Stressful situations at work – what’s in your first aid kit?

Hurricane Irma kept me glued to our TV this past weekend. My husband and I have family and friends who live there, so we were naturally worried about them and wondering what path the storm-and their lives-might take. But even if you don’t know people there, the storm probably stirred you up a bit, too.

My brother, who evacuated to Atlanta, told me that one of the most important questions his family dealt with was “what do we take with us, and what can we leave?” It’s a question that quite literally “cuts through the clutter”, forcing us to make choices about what we truly value. Since the weekend I’ve thought about what I would take and what I would leave if I had to leave my home, but I’m still not quite sure of my answer.

Perhaps my anxiety about Hurricane Irma made me quickly watch the short video that arrived in my email yesterday, titled “The Power of an Emotional First Aid Kit”.  In the video, Daniel Pink, an author and consultant, talks with Bonnie St. John about her recommendation that we all prepare for stressful days by keeping meaningful and comforting items close by, ready for when we need them. I like the idea of having something to turn to that can steady me when I’m in a stressful situation at work. You can watch the video here.

One advantage of working in family business is that you may not need an actual kit, since there may be a family member you can turn to instead, someone who knows you and can provide you with some advice or support. On the other hand since working with family members can be stressful, you may need a first aid suitcase!

I’m working on preparing my own emotional first aid kit. So far, I’ve put in a picture of my close friend Nancy, my go-to person when I’m upset. I’ve also put in a bracelet my mother wore to help me remember her wise and comforting way of calming me down.

What will you put in yours?

Listen to your parents: be financially savvy

I first started Daughters in Charge after moderating a business roundtable whose members were all young women working in their family’s business. Fast forward five years and we’re still together. In our meeting yesterday I was reminded once again about one of the reasons why I thought these women were special-and still do: they are financially savvy.

The group had invited Mackey McNeill, mother of one of our members, to talk about money. Mackey is the founder of Mackey Advisors, an innovative financial planning firm that specializes in supporting small businesses. Check out their website and you’ll see what I mean: Mackey is also the author of a recently updated book, The Intersection of Joy and Money: A Workbook for Changing your Relationship with Money.

Mackey’s daughter, Sarah Grace Mohr, works with and for her mother as the Operations and Communications Director at Mackey Advisors. She also lent her design talents to creating a very modern and upbeat and playful office space.

Mackey is a great presenter and teacher, and we were all riveted. But what struck me, in addition to Mackey’s great insights and suggestions, was how the daughters in my group responded to the topic of money. They asked very thoughtful questions, demonstrating their knowledge of everything from home ownership to whether owning land is a good investment. These are women who understand money and how to manage it.

I hope that those of you who are working with your family never underestimate the value of what you learned from listening to your parents talk about their business. Being financially savvy is a true asset, just as a stock or bond or a home or land is-a source of confidence and independence that many women don’t have.

I’m going to read Mackey’s book. I hope you will, too.

Sibling Rivalry and Teamwork

Fast Company magazine recently posted a short video showing Laura and Kate Mulleavy talking about the way they work together at Rodarte, the luxury fashion brand they created.

Take a look at the video here.

There are a lot of very impressive insights in Laura and Kate’s brief but meaningful conversation. Two ideas struck me. The first is that these sisters recognize that some kind of “sibling dynamic” characterizes all siblings. That may seem obvious, but I wonder if most siblings truly understand or are prepared for their “dynamic” when it transfers from their childhood home to the workplace. What are the patterns? How do they change? Does the dynamic work for or against the siblings-and their business?

In my work with daughters, I often hear about how much sibling conflicts affect their feelings at work. But I’ve also observed how meaningful it can be when siblings resolve their conflicts through the experience of working together. Rivalry can become teamwork as siblings appreciate their shared commitment to the business and their dependence upon each other’s unique contributions.

And the other idea that struck me? That, as Kate says, “I think every workplace should feel like family”. I’ve heard many family business leaders talk about their employees as “family”, but I’m not always so sure that the employees feel that way. I admire the Mulleavy sisters’ intention to create a sense of family within their company, and to become partners not just with each other, but also with the people they work with. It seems to me that they really do have fun, and I suspect their employees do as well.

Raising Wealthy Children

I recently heard about an entrepreneurial woman who started a business that now employs her husband and over 100 employees. The business has been enormously successful. The couple has two young children and all is well–except that they are starting to worry about a problem they never thought they’d have: raising wealthy children.

