recognize that life is a complex and problem-filled arena designed to assist you on your quest toward wisdom and maturity (just as it is for everyone else), then when you have a problem you'll face it squarely with full self-acceptance. You'll dig in, assess, diagnose and search out the meaning. You will use all the strengths at your disposal to create workable solutions. At the end you'll be a little smarter, a little wiser, a little stronger, a little saner.

Long ago I learned that the Kanji for "crisis" is made of two figures. The first is "danger" and the second is "opportunity." With self-acceptance securely under your belt, you will be able to wrest the opportunity out of any danger.

Although not all problems can be solved necessarily, all problems can produce learning in preparation for the next step in life. Use your New Year's Resolution of self acceptance to help you live the life you were meant to have and to take you where "no one has gone before" to paraphrase Start Trek.

In other words, instead of just accomplishing things, instead of impressing others, instead of striving to be perfect, make your New Year's Resolution to accomplish those things that really have value to you.

Happy New Year!

Spiritual component essential to healthy entrepreneurial life

Friday, April 11, 2003




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Not only do entrepreneurs have the normal stressors that plague all career-minded Americans, such as the competing demands of love and work, but they have the added stress of having these domains of life overlap considerably.

Working long hours, working out of your homes, or working and living with your spouse/business partner twenty-four hours a day leaves little time to recuperate inner strength. As the stress increases and the opportunity for recuperation diminishes, many entrepreneurs fall victim to stress related illnesses, mental or emotional problems, chemical dependency, and spiritual despair.

The process of losing your health (physical, psychological, interpersonal or otherwise) begins long before symptoms develop. The stress process begins the moment you allow any part of your life to be out of alignment. If one system (such as your body, your marriage, your work, etc.) is unattended or allowed to stay out of healthy alignment for too long, it affects the other systems which in turn produce stress and deterioration.

In order to keep your dynamic systems in healthy productive alignment, entrepreneurs need to attend to and take care of the whole person, in relationship to other whole people, in relationship to the whole business entity. In other words, you cannot really separate the mind, body and spirit. These are not separate distinct parts of yourself, but interacting developing progressions, just as the other systems (i.e., family, friends, coworkers, employees, customers) of which you are a part.

Mind, body, spirit

The basic components that makes us human are the mind, the body and the life force or essence that some call spirit. Unresolved stress in any one of these areas will affect the other areas, leading to a breakdown in your functioning as an entrepreneur, a spouse, a parent, a colleague and so on. If you are going to manage the excessive stresses of entrepreneurial life you actually need more stamina than the average person.

To combat the pressures caused by the competing demands of love and work and to build the necessary stamina for this complex lifestyle, you must build a power plan to maintain and enhance your health not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.

This article will focus on the development of your spiritual power plan, taking for granted for the moment that your mind and body are well cared for. Even if this last assumption is not true, too little attention is paid to the spiritual component of entrepreneurial life and I want to correct that error.

Spirit or spirituality are not synonymous with religion or religious. Church has nothing to do with spirituality directly. Rather the spirit is that part of each human that makes us a distinctive personality. It is the part of us that defines us and yet connects us to others. It has long been known that a strong healthy spirit will guide us successfully through adversity, whereas a conquered spirit will succumb to illness and death. It was Mother Theresa's strong spirit that transcended her small stature and seemingly insignificant role as a nun to profoundly affect thousands of people for the better.

Conversely, It is the conquered spirit that explains the powerful effects of subtle forms of brain washing in prisoner-of-war camps. In other words, spirit is that singular life force that directs and shapes our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, keeping spirit or life force healthy is essential to the process of achieving healthy balance in any life. For entrepreneurs especially, the key to effective stress management is the proper alignment and interaction of a healthy mind, a healthy body, and a healthy spirit.

90 percent believe in God


Remember that spirit is not bound by religion. Many successful entrepreneurs do not belong to a church nor any religion, but they do have a strong sense of spirit and they do believe in God. According to Gallup Polls as recent as 1997, 90% of Americans believe in God.

The spirit connection is not just a belief in God but the ability to relate to God, often through communities such as churches provide. The healthiest Americans are among those religious groups who have a strong identity with their church. For example Matthews and Koenig reported in 1997 that even if you control for dietary practices, Mormons, Jews and Seventh Day Adventists are healthier than other Americans. These three religious groups are known for their strong sense of religious community.

Therefore, it is not the religion, per se, that contributes to overall health, but the intensity of the commitment to spirit whether by being a member of a religious community or by maintaining a spiritual connection in some other way.

Religion without science is blind

Einstein once said, "Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame." As we move into the twenty first century we are realizing the truth of this statement more and more. Entrepreneurs are not different from other people on the planet. We are part of something much more than the sum of the parts. Those who embrace their spirit connection are finding greater health and prosperity and science is starting to prove it.

