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Articles - Stress in the Family Business

Are You An Entrepreneur?

Friday, April 07, 2000




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

Oddly this question came to me while I was attending a conference on entrepreneurship and small business in San Antonio in February. The reason this is odd is that there were few entrepreneurs in the audience. Instead the attendees were professors of business schools from across the country. These are the professors at prestigious business schools such as Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford, and UCLA that teach courses on business, marketing and management. They even teach courses on entrepreneurship, but most of these professors don't own their own enterprise. They study entrepreneurs. They develop theory about entrepreneurs. They even teach courses for entrepreneurs, but they don't "walk the talk."

Until fairly recently entrepreneurship has not even been a topic of conversation in the nation's top business schools, for the simple reason that business schools are primarily about training professional managers and future professors. The graduate students from these schools go on to work in corporate America, working their way up the career ladder, hoping to reach the presidency some day, or at least earn a key to the executive washroom. It's not that these professional managers are not talented, nor that they lack leadership qualities. They are creative and innovative too. However, they are not entrepreneurs.

If you are an entrepreneur, or are married to one, or know one personally, chances are the entrepreneur did not go to business school. Or if they did, they dropped out (i.e. Bill Gates) when they learned that business school was not going to open the doors of opportunity. A few entrepreneurs managed to stay to graduation, but they were probably bored out of their minds, just biding their time until they could do what they really wanted to do. My brother-in-law Rick is like this. To please his father, he went to law school, even joined a law firm after graduation. However, soon he realized that he was too restless to work for anyone else. Before he turned 30, he was heading up his own firm and well close to achieving his dream of being a multi-millionaire.

True entrepreneurs don't come from business schools. They come from engineering, medicine, anthropology, the arts (all of them), psychology, computer sciences. They are liberal arts majors, history majors, athletes, general studies majors, high school graduates, even high school dropouts. They come from all walks of life and have as varied life experiences as is humanly possible. This is why the entrepreneur has been so hard to define. You just can't fit them into a category. Psychologists have been trying to do this for years, but there is no reliable personality test for the traits of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs aren't a type of person. They are people who are entrepreneurial.

The closest I can come to defining the entrepreneur is that this person has vision. They are able to see the big picture like no one else. And they are determined to accomplish their vision. In other words they are extremely hardworking and tenacious. They are no more intelligent than others; no more creative either. But this vision is a special gift that puts the entrepreneur light years ahead of the ordinary person. With vision the entrepreneur is able to see opportunity before others.

Even more important than vision is purpose. The vision is a like a bright beacon that guides the entrepreneur toward his or her goals. However, to determine those goals in the first place, the entrepreneur has to have purpose. Most entrepreneurs will tell you that they "just had to do it." They have known what they were about since they were children. Their purpose is not always clearly defined in a business plan, but they have been pursuing it nevertheless. The successful entrepreneur is true to his or her purpose for a lifetime, regardless of the enterprise they engage in.

One local entrepreneur loved to build things as a little boy. He went on to get a degree in engineering and eventually started a manufacturing plant. But his purpose is deeper than that. He doesn't just like to build things; he has to. And he doesn't just like to build things; he has to contribute to the community. Although this man is an engineer by education and training, he is really a builder of ideas.

Not all entrepreneurs are millionaires either. Another local entrepreneur is a minister and artist. Since she was a little girl she loved to draw and paint and sculpt. She never really fit into the mainstream, but she always blamed it on her dysfunctional family. Now she realizes that she was preparing herself to carry out an important purpose in life. Through art (her own and that of those she counsels) she helps people discover their spiritual mission.

The saving grace of the conference was the noon keynote speaker on Friday, Marjorie Alfus. I was so inspired by Marjorie's speech, that I jumped to my feet after her talk and started a standing ovation. At 78 years of age, Marjorie epitomizes the American Entrepreneur. Although she has made her wealth and could retire, she can't stand being bored. She is taking her twentieth century entrepreneurial experiences and translating them into the twenty-first century, by creating a web business. Marjorie made her wealth by outsourcing and just-in-time inventory, when other twentieth century entrepreneurs were putting their money into brick and mortar. Now she can use that good common sense to succeed at her new venture, www.golfgizmos.com. With a modem, fax and world wide merchandising contacts, Marjorie will probably clean up.

If you don't have a knack for vision or you are not sure of your purpose, take heart. You may still be an entrepreneur who is holding back. It takes a lot of courage to follow your heart and create a dream that no one else can see or support. All entrepreneurs have one more thing in common. Before they are successful, no one really understands them, but with success they are much appreciated.