You may have heard about affluenza, a made up name for a so-called “illness” that wealthy people are particularly susceptible to catching. It’s characterized by over-spending, feeling and acting entitled to things most people have to earn, and disrespect for rules in a variety of settings and situations. A simpler name for it might be “spoiled”.

Raising wealthy kids does have its own unique set of challenges. From my work with women in family businesses, some who are quite wealthy, I’ve realized that the issue is as much about the values parents set as it is about money. Many family business owners have a strong work ethic, contribute time to their communities, and are committed to philanthropy. They set limits on their own spending and frequently express gratitude for what they have. Their values-and they way they live them out-are as important a “currency” they give to their children as their wealth.

What values were you raised with-and did they affect your relationship with money? If you have children, what values do you hope to instill? How will you do that? I think these are questions worth considering.

If you have experiences and insights you’d be willing to share, please email me at




Here are some references you may find helpful:

Inherited Wealth: Opportunities and Dilemmas

Acquirers’ and Inheritors’ Dilemma: Discovering Life Purpose and Building Personal Identity in the Presence of Wealth

Children of Paradise: Successful Parenting for Prosperous Families

Line of Sight

Have you heard the phrase “line of sight”? In business settings, it refers to the extent to which employees can point directly to how their work contributes to the success of the business—and “see” the way their efforts, large and small, have a clear link to business success. The idea is that employees who can see their line of sight feel more engaged, more motivated, and more committed.

In my work with women in family businesses, I’ve noticed that my clients often focus on the relationships within their business. They talk about conflicts among employees, among family members, and between both groups–and frequently about feeling caught in the middle.   But there’s one thing I rarely hear: how their work leads to meaningful business outcomes.

It’s not that my clients don’t have an impact on their family business-that’s always clear to me. But sometimes I wonder if it’s clear to them. And I wonder if they give themselves enough credit for the important roles they play in assuring that their business achieves its strategic and revenue goals.

So why is this important to you? Make sure that you are clear about your role and the impact it has. Create a visual-a map, a diagram-so you can really see the link between your behavior and business results. You will see how and when you make your most important impact. And you may also appreciate how your efforts to unravel conflicts can free up time and energy…or, perhaps, those that are simply not worth your time.

Where Are You in the Lineup?

I recently heard Shankar Vedantam, NPR’s social science correspondent, talk about the effects of birth order on how children develop, more here. No surprise, the segment got me thinking about how birth order plays out among siblings in family businesses.

If you have older siblings who work with you, do you rely on them to take charge of decisions in the business? Are you an older sister who can’t help assuming you’re supposed to be in charge? Or, are you the stereotypical youngest child who broke all the rules and now yearns to be an entrepreneur?

I firmly believe that every family-and every family business-is unique. It is way too easy to generalize about how firstborns, middles, and “babies of the family” are likely to behave when they join the family business. That being said, the lens of birth order may lead you to consider your own attitudes and behaviors toward your siblings at work-that’s why I think it’s important.

Here are some questions to consider:

How do you feel when a younger sibling disagrees with you?

How do you respond when an older sibling gives you advice?

What would it take for you to manage an older sibling?

What would it take for you to work for a younger sibling?

If you’re in a meeting with your siblings, what do you most often say or do?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. I’m simply suggesting that thinking about them may lead you to appreciate how “where you are in the lineup”-and where your siblings are-may be having an impact on you. And, perhaps more important, it may ease some of the tensions you feel with your siblings and increase some of the fun you have together.

Coping with loss… is it too soon?

Are you coping with a loss in your life? Is someone you work with? By the time we’re in the workforce, most of us have experienced grief in some way, but rarely does the loss of a loved one or a significant trauma in our lives become a topic we’re comfortable discussing at work. In their new book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore ways we can all help each other cope with the losses in our lives.

Last night I had the opportunity to hear Sheryl and Adam talk about their book, which focuses on how Sheryl is learning to cope with her husband’s death a few years ago. You probably heard about it, since Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and Adam is a well-known psychologist and author. They are good friends and thoughtful, sensitive, and often funny speakers. The audience was riveted. I certainly was.

Perhaps the most surprising learning for me occurred when Sheryl talked about the loss of confidence she experienced at work. The idea that Sheryl Sandberg felt she could no longer do her job well stunned me. Sheryl Sandberg-the woman who wrote Lean In– lacking confidence?

