"Not On My Watch"

Related terms:
“Not On My Watch….”
A hunter was out for a short walk in the woods near his cabin and soon found himself being charged by a bear. He was running as fast as he could toward the cabin with the bear so close he could feel the heat of the bear’s breath. As he got to the cabin steps with the bear just inches behind him, he tripped and the bear, running so fast and so close, rolled right over the hunter and through the door of the cabin. The hunter got up, closed and locked the door to the cabin, and then yelled to his hunting buddy, “You skin this one…. I’ll get the next one!”

Nearly every generation of a family business goes through a period of tough times that stretch their ability and challenge their confidence that the business will survive to the next generation. How they handle that era of the business can have a very positive—or negative—affect on their generation and the generations to come. Obviously there are financial outcomes to consider, but there are also management and leadership lessons that cannot be overlooked.

During a recent visit to a walnut, rice, almond and olive grower in California’s Sacramento Valley, the patriarch of the family was reflecting on some of those times he and his late brother had experienced. He shared with me the different times they had worked through floods, late frosts, early frosts and devastating market conditions that over the years had wiped out many of their neighbors. What captured my attention was the way that he reflected on those events in a calm, positive, almost nostalgic manner—revealing a true reverence for the experiences and what they had learned through surviving them. It was clear that the more he talked about those tough times, the more he missed having his brother there to share more of the good times that followed in the years to come.

He said that one of the keys to survival was a philosophy that centered around the concept of, “Not on my watch….” Here are some of their deeply held convictions…..

“This business is not going to fail On My Watch…”

“We will work as hard as we have to, and make any changes we have to, On Our Watch…. to keep this business viable for the next generation…”

“We don’t want anyone in the next generation to look back at our generation and say they should have done……… On Their Watch.”

His lessons were so clear, and he explained them in such a sincere and graphic manner, that I gave the third generation—his grandchildren and those of his brother that were in the business—the assignment to spend one lunch hour per month with him, listening to his lessons and recording them for the benefit of every generation to come. At the next family picnic, (held twice per year on Easter and Thanksgiving) this next generation would share some of these stories so that everyone could learn and reflect on the lessons.

How are you doing “On Your Watch”? These are tough times and though we may be turning a corner, the end is far from certain. We know that this business is changing and will not be what it has been for the last several years. There are many great lessons that will be learned, regardless of the outcome.

During tough times, we don’t have the option of telling the next generation, “You get this crisis, I’ll get the next one….” so be sure that you are sufficiently handling these challenges “On Your Watch”—but also chronicling them so that they can be valued for many generations to come.