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

The Family/Business Vacation

Saturday, April 01, 2000




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


A couple of years ago at a Family Firm Institute annual meeting, a woman approached me and asked about how I manage to attend these meetings and still have time for my family. She noticed that my children and husband were staying with me at the hotel and would frequently meet with me during breaks throughout the conference. She also wondered if there were others at the conference who may benefit by arrangements for their children and families. Since I had had several people question me about this, I assured her that there were many conference attendees who would be interested in a conference that allowed for family participation of some kind. Being a woman may make it easier for me to consider how to balance family and professional needs. Not that men don&rsquot value their families, but there is no precedent for a man to bring the baby to the board room. On the other hand, it is becoming more common for women executives to have a play pen in their offices and to take breaks from work for baby. And more and more large corporations have child-care on site, so working parents can visit their children for lunch.

I remember taking my younger daughter Phoebe to a conference in Raleigh North Carolina when she was just three months old. She slept on the long plane ride to Chicago, then explored with wide eyed interest the Chicago airport as I whisked her and I to the next plane to Raleigh. At the conference itself, I mixed batches of formula in my hotel room (I brought along a mini-hot pot to boil water) and asked hotel staff to chill bottles in the staff refrigerator. Even though my environmental consciousness required that I use cloth diapers, for the duration I acquiesced and used disposables.

As I wheeled Phoebe (in her umbrella stroller, which easily totes on the airplane) to various conference meetings, I got quite a few inquisitive looks ... and smiles. Everyone wanted to talk to the baby. And I got several offers to baby-sit, so that I could attend a meeting without interruptions.

My husband and I are committed to raising children who have a sense of belonging to a family with parents who are professionals. The children see our work as part of who we are ... and they are part of it too. I seldom attend a conference anymore without taking one or both children and my husband along. This last trip to L.A. was no exception. This time, Mom stayed at the hotel in downtown L.A. for three days, while Dad and the girls visited Grandma and Grandpa in Orange county. Following the conference, the family picked me up to visit my uncle and cousin who live near Burbank. So close to Hollywood, we made a side trip to the famed Universal Studios. We all rode the Jurassic Park ride and the girls have T-shirts stating "I survived Jurassic Park." Before leaving town, we made one last trip south to say good-bye to the grandparents and slip in a trip to Disneyland. Needless to say we were tired when we got home eight days later, but we were nourished, professionally and personally.

Within just a few short years, since I first took baby Phoebe with me to Raleigh, hotels and resorts have started catering to business travelers who wish to bring their children with them. While Mom and Dad are at their business meetings, or downloading their e-mail from the office back home, the children are able to participate in events sponsored and supervised by hotel staff. This certainly makes it easier than in the days when there was no one to help with the children. Sometimes, I would just have to skip a meeting because baby came first.

However, there is another potential problem. Workaholics may never learn how to leave work, if even the entertainment industry (i.e. hotels) encourages you to work instead of play. Combining work and play as I have described above is one alternative, but another is to plan vacations without work in mind at all. Oh, I know, pure vacations aren&rsquot write offs, but they may do more good than reduced taxes. In our family, we plan at least one two week vacation a year that has nothing to do with work. And we usually have two to three long weekends that are purely family fun too.

These considerations are especially relevant to family firms, of course. As a family who also happens to be in business together, you have the sophisticated task of integrating the needs of family and the needs of business. If your spouse and your children feel a part of your work, they are in a better position to help with business growth, even if only as interested stakeholders. And if you are willing to take time from your busy schedule to play with your children and family, even at a business conference or trade show, you are sending a very important message. That is, no matter how important the business, no matter how you wish the business to succeed, what&rsquos the point if you cannot share your successes with the ones you love?

Know yourself first to be true to yourself, successful in business

Thursday, February 03, 2000




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

Which would you rather have, an educated customer or one who requires that you walk them through everything? Would you rather have a customer who is familiar with your product or industry, who has background negotiating business deals, who uses normal business systems such as estimates and purchase orders, who can read a schematic? Or would you rather have a customer who knows nothing of these things and you must explain and justify every painful detail, every step of the way.

Let's put it another way. Wouldn't you rather that your customer already knows the basics of building a warehouse, so that you can get down to negotiating price and materials? Wouldn't you rather that your customer is already knowledgeable about farming equipment in general so that you can quickly explain the benefits of modernizing with your new machine? Wouldn't you rather your customer have purchased and sold a home before, so that they are more realistic about the home-buying marketplace?

Of course there are times when a naïve customer is easier to deal with than a sophisticated one. Occasionally the sophisticated customer thinks he or she knows everything, when they really have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. But by and large your work is cut in half when you have a knowledgeable, educated customer who knows what it takes to get the job done with you. At the very least it is easier if your customer is bright enough and open enough to learn quickly and accepts your expertise.