I’m starting to wonder if both men and women feel a bit “de-skilled” when they are in the midst of managing a loss or an unwanted change. Most people I’ve worked with put on a brave face and throw themselves back into work, and I’ve assumed they felt better back in a routine. Until I heard Sheryl talk about her own feelings, it never occurred to me that losing confidence might be something they struggled with, or that “getting back in the saddle” too soon might not be such a great idea-for the person and for the organization.

Sheryl is in a position to influence Facebook to rethink its policies and management practices related to supporting employees who are dealing with upsetting events in their lives. As a daughter in a family business, you probably are too. Read Option B, and think about it. By reviewing and raising questions about how your business supports employees through difficult times, you might be making one of your most valuable contributions.

Summer Memories

I often think of summer as a time of making memories. Travel, camping, even the excitement of a first summer job…all of these experiences are opportunities for creating great moments and memories that can last a lifetime.

In my work with family businesses, I’ve heard about a variety of summer experiences. Some families vacation as a large group, with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins all in one place. Other families make sure that summer provides a real (and often vital) escape from the family members they work with every day. And if you’re lucky enough to own or to share an inherited family cottage, that place can provide a sense of continuity and connection that spans generations.

What memories will you make for yourself this summer? Between working in your family’s business, and for some of you, figuring out summer schedules for other family members, you may not even be thinking about what kind of experiences you can create for yourself.


Here are some ideas to consider:

If you’re single, don’t fall into the trap of promising to be available to the business while other family members are away and ignoring your own vacation-it’s just as important. Summers can be a time of real adventure for you. I was single for a long time and when I finally realized I could plan a trip just for myself -to a dude ranch in Montana-and it was life-changing.

If you’re planning a vacation for a partner, spouse, or family, don’t forget to plan for yourself. Women often get so absorbed in making sure that everyone else has a good time that they literally forget that it’s their vacation, too. You don’t have to do it all. Create a day or two just for you, and make it memorable.

If you and your family share a summer home or cottage, and particularly if has belonged to your family for generations, you are probably familiar with the conflicts that can arise as different family groups negotiate their time there and assure that the property is well-maintained. Treating the family cottage as a family business is important-just try to do that work throughout the year so that you all enjoy the summers. There’s even been a book written about this, called Saving the Family Cottage (

If your family is large, with many siblings working in the business and kids who will one day take over, set some boundaries if you can. Talking about business on vacation may not be relaxing. On the other hand, it may be important. Consider encouraging everyone to set aside one or two mornings to talk about the business and its future, and to answer questions from family members who don’t work in the business-or hope to one day. This can be an easy way to do some long range planning for the future.

Making the Most of the Moment When a Nextgen Joins the Family Business

Posted with permission of Massachusetts Family Business. Copyright The Warren Group 2016. For more information visit

by Amy J. Katz

The offer of a first job is a major milestone for many young people. The moment they accept it is exciting, for it confirms their belief in their potential, an affirmation of their skills and talents, the beginning of financial independence and the opportunity to define themselves apart from their parents.

For young adults who decide to work in their family’s business, often called “nextgens,” the experience of accepting that first real job is quite different. For some, it is a natural progression from after-school and summer jobs at the business, and a fulfillment of expectations that were clear from early childhood. They make their decision with the trust that over time they will have the opportunity to develop their skills and interests and en-joy the privileges that will likely come their way.

For others, the moment comes when they decide to join the business after time spent working in other settings. They re-turn to the business eager to share their insights and to influence and improve the business. Occasionally, the choice follows a time of questioning and doubt about whether they can work for their parents, achieve what they have achieved, and ultimately, whether they have the commitment and capacity to sustain the family legacy.

Whether the choice is expected or surprising, the moment of choice has life-long implications. Dr. Megan Jay, a clinical psychologist, calls the 20s “the most defining decade of adulthood.” In family businesses, a son or daughter’s choice to commit to the family business is a defining moment for their parents as well. It can be they first time they understand that their children truly appreciate the family’s history and that their hopes for the succession of the business might be realized.