For example, in a Duke University study by Herb Koenig, elderly patients who are regular church attenders stayed in the hospital a shorter length of time (ten days on average) than those patients who did not attend church (twenty-five days.) In another study (Graham, Kaplan, Coroni-Huntley, James, Becker, Hames, and Heyden, 1978) researchers compared smokers' blood pressure among participants who were two-pack-a-day smokers. Those who attended church had lower blood pressure than those who did not; indeed the church attenders had blood pressure that was no different than those who did not smoke. In a third study (Desmond and Maddox, 1981), this on of heroin addicts, researchers reported that 45 percent of participants in a religiously oriented treatment program were still abstinent at the time of a one year follow-up, compared to only 5 percent who participated in a non-religious program.

It is true that you cannot always prevent pain. Although change is constant, you cannot always predict accurately what those changes will be and pain may be a natural by product of the interaction of your dynamically interacting systems. Yet if you have a healthy spiritual connection your suffering may be minimized, as the previous few studies indicate. For Viktor Frankl, a Jew confined in a Nazi concentration camp: "Man is not diminished by suffering, but by suffering without meaning."

Research shows power of prayer

Many methods of relaxation have been studied, including prayer. While prayer does not achieve any greater relaxation than for example, transcendental meditation (TM), other research has indeed shown the healing (not just relaxing) power of prayer. In fact, those who are prayed for, even though they do not pray for themselves, heal faster.

It is time to make not just new years resolutions but resolutions for a lifetime. If working hard to make an entrepreneurial business successful and profitable results in workaholism, drug addiction, financial problems, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs and divorce, what's the point? Even if your life has led you in one of these stressful directions, don't despair. Make meaning of the experience and put the disaster into the context of your life. Then reorient that life to meet your values.

If one of those values is a belief in God (as is true for 90% of Americans), yet you are not attending to that spiritual relationship, the balance in your life is compromised and will inevitably lead you to some form of personal or interpersonal dysfunction.

On the other hand, if you develop a stronger sense of self, a sense of self as belonging to something larger than just this earthly existence, and you make a commitment to that higher self (i.e. through prayer or inner contemplation), even when you have suffering, you will have a meaningful and prosperous life to share with the ones you love and work with.

Recognizing manipulation can save the family business

Thursday, March 13, 2003




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S., P.S.

How many of you will admit that you secretly admire the con artist? Even if you have been conned yourself, don't you think that the victims are just a little too naive? Don't you harbor just a little desire to get something for nothing just as the con does? Don't you wish you could be so clever?

The truth is that the con knows that you are not so different from him or her. The only real difference is that you have created an illusion that you are different, that you would never stoop to manipulation, that you would never willfully take advantage of another person. Because you are not so different, but are in denial about it, the con swoops in and relieves you of your money, your pride or your sense of safety.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the confidence game as it is played everyday in families and family firms throughout America. Snowing the ones you love creates incredible suffering not just in the short run but potentially for generations.

If you are to learn about the confidence game in your own family and family firm, the first thing you need to recognize is that you are just as capable as anyone of being manipulative. As difficult as it is to admit that we can be conned, it is even more difficult to admit that we can do the conning. However, the mark and the con are two sides of the same coin.

To investigate your manipulative qualities, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Are you in sales? 2. Does your business require that you use persuasion, diplomacy, and charm? 3. Have you ever lied? 4. Have you ever taken advantage of another's ignorance or naiveté? 5. Have you kept something you didn't pay for? 6. Have you ever cried in order to get your way? 7. Have you ever intimidated your opponent into capitulating? 8. Have you ever hurt someone else? 9. When you have hurt someone else, did you say, "I didn't mean to do it." 10. Have you kept a secret to avoid conflict? 11. Have you ever "dropped names"? 12. Have you ever changed the subject when the topic was too close for comfort? 13. Just once, was money your only concern?

The tools of persuasion, diplomacy and charm can be used ethically or unethically. They are like a hammer and screwdriver. The hammer and screwdriver can be used to build a house or to break into someone's home. The choice is up to the individual using the tools.

Likewise, persuasion, diplomacy and charm can be used to swindle or to negotiate a mutually rewarding settlement.

If you truly want to end the con game within your family firm, you need to take a look at your own manipulative nature. Being conscious of your own manipulations, even the ones that you didn't mean to do, allows you to be ethical. With consciousness comes choice. Choosing to be ethical in your communications and dealings with others requires that you take the time to understand others and to be understood fully. There is no room for conning. The risk of destroying trust is too great.

The word con is actually an abbreviation for confidence. Therefore the con game is really the confidence game. The success of the game is to create confidence within the victim for the manipulator.

By having confidence in the con artist, we are handing over our trust, or temporarily suspending our disbelief. No matter how outrageous the con's behavior, once that person has your trust and confidence, the con artist can have their way with you.

Some of you may already know some of the signals of a scam and pride yourself on escaping. Some of the less well-known signals are more intuitive, however.

