How the Holidays Can Shape Your Family Legacy

Ideas for Reflection and Celebration to Build Upon and Repair Legacy Foundations

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By Jeanne Bernick, Certified Family Business Advisor

For many of you the stress of harvest season is over and now you enter a new season in family business: the holidays! As if working with family isn’t challenging enough, now there are mandatory meals and celebrations and traditions to recreate, not to mention additional relatives who may be curious about what is going on within the family business.

For many of the family farms and ranches I work with, the holidays can be a tough time for communication and business transparency. My advice to family businesses is to rely on your legacy to get you through the holiday season.

Historically speaking, relatively few farm and ranch businesses have survived the generation of their founding. The fact that your family business is still thriving is worth celebrating in itself! Throw in the challenges of COVID-19 loss and fatigue on businesses and individuals, and most people right now are embracing the opportunity to reunite and feel a sense of ‘normal’ again.

Legacy Building: Embrace the past, enjoy the present, and embark on the future, together

Everyone loves to hear the story of how grandpa and grandma started the farm business, or how the ranch was carved out of the hard scrabble clay, or the tenacity of your forefathers to build in this place, at that time.

Embrace the past.

Look through memory books and read the history of the land or farming region to bring into perspective how far the business has come over the years.

“Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.” – Steve Saint

One of the best ideas is to have the youngest generation on the farm or ranch conduct an interview session with the elders of the family business. Use a smartphone microphone or a video recorder to record the session, and tell the oldest generation you want to spend time with them over the holidays learning more about the early days of the family business.

Make sure to ask many of who, what, when and why questions, but more importantly, ask about their favorite memories of working on the farm or ranch, or their funniest memory of working with a cousin or brother or sister. The stories that unfold will be treasures for years to come.

Enjoy the present.

Here’s another tool I give farm families to manage stress over the holidays: Don’t Create New Regrets. Everyone in family business can think about a past argument or debate that lingers as a negative in their memories.

So keep these four words in mind when conversations get heated or tense. Think before you speak or act, and ask yourself: “If I say or do this, will it create a new regret in my family or within the business?”

Embark on the future, together.

Take the time to linger over your legacy this time of year. Focus on appreciating those who came before you, and look into the eyes of your children and grandchildren who will come after you. The spirit of this season is meant for reflection and celebration of both the past and the future.

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