Cultivating Leadership in Family Enterprises: A Q&A with Laura Barton
We are thrilled to welcome Laura Barton, MA to Telos Group. We have worked together for many years, and are excited for the leadership expertise she brings to the Telos team. Laura is an impassioned, compassionate educator with sharp insights for families and their advisors. She integrates her expertise in holistic wellness with her coaching and teaching practice to facilitate the comprehensive personal and professional wellbeing of the individuals and families that she serves.
- Judi Cunningham & Mike McGrann
What aspects of family enterprise consulting do you enjoy the most?
Watching individuals and families come together around shared vision, and working with them to make their visions come to life within their families and businesses is incredibly enriching. It’s rewarding to see capabilities develop and watch new and deeper commitments to communication grow in the families I work with.
Giving and receiving feedback takes skill and courage, especially if this kind of process is somewhat unfamiliar. In families, we often get so accustomed to habits of interaction, we can also find it difficult to listen to each other with unbiased ears - particularly when we’ve spent decades interacting together at work and/or at home. Or, for the rising generation, who may not have much of a voice at the table, it can take a great deal of courage to speak up and be heard. Those with more dominant personalities tend to control the conversations, and quieter individuals may find it hard to participate at times.
I like creating opportunities to level the playing field so those who may not have a vote can at least have a voice. My belief is that more open and frequent communication leads to better decision making.
Do you work mostly with the younger generation?
Most of my work is with individuals who are already in leadership positions. And, in the last 5 years, with the population aging and more people thinking about retirement, there have been an increasing number of requests to help with succession planning and preparing the next generation for leadership.
I enjoy working with the younger generation to help them begin to clarify their own vision for their life and set their own leadership objectives. By leadership, I mean having them see themselves as leaders in their life, not just in their business: to think about who they are being, and what they are doing to make their vision happen.
What do you find most fulfilling about coaching and education for leadership?
I love seeing people develop clarity of purpose: when they set some big goals for themselves and then take action to achieve those goals. And of course, when they meet those goals and have those wins, it’s very rewarding. And time and again, I am reminded of how vital small, incremental steps are to long term transformation. Often it’s those little daily habits that end up having a big impact over time, because they instill foundational growth. It’s exciting to facilitate processes where individuals come to learn more about themselves, know themselves better, and, in turn, accelerate that growth. I like to think I am helping people access their potential in a more intentional and deliberate way, so that they’re not stuck in the status quo watching months or years go by without any change.
I think that’s also why I care so much about health, wellness and wellbeing. You cannot be optimally effective if you drive yourself to the point of burning out. That expression of ‘burning a candle at both ends’ shouldn’t be the way you live life. Performing at your best, and having a positive impact on your family and business, requires paying attention to what you need mentally and physically to be resilient. Leadership starts with the self.
2020 was a stressful year for many, what are your thoughts on how families can come together to manage that stress?
First, I think we need to have a little more patience with each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. There has been enormous stress on all of us this year, from being separated from loved ones to having to lay off employees and find ways to keep businesses functioning with a remote workforce. Bringing empathy and compassion to the table can remind us that everyone is trying to cope the best way they know how. If we can be kind, patient and curious about where the other person is coming from then we can start to understand what they need in order to get back to center. Our minds cannot be in judgement and curiosity at the same time, so the key is to stay curious. We could all benefit from being a little more tolerant and less quick to judge, pandemic or no.
Second, families would benefit a lot in 2021 by establishing a clear vision of what they want to accomplish in the coming months, as a family and as a business, and commit to seeing that vision through. Setting new milestones for things you want to achieve or change helps to refocus energy and funnel it towards achievable goals. When people have a vision, or a direction, it helps family members to hold each other accountable to moving towards that outcome. Pick something achievable, set some targets so you can celebrate progress and make time to have fun together however you can in this Covid environment. Re-energizing even in small ways will reap benefits in the family as well as in the business.