Feeling ashamed is a signal of manipulation. Feeling impressed or awed is another one. Feeling special or flattered by attention from someone you hardly know is a giveaway. An obvious clue to a con game is when there is no pay off to you. A little trickier is recognizing that you are being used when you are doing more work than the other person in the relationship. When the other person never seems to come through for you, but always has a good excuse, you can be sure you are being manipulated.

Less recognizable are the signals that you are doing the manipulation. But an easy test is to ask yourself how you would feel if the tables were turned. For example, when you hear those words "I didn't mean to, " how does it make you feel? Do you feel mad, confused, trapped? As much as forgiveness is a virtue, so is taking responsibility for one's mistakes and correcting them.

The person who uses the "I didn't mean it" con game is not taking full responsibility for their error. It's as if no wrongdoing was done if the person I didn't mean to. So the next time those words start forming on your lips, stop and make a straightforward apology for your actions and offer to clean up the problem, whether you committed the deed accidentally or intentionally.

Another way to investigate your own manipulative nature is to ask others how they feel. In a family this is a perfectly legitimate question. Because you may be hot on an idea and have charmingly persuaded everyone else to cooperative with you, does not mean they all agree with you.

Check it out. If you have bullied the others into submission, or charmed them into acquiescing, but deep down inside they do not agree, what kind of agreement do you really have? How much support are you really going to get in the long run? Do you really have your family's trust or are they just afraid of you?

Recently I met a very well known and successful businessman who is unaware of his covert con game. He is charming, persuasive and has many followers who agree with his every word, including family members. He makes frequent and generous promises which he does not fulfill. He keeps lunch dates waiting for hours. He jokes about his lack of follow through because he is such a busy man. He makes expensive propositions to others as if he is interested in partnering, yet he never puts his checkbook on the line. His behavior is so outrageous that it is amazing that others do not catch onto him. But the truth is the worst con artist is the one who believes in his or her own scam.

If your goal is to make a lot of money or to have a lot of power, and you don't care how you do it, then there is no point in your reading this article. But if you truly want to prosper as a family as well as a family in business, then it requires time to clean up the covert confidence games that are played at home and at work with the ones you love.

Resolving conflict can protect the family unit and business

Thursday, February 13, 2003




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Ask yourself who you would rather work with, a family member or a trusted friend or colleague. List five family members whom you trust and five friends or colleagues whom you trust. Of these ten people, with whom would you choose to start a brand new business?

When I asked this question recently of attendees at a trade show, the majority said they would work with a friend before they would a family member. Their reasoning is that they wouldn't want to risk alienating a family member and upsetting the entire family if the business partnership should not work out. What is most interesting about their responses is that a good 90% of the attendees were already working in a family firm!

While the rewards of working with the ones you love are many, such as the benefit of working with someone whom you trust and who will work as hard as you do, there are significant liabilities. The major one that plagues most family firms is the inability to resolve conflict constructively. This inability leads to resentment, hostility, alienation and family feuds.

Family firms have the unique distinction of blending both the needs of a family and the needs of a thriving business. While the goal of the business is growth through competition, the goal of the family is to nurture and protect all family members. As a result, family firms grow more slowly than non-family owned firms because the business growth is compromised by the need to protect family members, even those who do not really belong in the business.

Conflict in any family is disagreeable, but it is even more so in a family that also works together. Ordinary conflicts that other business owners have to deal with are submerged in a family business for fear of "hurting" a family member's feelings, or offending one's parent or spouse. The need to protect the family system, to keep this system in tact, is quite strong. All of us grew up with the knowledge that to betray a family rule was to risk the safety of the family.

Anthropologists suggest that this protection of the family system is a part of our survival as a species. We seem to have a genetic need to belong to a family where we can share food, shelter and emotional comfort with our kinfolk. Political experiments that disrupt the standard family unit usually do not last. Research is even showing that children learn better in school if educators structure assignments to better represent individual student's family values.

Given that belonging to a family is a stronger need than striking out on one's own, families tend to discourage conflict and confrontation. This keeps family members home. However, in a business, avoiding conflict can lead to serious problems. Sometimes out of conflicts arise tremendous ideas for the growth and success of the business. Wrestling with ideas brings out resolutions never before thought of and it often clears the path for junior members of an organization to show what they are made of. But in family firms, all too often conflicts get submerged rather than aired in a healthy context.

Those of you who currently work with your spouse or other family members may be thinking that conflict is rampant in your family. The problem is that the frequent fighting may not be solving anything. When ordinary conflicts get submerged as they too often do in family firms, things fester. Family members may brood or bicker but never really confront the issue head on. Sometimes there is a major blow up at the office, but this is not healthy confrontation. This is merely "letting off steam," only to have it build up again until the next fight.

Some of the signs of submerged conflict in family firms are (1) the increase in alcoholism and drug dependence among family firm members; (2) infidelity and multiple marriages or liaisons; (3) child abuse; (4) acting-out children (i.e., poor grades, suicide threats, drug abuse, numerous traffic violations, disregard for the rights of others); (5) chronic depression; (6) frequent fighting to no end.

