So, you’ve found a way to procreate and give birth to offspring particularly well suited to becoming a CEO – specifically, able to take over your family’s [enter type of business here] business. This child has been born with all the necessary skills to take over and grow a business in your industry.
How exactly does this happen? Does the Kama Sutra give direction in special acts to obtain this result? Is there a laboratory DNA intervention that can effect such an outcome?
In all seriousness, I often work with enterprising families who believe that their offspring are more qualified to take over leadership and ownership of, and bring significant growth to, the family business – simply because “they are my kids.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m in the business of helping families share and grow assets across generations and my efforts fully support families to do just this. However, while height and eye color are strongly inherited traits, entrepreneurialism and leadership skills tend not to be at all.
In my February 2014 post I discussed some of the primary activities to be undertaken to develop the rising generation. Development efforts and regular, collaborative evaluation are the best ways to prepare a child to lead successfully and to know sooner than later if this is not the best choice. Even when the leadership skills are not there, some parents allow their child to take over or even encourage a child who is aware they do not have the skills and are even uninterested in leadership (or in the business at all).
Ultimately, if the fit is not right, you need to move in another direction. A non-family CEO may very well be able to take your company to the next level. The next generation might instead be trained to be very effective as non-working owners, acting as stewards and overseeing and supporting the business and educating other non-working family owners (a topic for another post). Or, next-generation family members may have interests and passions separate from the business, and this can be supported without forcing a child into a poor fit for a leadership position and harming or even ending the family business.
What is the lesson?
Enterprising Families: Don’t kid yourself into believing that you are an exception to the laws of heredity. If parents are open to a leader from the next generation and a child shows motivation and promise, develop them in a formal way and be clear from the start this is a position to be earned.
Advisors to Enterprising Families: You see poor transitions of leadership in family enterprises all the time, often well ahead of current leaders. As a trusted advisor, these families rely on you to guide them and by educating your family clients about the ups and downs of generational transitions you can provide much more value than technical advice alone.