Parent Child Relationships

Knowledge & Wisdom Transition in Family & Business

Knowledge & Wisdom Transition in Family & Business

by Jonathan Roth Magidovitch

First, this note of caution: a poorly handled transition of knowledge and wisdom will set loose tsunami waves of disruption

We have an archetype of such a broken transition in Hebrew Scriptures.  From his death bed Jacob (Yisrael) the Patriarch gathers his children and shares key information with them:

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. … Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills.” Genesis 49

Jacob acts with best intentions, but the result is fraught with difficulty:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” Genesis 50

This Biblical “uh-oh” moment is something many family businesses experience. Faulty transitions lead to infighting which is costly to the value of the business and to the cohesion among the family. Therefore, diving into the subject of transitions is of high value.

Our subject is transition of knowledge & wisdom in family business.  We make the parallel to elders blessing their children to provide a framework for understanding transitions.

Transitions are often thought of as final, definite acts by the patriarchal leader or his proxy. Given this compression into a single, final moment, such transitions tend to be dramatic, emotional and subject to a variety of disruptions.

There is little time and huge potential for interference making it difficult to validate the transition, contextualize it or stabilize it within the successor generation.

Key modes of understanding transition include:

  • magical
    • The elder manipulates forces (tools) which bestow upon the younger capabilities the elder deems core to running the business.  This transfer may not actually include training or information. Think here of the Wizard of Oz who bestows brains, heart and courage.
  • mystical
    • The elder invokes a metaphysical force which bestows upon the younger the rights and capacities of leadership.  This is akin to coronation in bringing to the younger a “divine right of kings” type leadership
  • informational
    • The elder turns over access to e.g. the CRM database, the location of skeletons, relationships with service providers; in sum, all the skills and knowledge to run the business.

Each mode comes from a mindset, a culture of the family.  Often, more than one mode is used though there is a dominant mode.

In the “magical mode” the most notable attribute is manipulation.  There is an actor, a decider, a doer.  And there are objects of action, receivers who are not given control, who are corralled into passivity and in whom there is a build-up of resentments.

A business might choose this magical mode with the belief that the competition it sets up among the owner-employees serves to hone the skills of each.

In the “mystical mode” there is a sense that this business is “bigger than each and all of us.” There are values here that the patriarch has been stewarding and now is passing that stewardship on to the next patriarch.

A business would choose this mystical mode with the belief that the business’ core values are broadly accepted as valuable and that broad acceptance sustains the business and unifies the owner-employees.  Typical of this mode is Subaru which promotes the values of sustainability and of multiculturalism.  These values are demonstrably present in their products and are central all the way from design through marketing.

The “informational mode” is marked by beliefs about adherence to best practices.  Emotion is allowed a place in the process but it does not drive the process.  Quantifiables are the drivers.  In this mode, there may be a patriarch, but this person would have powers limited by documented procedures.  Transition also would be delineated by those procedures.  This compares to the Kings of Ancient Israel who ascended to the throne only after having handwritten for their future reference a copy of Scripture and this text was kept handy on a shelf built into the seat of their throne.

A business would choose this informational mode with the belief that it provides stability by limiting capricious action.  This stability however is directly related to the quality of the core management document and its inherent procedures.

Timing is everything. The above modes matter, but as much or more, timing matters.

Returning to the image of a parent blessing their child, if a parent were to place their hands on their child’s head and say words of blessing, beautiful well-considered words, this would seem to be good.  But, if every day prior to that act of blessing the parent said and did things to and around that child that were difficult or damaging, it would be near impossible for that child to receive the blessing outside that context.

Therefore, rather than thinking of blessing as a final and definite act, consider blessing to be the sum total of all the energy that has ever been directed by the parent to the child.  Blessing begins at the child’s birth and continues 24/7 even if you don’t think the child hears and even if the child is not in the room at that moment.  This is not magical or mystical.  This is because actions come from somewhere inside.  If we hold a belief and only say it behind someone’s back, that belief still influences how we act and they still pick it up; they still feel its shadows and repercussions.

Similarly, business transitions of knowledge and wisdom are not effective if thought of as some final act. Transitions of knowledge and wisdom must be part of the ongoing consciousness and work of the business. From the moment of taking the helm, a leader must actively be preparing for their own retirement and for healthy succession.

The leader must consider ongoing that the future transition must be perceived as valid by the stakeholders of the business. The leader must create a context for transition and must be explicit about this context.  That is, transitional constructs cannot be hidden in hints and parables. The leader must stabilize transitions by creating a culture that supports transitions.

Don’t wait.  That is the central advice about transition of knowledge and wisdom.  As a family or business leader make transition an ongoing part of your work.

