I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great fathers and mothers who successfully founded some wonderful family businesses. Their success has come from hard work and dedication and in the process, they’ve developed strong reputations and often a notorious management style.
Where it becomes difficult is when the founders either refuse to start to take their hand off the steering wheel or simply don’t know how to. In either case as the founder continues to drive the family business it creates a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy – that no one else is prepared and capable of running the family business.
It is somewhat understandable situation. The founder’s strong-mindedness and strong opinions have served them well over the years and led the family business to continued success. They don’t trust anyone else’s judgment or instincts and become risk-averse after building so much success and so many assets.
Visionary family business leaders know that they need to create safe experiments and new territories in which their next generation family business participants can take risks, make their own decisions, and develop their own confidence and unique management style.
One of the common mistakes the next generation member can make is to think that the best thing to do is to try to emulate the founder’s management style. This is a mistake for several reasons:
First, so many times when the next generation tries to replicate the founder’s style it becomes a cheap imitation of the great original. Secondly, the business and the current marketplace usually dictates a more modern and updated approach to business leadership.
The process of the founder letting go and the next generation developing their own management style can create conflict in the workplace that can be distracting and disruptive to the entire organization. It’s important for the family to recognize this is a no-one-will part of the process and they need to focus on minimizing the conflict and see it as a normal course of evolution of the business and each other’s careers.
That’s why for many families it’s important to have an outside objective team of advisers that can help the family keep the big picture perspective and take a deep breath as the changes occur. There are going to be some bumps in the road and a few missteps but with thoughtful guidance the missteps can become opportunities to learn and grow as leaders.
I’m always reminding fathers and mothers that one of their greatest legacies can be learning how to get out of the way and allowing their children to flourish and develop their own styles. The greatest reward can be quietly sitting in the stands watching the next generation’s success, knowing that your getting out of the way was one of the most important strategies for the family’s future!