Entrepreneurs tend to be motivated, intense, creative, assertive and self-assured. Very self-assured, in fact – particularly when they have been successful growing a company (or several) and achieving the financial rewards that come with it. They tend to trust their guts which makes some sense since their guts have often steered them the right way- at least in business.
That is the rub. The skills and intuition related to starting and growing a business are frequently not the same as those needed to nurture and support family harmony. The complexity grows when business and family are combined and the dream is for both to flourish. Even when the business skills are applicable to a family/business situation they cannot stand alone.
“Family Business Founder Blindness” is a term I use to describe what happens when a family business founder relies almost exclusively on the beliefs and strategies that made the business grow and thrive, and turns a blind eye to the special needs of a family sharing ownership, leadership and management.
For example, leaders who built a company by taking a strong leadership role, even if they have a trusted executive team on which they rely, often put off discussions about the future of the family business and details about the transition process. Opening up discussion with stakeholders including non-working family members and even their spouses may seem irrelevant to an entrepreneur. They should remember that a voice does not equal a vote; opening up discussion does not mean you lose your power and authority. In fact, opening up discussion helps stakeholders of all kinds to manage expectations and their own lives.
Another problem I often see is when a business has grown organically over time, with little strategic planning, and the founder believes that is the right way to engage the next generation about their potential involvement in the business. It is the rare family business leader that can take hands-off approach and come out unscathed. This is a business liability that stands in the way of the special needs of a family combining emotional and economic systems.
What is the lesson?
Enterprising Families: Founders and senior generation leaders: open your minds to new possibilities when it comes to your roles in transitioning a family enterprise to the next generation. What got you this far may not be ideal to move farther ahead. Books and resources abound on the topic – go online and find something that speaks to you and learn from it.
Advisors to Enterprising Families: Many of you are hesitant to go beyond the technical basis of your involvement with family clients. It can be intense terrain for sure. However, now more than ever, I see all flavors of professionals stepping up bravely to help senior generation family business leaders look deeply at their leadership roles and make adjustments for the good of the business and current and future generations.