I recently attended a Leadership Retreat in Rochester, NY.

A severe winter storm delayed flights across the North-Eastern US. Fortunately, this weather system extended my stay and provided an opportunity for greater reflection on the events of the retreat.

It also afforded me the chance to connect with members of the US National Guard and provided unexpected insights into the family business. I rode the elevator one evening with a woman who had just finished placing several flags in the hotel lobby. When I inquired about the flags I learned that the following day there would be an event for soldiers returning home from deployment to Afghanistan.  She left me with these parting words on the way off the elevator: “Make sure to stop by and thank one of your soldiers tomorrow.”

As a Canadian this got me thinking about the act of thanking a soldier from the US. These aren’t “my” soldiers, should I be thanking them?

If Canada was in conflict with another nation it is highly likely that the soldiers I meet tomorrow would be allied, and in effect be “my” soldiers.  If Canada were to invade the State of New York, in the here and now, you can bet I will be rooting for the US soldiers to protect the hotel I am staying in.

The next morning I introduce myself to Sargent Rogers (pseudonym) and thank her for her service. My curiosity was hungry for information about her interest in the National Guard and her civilian background. I discover her background in business and inquire if anything from that experience transfers into the army.  “Of course – this is a family business”  to which I reply: “Interesting how do you see this as a family business?”, her response brings shivers to my spine:

“Because we are like brothers and sisters – we have each other’s backs.”

Once the emotion of the moment passes I ask her how she separates military life (the family business) from civilian life and her response was: “Simple, the uniform goes on and I am Sargent Rogers, the uniform comes off and I am Christy.”

My next opportunity to thank a foreign soldier for his service is with Sargent Godin (pseudonym). Sargent Godin is a lawyer in his civilian life with a passion for genealogy. I discovered that he too shared Sargent Rogers view of the military as a family business, but his perspective was more literal – tracing his own military lineage back several generations. There was a pride of service evident in his stories. Our conversation turned from his military lineage to his involvement with his wife’s family business. Thirsty for knowledge I inquire about the families tactics to manage the tension in the family business and discover very little separation between business activities and family activities. This family discusses business routinely at gatherings.  To my surprise, these fully integrated family business discussions happen concurrently and with as much ease as conversations over the football game on tv and Aunt Betty’s upcoming birthday party.

The contrast between how Sargent Rogers and Sargent Godin approached the family business was striking. Sargent Rogers reported an approach of complete (separation) that was done with ease while Sargent Godin reported an equally smooth strategy of complete (integration). Two radically different approaches.

These two examples illustrate either end of the spectrum between fully separate and integrated approaches to the family business. Would your family business benefit from more (separation) or more (integration)?

What if we were to look at North America as a family business? Could the US, CANADA, and MEXICO benefit from more integration or more separation? Should the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),  an integrated approach, be updated to incorporate greater separation? Or is it necessary to construct a wall to achieve this objective?

For me, one thing is certain … if you want to increase connection … Thank a Foreign Soldier!