Ah, but the world is not perfect. So much of your professional time is spent educating, persuading and hand-holding in order to complete your job. But for yourself I would suggest being an educated consumer as often so you can. If you are a family business owner, this means becoming knowledgeable about the connections between your personal life, your family life and your work life. Understanding your personal family dynamics and how they interact with your business creates a more successful business and family life. Even if you are not a family business owner, your personal life influences your business decisions, and vice versa. Therefore, it is well worth your while to become more knowledgeable about your personality style, your family values, your blind spots and how they shape your daily actions.

Come to terms with family, business

Darvin, for example, never really considered that growing up under his authoritarian father affected his business, nor his parenting style. As a child Darvin was expected to work in the family business from the time he was about nine. Whether he was sick or home from school on vacation, Darvin was expected to pitch in. Darvin's father meant well enough. He was trying to prepare his son for the future and he wanted an heir for the business. However, Dad never considered that his son might have other career interests. He also gave Darvin little time to have a childhood.

When Darvin grew up, married and started having his own children, he was determined that his own sons would be free to choose their own direction. Darvin was now the owner of the business his father had built, but he didn't want his sons thinking they were obligated to work in the family firm. He encouraged their other interests and gave them liberal time to play. He coached soccer teams and volunteered in the boy's classrooms, something his father never did.

However, one day, one of his teenagers implied that he expected to work for Darvin when he grew up. In fact the boy suggested that he wanted to be the president of the company some day! Darvin was shocked at his son's interest, especially since Darvin did not think this particular child had what it takes to be president. Then another even more shocking realization came over Darvin. After spending all these years encouraging his children to follow their hearts, he had paid no attention to grooming as interested child for coming into the family business. In fact, he had almost resisted the idea.

So, to avoid Dad's mistakes, Darvin made different mistakes, which is a common problem for family business owners who do not recognize that childhood experiences shape you as a business person. Now the task for Darvin is to educate himself about all he learned and interpreted as a child and their connection to his current adult life as a business owner, husband and father. If he is to be a success at all these roles and prepare the business for s healthy transition when he retires, he needs to be educated about family dynamics and how they interact with business planning.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur

Elliott is not the owner of a family firm, but he feels very close to his staff, many of whom have been with him since the founding of the firm. He literally built the business from nothing into a respected national manufacturer.

Elliott is a "can-do" guy. His technical training helped him create the idea for his business, but he had neither business nor marketing training when he set off on his own. Nevertheless, Elliott believes that he can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. If he lacks knowledge or a skill, he learns it. He reads books, attends seminars and asks experts, then applies the knowledge to his own unique business. This flexibility is the reason Elliott's business has grown so rapidly. He is adaptable.

Elliott's problem is the exact opposite of Darvin's. Because of his confident and flexible approach to problem-solving, he has extremely high expectations of others. Elliott naively thinks his managers, staff and line workers have these same abilities. While it is important to encourage the best in employees so that they can rise to their highest level of competence, Elliott often promotes untrained, unskilled workers beyond their capabilities to a level of incompetence.

For example, he has promoted a welder to a position requiring an engineering degree and a bookkeeper to a position as controller. Even if these employees have the potential to grow into these positions, they do not currently have the skills to handle their jobs, which leads to failure --- failure for the individuals, as well as for the company.

If Elliott is going to grow his company further, he needs to get a handle on this problem. As he understands better that his unique personality is not the standard for all people (in fact, very few people are entrepreneurial), ha can make better use of his employees' talents. He can't always promote from within, but he can find other ways to honor employee loyalty. When a business gets as large as Elliott's, it's time to hire professionally trained managers and staff.

Being a success in business means being honest about your personal limitations too. It means becoming educated about the unique way your personality, childhood lessons and adult business decisions interact. Knowing your values and where you learned them enables you to choose which ones you want to keep, which ones are practical. Knowing your personality better enables you to design systems that complement your contributions. Darvin has been trying to set his children free to follow their own calling, ignoring that at least one of them may be a lot like himself. Elliott, on the other hand, has been grooming everyone to be like him, ignoring that his employees may have a different calling and different contributions to make.

How many of you have problems brewing that are similar to Darvin's and Elliott's? It may be hard for you to define your problem even though you know you have one because you don't have the required education. But the solution lies in becoming educated about the interaction of personality, family dynamics and business systems. When you finally develop enough insight into how you came to be who you are and how others came to be who they are, you can correct subtle problems such as Darvin's and Elliott's and avert major disaster when the problems are still small. Remember, we must know who we are first in order to be true to ourselves.