In order to get to the bottom of conflicts, family firm members need to be brave. You need to trust that you are doing what's best for the family as well as the business by confronting family problems. Even if you have the minority view, it may be an important view. In your family and family firm there may be room for more than one view.

Confrontation need not be nasty and abusive. Confrontation is just "taking the bull by the horns." Be respectful but firm. Acknowledge that you may not be right, but that the family needs to talk. Keep talking until the family has come to a mutually agreeable solution.

Most people report that they feel closer to those with whom they have resolved conflicts. The misunderstandings that lead to the conflicts are often just that, misunderstandings, not a major difference in values. And if you discover that there is a major difference in values and these differences are not good for the business, it's best to discover these differences so that sound business decisions can be made. If a father and son really want to take the business in different directions, perhaps they should part the business, not maintain a cool emotional distance from each other in the office.

But rest assured whether a member leaves the business or not, the family goes on forever. Conflict and confrontation strengthen a family, despite the unpleasantness in the moment of unresolved dissension. While it's true that families take on different shapes and sizes over the years as children marry, grandchildren are born, founders die, even an occasional divorce, the family as an entity survives. The same cannot be said for a business. It can be sold or dissolved permanently.

One of my daughters brought home this poem by an unknown author and I think it sums up the values that any family business should be proud to live by.

Our family's like a patchwork quilt
With kindness gently sewn.
Each piece is an original
With a beauty of its own.
With threads of warmth and happiness
It's tightly stitched together
To last in love throughout the years
Our family is forever.

Balancing act during holidays can take its toll

Thursday, December 05, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"SHOWER - COFFEE - GO!" That's how one young husband and owner of a successful family firm starts his day. His wife of five years, however, has a much more complex morning routine.

After making her husband's coffee, she feeds the baby his bottle until he falls asleep again. Then she wakes the toddler, dresses him and gets his breakfast. After brushing the toddler's teeth, he goes off to play leaving Mom to shower and dress for work. Before the wife leaves the house she confers with the nanny about any last minute needs of the baby. Then she gathers up the toddler and leaves for work. After dropping the toddler off at day-care, she arrives at work by 9:00 am. Did she get breakfast?

By this time the factory is humming. The husband is deep into his work behind closed doors. The young wife takes the next hour to "check in" with the supervisors and foremen. She chats with the employees as she walks through the hall to her office. Once behind her desk, she works non-stop, as does her husband for the remainder of the day, which often lasts well into the evening. They rarely see each other throughout the workday except for a cursory "check-in" regarding mutual decisions. Lunch is an apple or a cup of yogurt at their desks.

The daily routine of this couple is typical of entrepreneurial couples. Not all entrepreneurial couples have young children, nor do they work in the same building. Some ride to work together. Some work out of their homes. But regardless of the physical differences the one thing these couples have in common is the hard work of balancing the two worlds of marital relationship and business partnership --- or LOVE AND WORK.

This balancing act can take its toll on a couple, the family and the business, especially at during the holiday season, with the added stress of preparing for the holiday. There are vacations to plan for, employee bonuses and Christmas parties, out of town guests, last minute "rush" orders to fill, school and community functions to attend, and so on. The research shows that generally the stress is felt most strongly by the wife, who must manage the additional holiday responsibilities along with the routine family responsibilities and her work responsibilities.

While the husband feels the pressure too, he can compensate by working longer hours at the business. Herein, lies the problems for many entrepreneurial couples. Although it is tiring to work longer hours, it is actually more tiring to have to juggle two jobs (home and work), two schedules and two different kinds of responsibilities, as any entrepreneurial wife is aware. Anyone who has worked rotating shifts knows what a toll it takes on one's health and social life.

The two worlds of Love and Work are very different really. Trying to bring them together in a family-owned business creates constant friction. The reason for this constant friction is that the purpose or the drive behind the business is competition and growth. Whereas, the purpose or drive behind a family organization is nurturing and protection of family members. The interaction of these two systems (family and business) necessitates accommodations to each system.

Add to this difficult balancing act the stresses of the holiday season and the likelihood of an "explosion" during the holidays is dramatically increased. Actually the explosion is just as likely to happen after Christmas with the post-holiday depression. Not only is business slower than before Christmas, but all of the illusions we harbor about warm family togetherness at the holidays may not have been fulfilled.

There are several things you can do to prevent the worst possible case scenario and to have a much more meaningful Family/Business holiday season. First, assess the division of responsibilities between husband and wife. Is it really necessary that the majority of the burden be carried by the wife to maintain the family? Perhaps she is better suited to the task, especially when there are young children, but it certainly takes its toll on the marriage to have the worlds of love and work so rigidly defined. With baby changing tables now being installed in the Men's room, it's not so hard for dads to assume more of these responsibilities.

Secondly, assess your expectations of the holiday season. Remember now that you both work. The typical entrepreneurial husband works 60 hours a week in the business. The typical entrepreneurial wife works 49 hours a week in the business; then she goes home and puts in another 49! Don't expect that you can attend every function or have a perfectly decorated home. Some people even eat Christmas dinner at a restaurant. In other words, look at your work and home responsibilities and decide what you can and can't reasonably be expected to accomplish.

