April 17, 2020 / Debbie Bing
“My values haven't been tested but my ability to live by them have been shattered.”
—Family business leader
Yesterday, my colleague and I led a webinar with hundreds of members of family businesses on the topic of resilience. The basic premise is clear: the art of resilience—surviving, thriving, even against the toughest odds—is “built in” for family businesses—built over decades and across generations. More often than not, family businesses that last are molded by values shared and tested week after week, decade after decade, providing guideposts for navigating unfamiliar territory even as businesses and families evolve. They are the stuff of lasting stories that point to an enduring quality—we stand for something; you can count on us—which, in turn, brings a measure of courage when it is most needed.
Still, COVID-19 is testing even the most practiced. It may be the first time that multiple generations of family business leaders can all say, “We have never seen this before.” We asked our webinar participants if their values were being tested by today’s events. And while some said no, other participants offered powerfully candid responses about how challenging it was to live their values today.
We shared the poignancy of this experience and, even as a webinar, were moved by the questions and responses participants disclosed. What could be more disorienting than a felt inability to put into action the core of what you stand for? To those who also feel tested, we say: you are already living your values—and you can bring others into that discussion (versus having it inside your head). Values are not static prescriptions, with canned answers to the very practical and serious business choices you must make. There is no one way to live your values, and you are probably already living them more than you think.
There are no easy answers at a time like this, but the crucible of crisis will, in retrospect, offer you lessons for the stories your children will tell. What can you do to learn some of these lessons in the middle of this crisis? To our brave commenter who fears that his/her values have been shattered, we are sure of this: worrying out loud, bringing others (strangers or those close to you alike) into your deliberations—so that the catch-22 of your choices teaches others about very real, hard choices—is what will have them endure, not as nice words on a wall, but as the backbone for the future.
We were eager to share what we are learning from our clients in real time about their resilience strategies on this and many other fronts. Listen to the recording of the webinar and see our full set of “tips” for resilience.