Living With an Authoritarian Entrepreneur

Friday, April 09, 1999




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

He's strong. He's driven. He works 70 hours a week. He loves his wife and children immensely. He feels alone. He needs a lot of emotional support. He is intolerant of laziness. He is a perfectionist. He doesn't sleep well. He never lets failure stop him from success. He doesn't trust many people, if any. He has a short fuse. He has to work for himself. When he plays, he plays hard too. He is an expert. He is reliable, when he's there. He always has the answer. He has an ironclad will.

He is easily hurt, especially by his family, who doesn't alwaysappreciate him. At least this is what he thinks. As an Authoritarian Entrepreneur, he believes that he is doing a good job for family and employees, regardless of their protests. He can only see his point of view and assumes that others agree with it or otherwise are too immature to understand. Because he believes he is doing what is best for everyone, he pushes ahead with his plans, often ignoring the challenges, complaints and cries of those he is pushing aside. He feels befuddled, hurt, and betrayed then, when his wife or a child leaves him or worse.

It is hard for this type of entrepreneur to understand that he is not the center of the universe. And it is equally hard for those who love him to know what to do to solve the serious emotional and relationship problems that are created in his high-energy wake. In fact the authoritarian entrepreneur has no awareness that he has any problems, which makes it exceedingly difficult to get help. He believes that complaints are coming from weak people who do not know how to run their lives, nor how to appreciate him for running theirs.

Often this type of entrepreneur is very successful at his business (although not all successful entrepreneurs are authoritarian).

Because of his drive and power, he can succeed where others fail, by sheer will power. He can be quite charismatic, so many will follow. But those who enter his inner circle, such as wife and children, know another side to this man. He can be selfish and cruel in his lack of trust for the very people who are closest to him. He can ignore their needs, giving love only when it is convenient for him. He is intimidating and will swiftly settle a dispute by severing the relationship.

The authoritarian entrepreneur is an example of a good quality gone awry. That is, he travels on the notion that "the end justifies the means." There is nothing wrong with having goals. In fact, goals are the rewards that all human beings strive for. But in addition to goals it is equally important to attend to the method of accomplishing those goals. If the means to the end are unethical or hurtful of others, it may be worthwhile to re-evaluate the methods to discover means that work just as well to accomplish the goal, yet are compatible and supportive of the ones you love. Not all goals are worth it, if they destroy the important human relationships you are working so hard to provide for. This end-justifies-the-means drive comes from an insecurity deep inside the authoritarian entrepreneur. Anything or anyone who gets in his way is likely to get run over, because he has such a strong need to prove that he is OK. The source of this insecurity depends upon the individual. It may come from a childhood experience of being abused or threatened by a critical, distant, or aloof parent, whom the entrepreneur could never please. It may come from the lessons of a traumatic experience, such as war combat, wherein the entrepreneur learned to stay alive by doing whatever it took. It may come from an actual organic disability, such as dyslexia, making schooling difficult, and the entrepreneur all the more determined to prove he is smart or smarter-than. Whatever, the reason, the authoritarian entrepreneur has a fear of failure, tucked away deep inside that drives him to succeed at whatever the cost.

As if this negative driving force were not enough to alienate wife, children, friends and employees, the authoritarian entrepreneur is in a never ending cycle. No matter how great his material success, these individuals never seem to believe that they have arrived. In fact, some wives report that the greater their husband's successes, the greater their drive, intolerance, cruelty, and . . . depression. It is the depression that is proof to the authoritarian entrepreneur that he has not yet achieved his goals, so he keeps pushing to drive the depression away. Unfortunately the depression is actually the signal that he is failing at life, that he is pushing away the loving relationships that can mend thewounds caused by childhood abuse, wartime combat or classroom humiliation. The very quality that helps the authoritarian entrepreneur survive childhood abuse, or life-threatening combat, or the ignominy of illiteracy . . . stubbornness, is both their strength and their demise. Being too stubborn to acknowledge their successes, and the love of their families is foolish and will destroy what they have worked so hard for. Yet stubbornness can be used to learn the skills to build a new life out of sharing the joy and love of personal achievement with your loved ones. If you are an authoritarian entrepreneur or the family member of one, use this stubbornness or personal strength to attack the problem and solve it. You have intelligence and drive. You have already proven that you can succeed. Now admit your flaws and rebalance your life. Grieve your losses. Learn to love. Break the pattern of insecurity in your family that began with an abusive parent, or a thoughtless teacher, or a war that shaped a vulnerable teenager. By keeping those fears buried, you are perpetuating the insecurity into the next generation. As much as that negative energy (i.e., fear, anger and depression) has served you to create wealth, it has also alienated your family. Is this really the legacy you wish to pass onto your children?

Sex and Infidelity in the Family Firm

Thursday, March 05, 1998




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

Bill and Monica and Hillary and Andy and Cathy and Paula and ... I’m not sure where the connections stop. Obviously infidelity, sexual improprieties and the abuse of power are hot topics right now. With the whole country entranced by the White House sex scandal, you may wonder how I can come up with a column that will take your attention away from the President’s sex life. But SEX just happens to be the subject of this month’s column ... Sex and Infidelity in the Family Firm.