Thirdly, along the lines of expectations, dig down deep and look at your feelings about the holidays. Many people don't have extended kin to visit at Christmas. Many people even have unpleasant memories about previous holidays.

Many people are experiencing current problems in their lives that won't go away with Christmas or New Years. Don't stick your head in the sand and pretend that wishing will make this holiday a warm, wonderful Norman Rockwell affair. Notice your feelings --- sadness, anger, grief --- and if they are intense talk to a psychologist. Dealing with your feelings now will enable you to ease through the season and prevent the explosions that come from built up stress due to unrealized expectations.

Finally use those entrepreneurial traits that set you apart from other people, such as individualism, creativity, determination, willingness to work hard. With your spouse negotiate the kind of unique relationship that works best for you. Don't rely on stereotypes to define your roles at work and home. You can set up anything you want; you're the boss.

Also Norman Rockwell Christmases are not the only kind to have. Start some new traditions that fit your lifestyle. For example, spend a quiet Christmas Eve at home. Or if you have no extended kin to visit, invite friends over. Instead of a garish display of presents under the tree for the children, take gifts to the local children's hospital. Cater dinner. Have pizza. Someday your grandchildren will think that Christmas has always been a pizza party followed by a trip to the children's hospital to sing carols.

Recognize and interpret problems before the crisis occurs

Thursday, October 31, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


It may be time-consuming to learn that new computer program, or to revamp your marketing strategy, or to take time from work just to go for a walk, but in the long run you may save yourself a lot of grief. All too often we apply a band-aid when surgery was needed.

When problem solving the first question to ask yourself is, "Is this thing I am observing the signal or the problem?" Recognizing and interpreting the signals that others give us is quite a complex process I realize, but you can improve your skills. And if you are willing to take the time to learn, you can stop a number of crises before they materialize.

For example, I often hear from family business owners that they do not have enough time to attend to themselves or their personal relationships. It's all work and no play. This is a signal that if ignored will grow into a more serious problem.

You need to ask yourself why are you working so hard? Is that your goal? Most people own a family firm because they have a close-knit family who enjoys being together and who can share their talents in a join venture. But if you are too busy managing the nuts and bolts of the business and have no time to really enjoy and communicate with your family, aren't you overriding one of the reasons why you started a family business in the first place?

Mistaking signals for the problem is another common error. When a person is angry or aggressive, we tend to listen, but when a person is quiet or passive, we tend to ignore them. Actually, those behaviors are signals of something. Just what they are signals of remains to be discovered.

When one of my daughters was learning her math facts in elementary school, she would complain that she didn't understand. She hid her papers or just threw them away. She avoided math homework as much as she could. As a result, my husband and I were spending hours each week tutoring her, sometimes staying up for hours coaxing her to try. We even began to wonder if she had a learning disability.

When her teacher suggested that she might be manipulated us, I was shocked. She was always such a nice, sweet, lovable child. She never sucked her thumb or threw a tantrum (pretty rare, right?}. Could she be "snowing" us?

To test out the theory I set up a new system of rewards. If she completed her homework within 30 minutes, without any complaining and without any help from her parents, she could earn a fifty-cent "commission" on her allowance. It only took one day. She knew the math facts all along.

One husband was beside himself because his wife could not keep the house clean. The couple ran the business from their home. Although the husband was out all day with customers, the wife was at home taking care of the four small children, answering business calls, and running the company office. The couple had already problem solved somewhat and come up with occasional day care and even a once a month housecleaner, but still the house was a mess.

The problem was they were focusing on the messy house instead of what it represented. In this case, it represented that the wife was torn about her goals. She wanted to be part of the business, but she also wanted to parent her children. Making more time for her to clean the house, a chore she really didn't like anyway, wasn't the solution. What worked, however, was to set up a system where she could participate in both worlds without them overlapping so much.

The company office was moved from the dining table to a separate room off the garage. Then the wife devised a schedule that kept her work time separate from her family time. Using these two boundaries, the workspace and the time frame, she was able to be fully with her work and fully with her children when she wanted to.

The bottom line here is that all human behavior is meaningful. But the meaning may come disguised as signals that look like problems themselves. Alcoholism is a signal of a pervasive illness. Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, may be a sign of overwork, too much stress, a lack of parental guidance, or even confusion in the work place. If you try to solve the problem of alcoholism by reducing the person's stress at work, the alcoholic may just have more time to drink. Likewise, if you recommend alcohol treatment for the person who is abusing alcohol, they may stop drinking but find other self-destructive methods to cope with problems at work.

Whenever I am confronted with this dilemma (Is it a signal or a problem?), I ask myself, "How does this behavior make sense to the person engaging in the behavior?" Don't ask, "How does it make sense to me?"

