Bringing Light to Business Clients

Bringing Light to Business Clients

Consultants can develop the capacity to serve family businesses after engaging in reflection that helps them become leaders.

Family business advisors, accountants, lawyers, bankers, financial planners, behavioral science types, and insurance professionals are all leaders when it comes to serving family business clients.

Let me explain.

Parker Palmer quotes Václav Havel in a chapter from Leading From Within: Out of the Shadow, into the Light: “[A]nyone in a position of power over others is a leader in the broadest sense of the word and, therefore, has a duty to take on the accompanying responsibilities.” In the case of family business clients, professionals must take on the responsibility of self-examination and growth.

If you think about Havel’s admonition to take responsibility for our own consciousness lest our involvement create more harm than good, we are compelled to look into our souls and move to a deeper understanding of our inner experiences. For instance, each of us has a family of origin that influences our perspective, interventions, and the advice we share with clients. The more we understand these influences, the more caution we can exercise against projecting our own experiences onto our clients.

Palmer comments on this idea: “Great leadership comes from people who have made the downward journey through violence and terror, who have touched the deep place where we are in communication with each other, and who can help take the rest of us to that place. That is what great leadership is all about.”

Those of us who work with family businesses must reach deeply and systematically inside to better understand our own experiences and the effect these have on clients. As Palmer says, we must “create light out of shadow.” He offers five shadow areas and the “gift” of reflection.

  1. Deep insecurity about our own self-worth
    Despite our awareness of being professionals, all human beings have concerns about their own sense of identity and self-worth. If unaware of those fears and insecurities, we can project them onto clients, and, consequently, prevent them from dealing with their own issues and identity. The gift is that when I know this about myself I can understand that who I am does not depend on what I do. It frees me to be flexible and create beneficial options for clients.
  2. The universe is essentially hostile to human interests
    Palmer proposes that life is fundamentally a battleground. This produces a sense of scarcity rather than abundance, which keeps professionals from making necessary referrals. Professionals who embrace abundance in a universe working for good can realize that collaborating with other professionals will not diminish their practice or reduce influence over their clients.
  3. Functional theism
    Many people, and especially professionals, believe that “the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.” Professionals operating with the belief that they are responsible for every outcome essentially disempowers clients. The light from this shadow is the humble realization that you can become co-creators with your clients and other professionals. Trust others, both clients and other professionals, to bring insights and solutions.
  4. Fear around the natural chaos of life
    Fear affects us as we work with the daunting challenges of how to help family businesses. It’s important to remember that creativity comes out of chaos, which reduces the pressure to create structures, solutions, and rigid approaches that may not best serve clients. Instead, dive inward, stay in the moment, and live with uncertainty. This is not just difficult for clients to realize, but also for those who serve them. The gift of light is to realize that change occurs in the moment and to be disciplined to be ready for the challenge.
  5. Denial of death
    All the work that family business professionals do relative to ownership and leadership succession implies the issues of loss and death. We must come to terms with those issues in our own lives to keep them from being a subliminal problem for clients.
    The ability to ponder these mysteries and the shadow of death allows us to realize that death is natural. This is the gift. When we can allow things to die, new systems and new life will emerge. Ultimately, we come to realize that death is an old friend. Denise Levertov’s poem Talking to Grief captures it best when she explains that grief has to do with recognizing that winter is coming, and I need to let that dog lie under my porch so I can come to terms with the issues of change and loss in my own life. In doing so, you can avoid projecting these issues onto your clients.

For professionals who work with family business clients, it is important to have the courage to confront these shadow issues. Whenever possible, they can be explored in workshops, continuing education seminars, or interdisciplinary study groups, and professionals can examine and discuss the ways they can manage their shadow issues. In the process, we can support each other by bringing light rather than darkness to our clients.

Tom Hubler ( is president of Hubler for Business Families, a family business consulting firm.

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