As with many life decisions, the impact of choosing to work in one’s family business – that crucial moment – may not be felt immediately. It takes time to navigate the complexities of being in the spotlight and – rightly or wrongly – being viewed as a powerful person. So when a senior employee praises a nextgen’s contributions, it’s a sign that the choice was a good one. A brother who tells his sister, “You’re good at that; I’m good at this,” conveys the respect that is vital to an effective sibling partnerships. A daughter who has the freedom to lead a new division realizes that she can be an entrepreneur within the business. These are the experiences that build confidence in one’s choices.

Of course, there are frustrations, as with any new job. The first time a parent says firmly, “Don’t call me Dad here,” can be unsettling. A nextgen who expects a quick promotion can be stunned to receive critical feedback from a non-family supervisor. When the leadership team of a family business resists a nextgen’s push for new software, the experience can be humbling. And perhaps most difficult, a nextgen who has idealized a parent may feel disenchanted and even angry as the realization that the parent is flawed sets in.

But that moment of decision, and the learning that comes after it, while challenging at times can eventually provide both parents and their adult children a chance to recreate their relationships. In that moment of decision to join the business, nextgens can provide a way for families to renew their connection to each other and to the work and values that have shaped their lives.

What can make “the moment” a decision to celebrate for years to come? Nextgens deserve the opportunity to consider the pros and cons, to under-stand the expectations of their new role, and to ask about the potential for career growth, development, salary and benefits. Parents and non-family executives can take the nextgen’s interest in working at the business seriously, without any assumptions that he or she will easily fit in. They can create thoughtful inter-view questions that ask the nextgen to describe their strengths and areas where development is needed. They can also create scenarios about how the position might evolve, explain employee policies and practices, and articulate clearly what success will look like. In other words, parents and other executives would do well to give nextgens the satisfaction that they have been officially hired for a specific position.

Amy Katz

Family businesses often pride them-selves on having an informal, “family” culture. But bringing in the next generation can be surprisingly disruptive for nextgens, their parents and non-family employees. By giving the nextgen the time and space to make a true decision, and by preparing the organization for the nextgen’s role, the moment a next-gen joins the family business can be a significant and joyful event that sets the stage for the future.


Posted with permission of Massachusetts Family Business. Copyright The Warren Group 2016. For more information visit Click here to download a PDF of the article.

Dreams and Directions

mary_miller_105_v3A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Miller, who is the CEO of JANCOA, a company that provides janitorial services throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.  Mary is a warm, funny, and determined leader, and Jancoa has been recognized for its caring approach to employees and for the excellent janitorial services 550 employees provide.

“I love getting people excited about their future,” said Mary.  She’s certainly put that love into action.  Mary’s husband Tony founded the company 45 years ago, and Mary joined him 23 years ago. They put in a place a program that gives employees the opportunity to realize their dreams–at work and in life. In fact, the program is described in a book by Matthew Kelly, called The Dream Manager.

Many of JANCOA’s employees are immigrants and refugees, people who, in Mary’s words, “have gotten stuck and stopped dreaming.”  JANCOA provides them with the opportunity to dream about their future and the support to remove the barriers which have gotten in their way.  It’s a very inspiring business.

changingdirection_coverWhen I asked Mary about what it’s like to work in a family business, she began by sharing her own personal story.  I was surprised to learn that before meeting Tony, she was a single mother, bankrupt, and facing eviction.  Knowing Mary as the upbeat business and community leader she has become, I listened intently.  “I had to change the way I looked my possibilities”, she said.  “If you want to see the sunrise but you’ve got your chair and your camera set up facing west, you’ll never see it.  Sometimes you have to look in the opposite direction to see what’s possible.”  In fact, Mary has just written a new book, called Changing Direction: 10 Choices That Impact Your Dreams. I hope you’ll check it out!

Several family members now work at JANCOA, but of course I was particularly interested in Mary’s relationship with her daughters at work.  One daughter worked in the business but then decided to become a nurse, a choice Mary fully understands and supports.  Her oldest daughter Christy recently returned to JANCOA after several years away to focus on business development, and Mary calls her the “Queen of Wow.” Mary acknowledges that the two of them have had to learn to communicate differently now that they’re working together.  “She’s learning to relate to me as a CEO and a grandmother.”  And Mary is learning to accept the changes Christy recommends…”as long as she prepares me for them.”

Amy Katz

As our interview came to an end, I commented on the way Mary had changed her own direction.  She laughed and said, “I’m a work in progress.”

Aren’t we all!