If the behavior belongs to someone else, chances are it makes sense in their model of reality, which may look very different than yours. In the case of the couple with the messy house, what made sense according to the wife's model of reality is that the wife wanted to have a neat house but she wanted something else more. In order to get a clean house, it was necessary to help her accomplish what was more important first.

One final reminder, while some solutions are easy and superficial, many problems require deeper probing. While a band-aid may suffice for a while, it will save a lot of wasted energy and questioning if surgery is done immediately.

On that note, now is the time to learn that new computer program, revamp your marketing strategy, and take the time from work to just go for a walk.

Addiction 'conspiracy' of silence hurts the family and business

Friday, September 06, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Every night at about 10:30 or 11:00 the fighting would start and carry on for two to three hours or more until the couple got so tired they just fell asleep. This was the culmination of a long day at the office where Joan and Jack, wife and husband, worked side-by-side running their successful business.

By the end of the workday Joan frequently wanted to stop off at a bar for a drink to "unwind" before heading for home to dinner. Jack, in a separate car would go home, relieve the babysitter, and start dinner. When his wife got home she was relaxed and cheerful, the alcohol having taken the edge off of the day's stress. Two more glasses of wine at dinner contributed to her changing personality.

As the evening progressed, Jack would busy himself with settling the children down for the evening. He didn't mind doing most of the domestic chores because he understood that Joan didn't have as much physical stamina as he. When it was time to give the children a good night kiss, he would call to their mother, whom he often found napping on the couch.

A couple more drinks later Joan was no longer napping, no longer cheerful. Her irritability was growing. Dumbfounded, Jack could not figure out why she was mad at him. The accusations started flying, defensive walls shot up and the arguing would escalate to unreasonable and irrational proportions.

Alcoholism and other drug abuse is an epidemic in our country. We are all aware of the general problem nationwide. There are numerous programs in our schools to prevent drug abuse among our youth. The courts are less and less tolerant of alcohol related traffic infractions. Celebrities have established treatment programs to sober up movie stars and politicians.

Many employers are taking a hard look at the problems caused by drug abuse and alcohol addiction. Employers recognize the loss attributable to drugs in terms of lowered production, increased accidents, lower quality work, and loss of skilled employees. They have established employee assistance programs and redesigned insurance benefits to create treatment options for employees. These programs not only treat the addict, but the family as well because it is the strength of the family that determines the addict's success in treatment.

The concern reaches to the highest levels in most companies. Whether the employee is the president or the line worker, today's employers are cracking down on drug abuse. No one is allowed to jeopardize the welfare of the company or fellow workers by engaging in dangerous addictive behavior. But the goal is not punishment. Instead, employers want to rehabilitate and return a healthy employee to the job.

Yet among family firms, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are frequently overlooked. Many people who have worked in family firms, yet are not family members, talk about the "secret" at work. The secret that everyone knows is that there is a family member who is addicted or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, yet no one is to talk about it. The family member is protected not only by the family, but also by a general conspiracy among employees.

In previous columns I have explained how this conspiracy comes to be. The function of the family is to nurture and protect its members. This function is alive and well in a family firm, and usually takes precedence over the welfare of the business or other non-family related employees. This is a rule that families have followed since the beginning of human civilization, and therefore is not likely to change.

If there is an alcoholic in a family firm, be they founder, spouse, son, daughter, or in-law, the family is likely to overlook, condone, deny, rationalize or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping the family system in tact. If the founder is alcoholic, alcoholism may be a family "tradition" that will be hard to break. That is, drinking may be interwoven into the fabric of family life and corporate life.

Leaders in family firms have a tough job. They must weigh the success of the business against the needs of the family. Allowing addictions to go untreated is no way to take care of either the business or the family. By ignoring the problem the addict accepts this as tacit approval of their behavior. And by ignoring the problem, the potential threat to the integrity of the family and business grows. Alcoholism and other addictions leads to the breakdown of the family, just what a family firm wants to avoid.

What can help members of the family firm address these problems is to consider that the addict is fortunate to have the backing of both his/her family as well as his/her business. With the support of the two most important systems in one's life, the addict has increased potential to succeed in treatment. They have a loving family and they have a job to come back to.

Another thing to consider is that everyone in the family has to support the decision to confront the addict and to seek family therapy with them. If there are dissenters, the addict will solicit allies to defend their continued drug abuse. While it is painful to acknowledge one's own addiction, it may be even harder to acknowledge the addiction of a loved one. Often family members feel helpless in the face of the overwhelming problems caused by addiction. Therefore, the "enable " the addict rather than face the problem squarely in the eye.

To deal with the humiliation of recognizing that a family member is alcoholic, education will help. Professional treatment centers emphasize that alcoholism and drug abuse are best understood as diseases. That is, the disease of alcoholism affect the personality in ways that change the one we love. While the alcoholic cannot help that they have a disease (many alcoholics are genetically predisposed to alcoholism), they must be held accountable for their actions. They must be confronted with their irresponsible and manipulative behavior so that they can change it. With professional treatment and ongoing support, they can be returned to their former productive and loving lives.