Jonathan Roth Magidovitch works in the US and Israel as a coach/consultant for individuals, families and family businesses. He is the principal of Yosef Meged Consulting.

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The Weight of Honor: Coming to Terms with a Dishonorable Parent

The Weight of Honor: Coming to Terms with a Dishonorable Parent

Jonathan Roth Magidovitch

November 2014

In my student years, I worked at a mental health center as a therapist in training.  The program was based in the psychology department of a Midwestern university.

Early in my training, a new client came in very agitated.  He was sure he was going to hell because he did not honor his father.  Honoring parents, he knew, was one of the Ten Commandments.  He could not honor his father because the man came home drunk most nights and beat up his wife, the client’s mother.

I told the client that he was working with a bad translation of Commandment Five.  The King James version reads: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

In the original Hebrew, the word translated here as “honor” is “kabed” כבד.  The basic or root meaning of kabed is “weight.”

I guided the client to understand that obeying Commandment Five was not about giving honor to a drunken, violent father.

For the son, obeying the commandment then was about seeing who his father was and how his father’s actions impacted him.  That is, obeying Commandment Five is acknowledging the weight of parents in our lives.

Obeying the commandment would call on this son to understand who he came from, and should he become a husband and father, to be careful not to reenact the dramas played out before him by his father.

Breaking the commandment would be to say, “my father was a wife-beating drunk and that has had no effect on me.” Such a misbelief would lead to inadequate preparation for the potential fallout of his father’s influence in his life.  And so it would go on until someone said, “enough.” (*See Susan Jones reference below.)

That client successfully met his treatment objectives.  While I do not know if he turned away from his religion or stayed “churched”, many people do turn away from religion because of this mistranslation of Commandment Five. They feel damned for doing something they know is right, for NOT honoring dishonorable parents.

It is a mistake to see religion as protecting power whether or not that power is right.

In our particular circumstance, turning away from religion would have been yet more fallout caused by the dishonorable actions of a parent to their child.  Primary damage is the bad influence of the parent’s actions; secondary damage is the child’s loss of connection with a social and values system that provides positive models of behavior.

Religion is at core a radical rejection of power, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.” (Zechariah 4:6) Religion’s central assertion is that material and any power derived from material is no match for Spirit (God).

Spirit is not subject to corruption but religion is highly subject to corruption.

In the name of religion people buy buildings and hire staff and with that comes all the obligations and risks of material life. In this way, religion becomes an easy target for dismissal.

The most direct protection from the potential corruptions of religion is careful and constant questioning of Spirit itself, “What does Spirit want of us?”

WWJD, “what would Jesus do” is an example of questioning of Spirit.

In Genesis is another example of questioning Spirit.  When Abraham and God were discussing the fate of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God revealed to Abraham His plan to destroy the cities.  Abraham started a negotiation with God.  Would the presence within of ten righteous people be enough to save to the cities? Even ten were not to be found so the few righteous were exited and the cities destroyed.  But, in the negotiation, the man Abraham challenges God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

In questioning Spirit we come upon something we can sink our “therapeutic” teeth into.

Religion creates a context through which we can relate with Spirit and this human-Spirit relationship is the model by which we test and mend our other relationships.  We ask Spirit what is expected of us and we tell our expectations. We question the justness of the other, even when that other is Spirit itself.

When religion is working correctly, it frames our relationship with Spirit as a healthy relationship, healthy because it allows for questioning; healthy because it allows us to be human.

That client who could not respect his father came in anxious because he knew what he needed to do and it was not to honor his father.

Given the new translation of Commandment Five, the client understood that his job was not to honor his dishonorable father.  His job was to understand the impact of his father’s actions on him and to make sure that negative effects did not infect his other (future) relationships.

Ideally, the client and his father would work on their relationship in a safe environment, best in a counseling setting. However, if the client did not feel able or safe to do that work, he could (and did) work on the “kabed,” the weightiness in his upbringing in order to safeguard his own future.

He fulfilled the mandate of Commandment Five, “Honor (Acknowledge the weight of thy father and thy mother (in your life), that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

In future, we will prepare a related article on the subject of “The Disrespectful Child.”

Yosef Meged is a business and personal coach working with individuals, families and businesses. Yosef lives and works in the United States and Israel.  You can reach him at yosefmeged18@gmail.com.  In the USA, Yosef works under his American name:  Jonathan Roth Magidovitch.

*For research on intergenerational transmission of behaviors and a therapeutic intervention model see:  Jones, Susan, MSW.  “The Dynamics of Intergenerational Behavior and Forgiveness Therapy. Presented at: North American Association of Christians in Social Work NACSW Convention, October 2012.  St. Louis, MO.