You may wonder, as some of us do, why sex causes such problems for people. After all, the sex drive is a normal and necessary part of human life. The problem isn’t that we have a sex drive. The problem is what we do with that drive. As with most human skills sex can be used in a positive healthy way or it can be used to abuse and manipulate. Sex can lead to pleasure, or a love bond within a relationship. Or sex can lead to pain, suffering and corruption.

There is very little in human life that is instinctual. Although the sex drive may be with us from birth, expression of our sexuality is learned. And unfortunately much of what we learn as we grow up, about appropriate sexual behavior is gathered from unreliable sources such as childhood friends, pornographic materials hidden from our parents, television and movies, or worse, through exploitation by unethical adults. Other than a perfunctory sex-education class in public school, where the emphasis is on health and procreation, where does a child learn about sexual techniques, or the relationship between sex and love, or the subtleties of sex in the workplace? Where do they learn about ethics?

Many parents oppose even the scant sex education offered in the public schools. They maintain that sexuality should be taught by the parents, that it is a private matter, that exposing children to these subjects in school will encourage promiscuity. Regardless of the merit of these arguments, I have met few parents who openly discuss sexuality with their kids. Most parents tell me they are more than willing to answer any questions their kids ask about sex, as if any kid in their right mind will let their parents know they are thinking about sex!

So with that minor digression taken care of, back to sex in the family firm. If most of us get a poor education about how to develop our sexual instincts into a healthy expression of our sexuality, then it’s quite likely that most families experience problems at one time or another such as sexual inappropriateness, infidelity, and even abuse. And if that is true for many families, it is true for many family firms.

Jan and Dale were really scared when I first met them. They had been frustrated for years by the poor work performance of their son, Drake whom they were grooming to take over the business when they retired. Drake just didn’t seem to have leadership abilities and his latest escapade was about to sink everything. A female employee had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Drake. It appeared to be true and well documented.

This was not a simple situation of parents neglecting their sons’ sex education, although they had done that too. Jan and Dale had not dealt with their own unresolved problems regarding sex. In earlier years, Dale had been involved in more than one affair. Each affair ended quietly and the couple never again spoke of the problem. Unfortunately, this lack of communication lead to repeated affairs, rather than resolution of the couple’s marital and sexual problems. While Jan thought she was suffering silently and Dale was always repentant, the couple’s children were being profoundly affected. Drake was angry that his father would betray his mother and he was angry that his mother would let Dale get away with it. What Drake was learning about sexuality as a child is that it is something that should be a secret, that sexual behavior hurts other people but that there is nothing you can do about it, that women are helpless in the face of a man’s advances. It is not surprising that with these mixed up messages, Drake went too far when he propositioned an employee. No one had educated him about how to properly handle his sexual impulses. For Dale and Jan, the sexual harassment lawsuit was a wake up call. Sex was only one area in their marriage that was a problem because of poor communication and inappropriate use of power. But it is not only the marriage that is affected. Employees, vendors, business associates, and customers are all affected when sexual improprieties are hidden in a family firm. Drake’s inability to develop leadership in the workplace was a direct result of having no respect for his father. Dale’s leadership was questioned by employees because his son was so irresponsible. Jan was viewed as a long suffering inept wife rather than the competent chief financial officer that she was capable of being. These are not desirable images and certainly affect the bottom line.

Even if infidelity, sexual improprieties and abuse of power do not affect your bottom line, they certainly affect your sense of self esteem and the health of your relationships with the ones you love. So why do people risk it? Lack of education is one reason, as I have already discussed. But other reasons abound too. Essentially sexual misbehavior is a signal of some deeper problem. With the President it could be that power has gone to his head, that when you’re at the top there is no way to assess what normal is anymore. With Monica it could be that she feels powerless in many ways, except when she is seducing men. With Dale, the affairs represented his lack of confidence in dealing with his well educated wife. For Drake, sexual power over an employee was the only way to feel powerful at all, since he was failing miserably in the family business.

Whatever the reason for the sexual impropriety, don’t keep it a secret. Use the signal for what it is, a message about a much needed change in your life and relationships. Among families in business, because of the need to be supportive, nurturing and protective of family members, sexual improprieties are covered up more often than in other settings. As embarrassing as it is to bring these things out, it is more embarrassing to pass the problem along to the next generation and risk everything you have worked so hard for. Seek professional, confidential help from a psychologist.

The President is about to balance the budget, but what has captured America’s attention is his sexual liaisons. If sex is a problem in your family firm, even if you think it is a tightly held secret, just what do you think your customers, employees and other business associates are talking about?