To learn more, contact Alcoholics Anonymous. They are listed in the telephone directory or you can go to their website -www.alcoholics-anonymous.org. You can also visit www.self-helpcentral.com to find recommended books on the subject.

In any case, if you are a member of a family firm, and you suspect a family member of addiction, do something now. You may the be the only one willing to take the risk to expose the family "secret." But once the secret is out, trust the strength of the family to meet the challenge of recovery. Families are forever, after all.

Investing in yourself pays off in business, personal relationships

Friday, October 06, 2000





By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"I feel like I'm always walking on eggshells around you!"

"I never seem to know what will make you happy!"

"Why can't you make up your mind?"


If you have ever made these comments or heard them from others, then you know how exasperating this kind of relationship can be, whether it is a personal or business relationship. Never really sure where you stand with the other person leads to this problem. Either you are not being clear or the other person is holding back. And often the reason for the reticence is fear of appearing selfish.

Especially among women there is a fear that if she speaks up about her desires, or dares to put her needs first, she will appear selfish and unloving, or worse yet, aggressive. Not wanting to rock the boat, the woman holds back her own opinion, only later to find that her husband, coworkers, even employees are mad at her. I have had more than one entrepreneurial husband complain that he would love to know what his wife's opinion was on the subject. Because he doesn't know where she stands, decisions are unclear and projects are stalled.

A side affect of being "nice" but unclear is that the woman often develops resentments because she is not being recognized. These resentments grow and do not go unnoticed by others. Unfortunately others do not know why she is annoyed, but do feel as if they are walking on eggshells around her. If the spouse, friends, coworkers or employees are not able to cut through the communication problem, they may also begin to hold back for fear of an argument. Then no one knows what anyone wants or what is going on. Obviously this is not good for business relations not to mention the marriage.

The reason this problem is more common for women than men is that women are more concerned about maintaining balance in their relationships whether they work in a family firm or not. Unfortunately most women tire themselves out trying to keep everything in balance, when a few shakeups are in order. For example, in one study the researchers found that career women (including entrepreneurial women) are very reluctant to change things in their work environment if it will upset their spouse, their employees or their customers. Instead these women just do more and more and more to accommodate the wishes of others, growing more tired, annoyed and depressed as time goes by. While balance is a nice goal, it is not always the way to get there. In order to keep creativity alive, in order to grow a business (or a family) there are many changes and corrections that need to be made along the way. Maintaining the status quo may mean stagnation.

The best gift you can give people you care about and work with is to be clear with them about your goals and desires. Even if they don't agree with you or don't like your goals, at least they know where you stand. Nothing is hidden. The agenda is on the table and negotiations can proceed. It also may be that your difference of opinion is just what the system needs to be more profitable and productive.

Remember when you were a small child and got a new dress or a new toy or accomplished a new feat like tying your shoes? Weren't you excited about the acquisition? Didn't you want to share it with others and watch their faces light up too? Didn't you feel proud? Those days have long gone and we have been socialized to hide many of our accomplishments and opinions because they may not be acceptable, especially if you are a woman. But it is very important to put your true self out there or you will confuse others and deprive them of your talents.

Here's another way to look at it. Most people spend their paycheck and if there is anything left other, they may put it into savings or invest it. The problem is that there is usually nothing left over to save each payday. The advice of many financial planners is to put money into savings first and then adapt your budget to live on what's left. With this latter method you are much more likely to actually save money and create wealth. Just as with saving money, it is equally important to put yourself first (or invest in yourself first). By putting yourself first, by letting people know what you want and who you are, you are investing in yourself in a way that will pay off tremendously. People won't have to walk on eggshells around you. They will know what your talents are and how to benefit by them. You will surround yourself with people who appreciate you instead of people who need you to appreciate them. This creates an energizing flow between people, just as wealth invested, creates more wealth.

Keeping secrets in your family or business creates a tangled web

Friday, May 05, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"It'll just make things worse if I tell him."

Janice was getting more and more anxious as the days and weeks went by. The bills were mounting, the creditors were calling, the first bank note was due in one month, and sales were miserable. Janice and her husband had just begun a business expansion that they had dreamed and planned for over the last five years. They were positive it was a winner and were thrilled when the bank backed them up. While Cary blazed ahead with building, hiring, warehousing and so forth, Janice as CFO handled the creative financing.

Unfortunately Janice was just a little too creative with the financing. Because the dream was too important she stretched things further than they could be stretched. Cary never questioned his wife and was unaware that they were heading for financial disaster. Janice on the other hand kept trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

When Janice first discovered her miscalculations, she was mortified. She was too embarrassed to tell Cary, so instead tried to solve the problem on her own. As the financial problems increased, she started shifting money from one account to another, staying one step ahead of her creditors. She convinced herself that Cary was too busy with the project to be bothered by the financial problems. She rationalized that these problems were temporary because any day now she would find a solution. Janice loved her husband and didn't want to disappoint him either. She felt he would be crushed to discover that not only would he have to halt the expansion, but that the entire business might go under. So she lied and she hid the truth in a variety of ways.

