The hidden impact of Life dis-abled. | Compass Point Skip to main content


Prior to my work as a business coach, my first thought when I heard the word Disability was that it’s a physical condition due to a life-altering injury, accident, illness or birth defect. In far simpler layman’s terms, it was a medical condition I could see.

Today I realize my limited definition of Disability only considered what was at the surface. Like an iceberg, something much larger, much deeper was lurking below, with the potential to alter the lives of individuals, families, and businesses.

Disabilities have long been defined as physical and mental conditions limiting a person’s movements, senses, or activities. The literal definition of disable means to render unable, weaken or destroy the capability of; to deactivate or to make inoperable.

There is another side to this word.
Dis-abling issues are often not visible. At least not at first.

– autoimmune disorders

– neurological diseases

– depression and anxiety

– trauma and PTSD

– dementia

– a grim diagnosis

– sheer grief

These situations can dis-able even the strongest among us. I’m using the hyphen here with intent. To emphasize the ripple effect these life events can have, rendering us un-able to function.


There is a person directly affected…

…Searching for answers, treatments, strength, or all of the above.

…Struggling to perform at their job as they once did.

…Grappling with the career/life they are forced to put on hold.


Then there is the family…

…Uncertainty and worry of how to help, short-term, long-term.

…Resources and time are spread thin.

…The inevitable toll physically, emotionally, financially.


Then there is the family business…

…How much do you share and when?

…Will it cause vendors, clients, and employees to question viability?

…What are the best next steps to deal with the uncertainty?


As my Compass Point mentor, Tom Garrity just shared in his recent blog, “Life mimic Business. Business mimics Life.”, we don’t control what debilitating event may impact us, our family or our team. But we can be prepared, so let’s start with a question…


Could you step away from the business for 6 months? A year, if needed?


Think about that. If you, a loved one or a key employee became disabled, how would the family business function?  Could it survive?


Such an event challenges our assumptions and daily routines, disrupting future plans in a blink of an eye. It throws a giant spotlight on what is important.


Imagine you have worked hard for decades building a generational family business, then receive a cancer diagnosis. Time stops. Business does not. This has happened close to home.


After receiving a cancer diagnosis, one of our clients decided to adjust their role in the business to part-time, stepping back to enjoy more time with family and focus on their health. This decision set into motion many moving parts. To make this adjustment possible, a transition of ownership needed to take place, new roles needed to be established, and a new organizational structure needed to be defined.

Ownership transition planning takes time and is much easier to do when the business is young and family drama is low. Transition planning becomes much more complicated when an outside stress has created the urgency to do so.

And then there is the communication plan. How will this news and the plan moving forward be shared with the rest of the organization, ensuring that you can control the dialogue? As human nature goes, employees may love you as a leader, but they are worried about how this affects them. When major changes like this occur, most employees worry about 2 things: is the business stable and will they have a job?

As Patrick Lencioni makes very clear in his book, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, cascading information to the organization is critical. Preparation within the leadership team ensures that no matter who is asking who, the same message is getting shared.  Our client was able to prepare for this transition and cascade the information to the entire organization, minimizing fear and uncertainty.  It was received well, and the business was able to continue growing through all the major changes in ownership and leadership.

And here is something owners really need to hear… traditional business consultants often back away from these moments. Compass Point is different. Through our experience and training, we are not afraid to sit with our clients, to listen and guide them through the realities and tough decisions of a 5Ds life event. EVERY family business WILL eventually be faced with one: Death, Disability, Divorce, Distress or Disagreement

What does readiness look like when faced with a disability / disabling event?

Here are three resources to tap into:

Download a simple self-evaluation here to see how prepared you are.
Grab our free eBook, The 5Ds of Life, Events that can Derail your Business.
Book a call to talk through what scenarios are keeping you up at night.

Matthew Baran profile picture
Matthew Baran

Matthew’s background is deeply rooted in family business. As a third-generation leader himself, Matthews shares the first-hand insights he gained on the inner workings of their family-run enterprise, including merger experience, establishing a global operation and a 5D life event that impacted his father’s transition plans. 

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