Love,hate, and guilt in the family business partnership

Sunday, February 23, 1997




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

Love+Hate=Guilt. How many of you have this type of relationship with one or more of your parents? Or how many of you have felt like this at least once with your parents? Or are you suspicious that this is how your teenage or grown children feel about you? Unfortunately these feelings are all too common among parents and children. They are the natural byproducts of normal human development that has not been allowed to progress to completion. Anger and Love are healthy human emotions that emerge often in our daily lives. Learning methods to process these feelings constructively so that we can mature is the work of childhood. Guilt, on the other hand, is not a normal nor healthy human emotion (unless of course you have legitimately committed a serious offense). To feel guilty for being angry at your parent or child is a misunderstanding of the relationship. Nobody is perfect and so it is very likely that someone you love will do something that makes you mad, even if they don't mean to. You are under no obligation to stifle your anger or to feel guilty just because it is a parent who has misbehaved. Many people balk at the idea of Blaming their parents. They feel guilty for being angry at their parents whom they love and admire. They haven't learned how to reconcile those feelings of love and hate. They either feel guilty about their anger, but more often they deny it altogether. Blame isn't really necessary, but holding your parents (and others too for that matter) accountable for their mistakes is important. Just as you give others credit for their successes, it is important to note the failures, the misunderstandings, the faulty choices. By holding others accountable you accomplish two important goals. First, you are actually treating the other person with respect. You are offering them the opportunity to correct their error. In other words, you are treating them as if they are capable.

By stuffing your anger, you feel helpless and like a victim with no where to go with these feelings except to build up resentment (i.e. Love/Hate). Second, by holding others accountable, you are able to view your own flaws more objectively. Not only can you learn from your mistakes but from other's as well. Take your parents for example. Many adults tell me that they don't want to blame their parents for the mistakes they made, because the grown child should take responsibility for their life now. Yet that grown child is making the same mistakes their parents made; often that is the reason they are in my office! Because your parents raised you and because they are flawed, they made mistakes. You as a child made mistakes too. One of them is to develop the belief that you should feel guilty for being mad at your parents, even if what they did was wrong. By acknowledging what they did wrong (and right) you are better equipped to correct their and your mistakes. For example, a few years ago, my daughter Bianca was taking interminably long to get ready to go out. I was in my usual hurry to get somewhere, never planning quite enough time to prepare myself and two young children for an outing. I told Bianca several times to get her shoes on so that we could leave, but she was preoccupied with some toy and was not getting to the task. Finally in desperation, I grabbed her by the arm, pulled her down the hall and said "Let's go now!" She pulled her arm away from me, put her hands on her little hips and looking at me very disapprovingly said, "That is rude!" Several options whizzed through my mind at that moment, but fortunately I was amazed at her perceptiveness. She was absolutely right and she had the guts to tell me. She was four. I apologized for pulling her arm, told her that I loved her and informed her that because I was the mommy she had to put on her shoes now.

She obliged and we had a fun outing. If you want to clear up the Love+Hate=Guilt relationship you have with your parents or children, take a moment to do the following exercise.

  1. As honestly as possible, list your loved one's flaws, mistakes and even downright nasty traits. Make sure you include everything that makes you really angry about this person.
  2. Now list all of those traits you admire and are grateful for.
  3. As you review these lists, ask yourself, which traits are you carrying on, in the family tradition. Be honest. You might ask your spouse for feedback because you may feel so guilty that you cannot acknowledge your parents flaws, or your own.
  4. Finally, make a plan of action to change the negative counterproductive traits.

This little exercise is very revealing. By feeling guilty and by avoiding blame you may inadvertently be carrying on the same mistakes generation after generation. The goal of each generation should be to improve upon the goals of the last, not repeat mistakes. By holding your parents accountable you are more free to do this. I hope by now that you realize that blame is not really the answer, but that accountability is. Be respectful in your confrontations. Tell your parents what they did that hurt or angered you, but treat them as if they are human beings quite cabable of accepting responsibility for their mistakes and cabable of correcting them. This is especially crucial in a family business. How is the business to prosper if children coming up into the business never correct the errors of their predecessors? How is the business to remain competitive if you hang onto old ways just because you are afraid to confront a parent or grandparent? On the other hand, if you trust that your love for this person and their love for you is strong enough to handle the confrontation, you both benefit by getting things out in the open.