Since Cary was not very computer literate and left all of the number crunching to his wife, the secret was not hard to keep. Until of course, the bank called the loan. Then Cary and Janice had two problems to face. The financial woes were their immediate focus so as business partners they busied themselves untangling the mess that Janice had concealed. But as the dust settled from the financial nightmare, husband and wife had a to face a more serious crisis . . . how to restore the broken trust between them.

"What they don't know won't hurt them."

Even a surprise birthday party may be a secret not worth keeping, if the guest of honor doesn't like them. It is rare that secrets are a good idea and yet they are commonplace in family firms. The major reasons for keeping secrets are (1) to avoid disagreement and confrontation, (2) to protect someone from hurt feelings or even physical distress, (3) fear of punishment or embarassment for a wrong doing, (4) or just because you made a promise not to tell.

Why are secrets so bad if they don't hurt anyone? This is usually a rationalization. If you have to keep a secret, then it obviously affects other people. The content of the secret may or may not affect the other person adversely, but the question is, will keeping the secret affect the other person adversely? As we saw with Janice and Cary both the secret and keeping it powerfully affected the business and the relationship. There is no telling whether the couple could have saved their business had Cary known earlier of the miscalculations. However, by keeping the secret long after she should have told Cary, Janice seriously damaged the trust and the love between the two.

"But he'll get mad at me if I tell him the truth!"

No one likes an argument but it is foolish to think that you can go through life, build a marriage and a business without having disagreements. As compatible as family members may be, they are bound to disagree on some things and sometimes these disagreements escalate into angry confrontations. Therefore it is useful to develop conflict resolution skills, rather than avoid the anger.

The excuse that the other person will get mad if you level with him or her is a poor one. First, you never know if he or she will get mad. Second, even if he or she does get mad, the discussion doesn't have to end. Be brave and venture into conflict resolution. Third, the person may have every right to be upset that you withheld information (or fibbed) that affects his or her life. Think about it. How do you feel when a secret is kept from you, especially if your decisions depend upon the hidden information?

"It would be mean to be honest."

There is often the fear that you will hurt someone's feelings if you tell the truth, or worse that they will have a heart attack and die. The problem is that you have no right to assume responsibility for the other person's life or life decisions. When you keep a secret that affects the life of another, you are robbing them of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own destiny. Because Janice loved her husband, she wanted to insure the success of his dream. But by lying to Cary, she kept him ignorant of the information he needed to make a mid-course correction. He may still have failed had he known earlier what the financial picture looked like, but the success of the business and his own destiny would have been in his hands.

Essentially it is disrespectful to keep secrets. You are treating the other person as if they are incompetent to handle the truth. What makes you better able to handle the truth than the other person? Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it is embarrassing. Sometimes the truth is a powerful leveler without which you would never know you are in over your head. When I received the phone call telling me that my ten-year-old daughter had just missed the cut for the soccer team, I had to tell her the truth. Not only had she failed to make the team, but that she wasn't quite good enough to play with this team. She cried and sobbed and was heartbroken over the failure. She even refused to eat dinner and went to bed early. However, the next day she obviously had learned an important lesson. She asked for new shinguards and went to the backyard to practice for next year's tryouts.

"I won't tell you unless you promise to keep it a secret."

Signs of maturity are honesty and reliability. When we give our word, we feel a strong compulsion to keep it, to be consistent with our image of an honest and reliable person. However, it is important to realize that promising to keep a secret is not a demonstration of maturity, but actually quite childish. As a businessperson, your success depends upon flexibility. Decisions made in 1982, while accurate at the time may no longer fit the business in the year 2000. You would be foolish to hold to old decisions just because you once made a promise. You are just as foolish to keep a secret just because you want to maintain an image of consistency.

Emerson once wrote, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." To make a promise to keep a secret in the first place is foolish, but you double your foolishness by keeping the secret when the evidence shows how damaging it can be. To cover for an alcoholic in the family business brings destruction on everyone. To withhold information from your spouse because one of the children has asked you is disrespectful of your spouse and the child's ability to handle the problem out in the open.

Oh what a tangled web we weave . . .

There may be short-term gain in keeping secrets, but the long-term outcome is not worth the risk, especially when working with the ones you love. Openness in all things is the answer, even if it is embarrassing, anger-provoking, or hurtful. Don't keep secrets, but if you already have, break them. Admit your failure, apologize to those you have lied to and make a promise you can live with. That is, promise to be responsible for your own actions, and allow others access to their own destiny through the truth.

Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S. Licensed Psychologist and Family/Business Consultant is the author of ENTREPRENEUERIAL COUPLES: Making It Work at Work and at Home (Davies-Black, Palo Alto, 1998). She can be reached at (360) 256-0448 or www.kmarshack.com.