Leadership Transitions


Published: 2008 11 10 | Views: 1886

This past Father’s Day, I wrote an article here about my beloved father.  It was a tribute to him and told a story about family business owners who might not be quite as successful as fathers as they are as businessmen. It concluded with some words of advice from my father,  including this:

“the most important thing a father can give his children is the respect they deserve and the opportunity to spread their wings”.

Nice words, Dad. However, many business owner fathers reading that would say “I have done just that, but the kids have blown it. It’s time for them to show me what they can do!”

In my experience dealing with family businesses, those that succeed most in passing ownership to the next generation are the ones where the fathers have the humility to think that maybe they too should bear some of the responsibility and then decide to do something positive and constructive about it. By doing so, they give their children “the respect they deserve and the opportunity to spread their wings”.

It starts with a true and deep appreciation that not one of us has all the answers, that there are no absolute truths in life. Instead, there are “my views” and there are “your views”, and the relationships that succeed the most are the ones where both sides believe that “my views are no more valid than yours”. They just happen to be mine, and I will try as hard as I can to listen to and understand yours and to respond accordingly with respect.

One of the hands-on ways to deal with this is to go back to basics and think about what it has meant for you to be a successful business owner. It might for example be the satisfaction of making money from a combination of hard work and smart calculated risk-taking along the way. There is a terrific feeling of satisfaction that comes with that. Is this a feeling that your children in the business have? If not, think of what you may have done or may be doing, perhaps inadvertently, that could be contributing to that.

Maybe you are not leaving enough room for your children to grow in the business. Perhaps by your presence, behaviour or reputation you have cast a shadow that no child could escape from. How would you have done in that situation? Could you have succeeded the way you did without having had the freedom to fail? Could you have succeeded the way you did knowing that there was always someone there to bail you out? Are you giving your children the opportunity to spread their wings, arguably the most important job that you have as a parent?

We know the difference between an owner’s mentality and an employee’s mentality. One involves risk and the other does not. If our children are working for us in our shadows and under our wings, is it any wonder that they do not seem to develop that owner’s mentality?

You know about risk. You would not have succeeded without it. There may be one more risk that you need to take to succeed in passing on your family business, and that is to trust that your children will succeed even if you have your reservations that they will! While this might sound crazy, consider your options. By continuing the way you are, you might feel that your business will do better in the short-run but how about the long-run and how about family relations? As Dr. Phil would say, “how’s that workin’  for ya?”

If you are reading this, then you are likely still able to do something about it and make a difference. Your willingness to take responsibility demonstrated to other family members may in itself be the single most important step towards developing strong ownership in the next generation. That and your willingness and ability to listen hard. You might be amazed at how much others might start listening to you once you show that you are listening to them.

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