Building balance in family business partnerships

Thursday, December 05, 1996




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

The Yin and the Yang; other than an interesting design for a T-shirt or jewelry, what do we really know about this symbol? Better yet, what is the relevance to our modern life? Simply, the Yin and Yang symbol represents those masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves as individuals, as couples, as neighborhoods, as corporations, as countries. Because the symbol is drawn to show the intertwining of these aspects, the meaning inferred is that we are dependent upon both to build a whole...a whole person, couple, neighborhood, corporation or country. Whatever your spiritual convictions, most people will agree that there are these feminine and masculine traits to be seen in many situations as well as within us. Psychologists have even developed tests to determine how strong certain masculine and feminine traits are within an individual. For example, some people score highly feminine, some highly masculine and some androgynous (or highly masculine and highly feminine). The masculine qualities are typically assumed to be aggressiveness, decisiveness, little show of emotion and so on. Feminine qualities are passiveness, supportiveness, emotionality and so. None of us have only feminine traits or only masculine traits. And some of us even have both masculine and feminine traits in abundance. The value of assessing your Yin/Yang quotient is to determine how much balance you have in your life and your relationships. It is not more desirable to be androgynous or masculine or feminine. The real question is whether you have struck a healthy balance within yourself and among your loved ones. In a family/business this balance is even more crucial. Not only is the health of your relationships affecting family functioning, but business functioning as well. Therefore, a healthy dose of masculine and feminine within a family/business should keep it humming successfully. "I couldn't be successful without her." "I wish more wives could learn the joys of working with their husbands." "

You don't really understand what it takes to run this business because you work in the office." "He doesn't really care about his family because he works all hours."These are examples of the Yin and Yang in operation among couples who work together. At times there is respect for the strength of the other person even though it is different than your strength. At other times, we get bogged down in our own reality and forget the valuable contributions of our partners. When the latter happens, the couple and the business are headed for trouble. Avoiding the pitfalls requires lots of love, open communication, and fearlessness in confronting problems. For example, I had a wife come to me in tears because her husband was dominating her in the family business. Apparently the wife had started the business at home in their garage. When the business took off and became too large to handle, the husband quit his job and came to work for his wife in the business. Unfortunately, his masculine qualities were pushing against his wife's feminine qualities. While she wanted to have his help, she still wanted to be the leader. And as his wife, she wanted to be loving and supportive, but not if it meant giving up her accomplishments. The husband, on the other hand was totally oblivious of the trouble he was stirring up. He was only trying to help. In a typical masculine way, he thought that if he had a good idea, and if his wife didn't say no, then it was OK to proceed. This type of complication between husbands and wives who work together is all too common. The research shows that husbands will dominate decision making and leadership in the business even if the wife founded the business...even if the business is a stereotypically female business, such as a nail salon!

To bring things back into balance, these copreneurs need to remember why they chose to work together in the first place. They need to assess whether the Yin/Yang balance is a good one in the work place and at home. The research shows that working people find great rewards at work, unlike what they get from family interactions. Yet these same working people report that their families are more important to them. In order to get the most from both worlds, especially when they overlap as in a copreneurial venture or family business, you need to really appreciate the Yin/Yang in your self and your spouse and other family/coworkers. For example, when you find yourself complaining that your wife/business partner doesn't really understand what it's like "out in the field," ask yourself if you could do her job in the office. Better yet, ask yourself who you would hire to replace this trusted employee and tireless worker. When you feel that your husband/coworker doesn't really love you anymore or that he treats his business clientele better than you or the children, ask yourself how the business would have grown without his determination and willingness to sacrifice his own personal time. With these new perceptions you are in a much better position to renegotiate the terms of the relationship. To be sure, if one spouse keeps putting in long hours at the expense of the family; and if spouses work side by side, doing their jobs, but never understanding each other, there is not much of a relationship, personal or business. Instead, with love and appreciation for past contributions, begin talking about change. Talk about striking a balance between love and work. Talk about the risk of losing a client or losing a spouse if priorities don't get straight. Talk about doing a little training with your spouse so that they do understand just what your job involves. Train the kids too; prepare them for the future when they too will seek to balance Yin and Yang.

Work related stress - Is it a symptom or the problem?

Sunday, October 27, 1996




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.

Here's just one real-life example. I had heard stories about cats, that they cold be territorial and even jealous. So I was not surprised when my cat, Misha, started having "accidents" in the house just after the birth of my eldest child. After all, her role as my "baby" was being usurped by the new little bundle.

I was prepared though, being trained in psychology. I introduced Misha to the new baby and played with the cat and baby together. I bought Misha new toys and kitty treats so that she wouldn't be jealous of the baby's new things. I made appoint of holding and petting the cat more often than usual, so she wouldn't feel forgotten.

But in spite of all of my efforts she continued to have "accidents." I was getting pretty frazzled with a new baby to care for and adjust to and a cat that was going off the deep end. I was about at the end of my rope one day when in walked Misha. I was sitting in the recliner feeding the baby, when Misha walked up to me, crouched at my feet and defecated right in front of me.

That did it. The next day, I packed up the cat and took her to the vet, threatening to leave her there if a solution could not be found. Within a few minutes after examining the cat, the vet advised me that she had cystitis and needed antibiotics. Needless to say within a few days, Misha was back to normal and using the garden instead of my living room.

How often have you been unable to solve a problem because you were looking in the wrong direction as I was with Misha? Or perhaps you thought the solution should be more complicated than it needed to be?

In my situation, I was just to darned smart for my own good. The solution wasn't nearly as complicated as I had made it. But this experience was a great reminder to me of how often we get lost in our own realities. As a psychologist I can easily thing everything is psychological, because psychology is a big part of my world

Problem solving with people is even more difficult than with cats. But the strategy is really still the same. The first question to ask yourself is, "Is this thing I am observing the signal or the problem?" In Misha's case, I was observing a signal coming from Misha that was creating a problem for me. In order to solve my problem, I needed to interpret Misha's signal and develop a solution that would take care of her problem before I could take care of mine.

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 hare? 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 of 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 word of caution. While my experience with Misha is a reminder that 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.

The developing of a resilient organizational leader

Monday, October 14, 1996




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

What makes a leader? Is leadership a genetic trait or a learned ability? Are men better leaders than women? Is leadership ability universal or situational? Do leadership skills fade if not used? These are questions that research has yet to answer. But leadership development is one of the major concerns of American executives. Business owners are frequently faced with the problem of developing leadership skills among executives and managers. These same executives and managers may be highly skilled in their particular specialty, but lack what it takes to lead his or her people to excellence in their industry. The qualities of a leader are many. And to some extent the type of leadership style that works in one setting may not work in another. What is common to all successful leaders however, is the ability to communicate with his or her subordinates, colleagues and superiors. The confident leader communicates this confidence and encourages the best from others. Over the years I have often been surprised at how many successful and wealthy business owners have such poor communication and leadership skills. Apparently having good interpersonal skills is not a requirement for business success, but it certainly makes things go more smoothly. One wonders how much more could be accomplished by these wealthy and successful folks if they had improved interpersonal skills. When you are the boss you can compensate for poor people skills by firing troubling people. Most entrepreneurs are extremely hard workers, so another way to compensate is to put in more hours to cover for your lack of leadership ability. In family firms, if no family member emerges as a successor to the founder, the business can be sold.

These strategies seem rather primitive when good communication and interpersonal skills can be learned. It may be that some people are just born to lead, but with training in communication skills, a natural leader may be discovered who may otherwise have been overlooked. The kind of skills that will enhance any leader's position and that could create a leader from someone with raw talent, come under what I call the "resilience factor." Within this factor are the qualities of flexibility, the win-win philosophy, quality over quantity, toughness, and foresight. No matter what surprises lay in store for this leader, he or she is flexible enough to do what works in the moment. He or she can learn from even the lowest employee in the hierarchy. A father can take direction from his son or daughter. Competition is a waste of time for this leader. A husband and wife who work together learn to appreciate the unique talents that each brings to the business. This leader's philosophy is that everyone wins. Doing things fast is replaced by doing things thoroughly, efficiently and with quality. The leader who has mastered good interpersonal skills has a devoted work force, family and clientele. Therefore, taking the time to do it right and to learn from others pays off. Leaders who win are tough. They don't give up. Their employees and family members can count on them to come through. They aren't afraid to speak, nor to speak an unpopular position. And when they speak, they have thoroughly researched their opinion.

Winging it was OK in those start up years, but if you want people to follow you, be thorough. Among family business owners, cultivating leadership is even more difficult. The development of interpersonal skills is often thwarted by the system of primogeniture. That is, the leader of a family business may take leadership solely because he is the eldest son of the founder. He may have little leadership ability, and poor interpersonal skills, but as the son (or eldest son) no one looks further for true leadership. Leaders of family firms who want the best for their families and their business confront the problem of cultivating leadership openly and honestly. They insist on training the next generation in the development of problem solving skills, communication skills, confrontation skills as well as the skills of the specific product manufactured. Passing the business on to the next generation requires foresight, another quality of successful leadership. Being wrapped up in ego needs, leaves a business owner with no one to trust the business to when he or she retires or dies. The truly resilient leader is one who has planned ahead and created a resilient business. Resilient leaders recognize the abilities and talents in others as well as themselves. These leaders realize that their greatest contribution to the business is their ability to lead, to cultivate excellence in others, to create a quality business with longevity. Without developing the interpersonal skills that create trust and confidence in the leader, this is just not possible.

Alcoholism -- the secret of addictions in family firms

Sunday, February 04, 1996




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 work day 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 their 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 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. 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 their 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 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.