Leading a Family Business: Virtuous or Vicious

We’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. At one end are family executives who hate their jobs, their businesses and their families, who feel exhausted and underappreciated, and who want nothing more than to sell their businesses and get out. At the other are family executives who thrive with rewards that are richer and more profound than a leader of a publicly listed company could possibly derive. Their companies flourish, their kids prosper and their families have a collective purpose that unites them.

Family businesses are inherently messy. Work and life are almost inextricably intertwined. With so many things going on concurrently, family executives either get swept up in a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle, and there’s very little gray area in between. Thriving family business leaders get four things right:

1. Four Seperate Rooms

Life in a family business can really be a pressure cooker, because the workday doesn’t end at 5 p.m. Business discussions continue around the dinner table and in the bedroom. Sometimes there isn’t a clear separation between family and work, home and office. Leaders who thrive are those who have learned to explicitly compartmentalise their lives into four separate rooms: one for the business managers, one for the board of directors, another for the owners and a separate one for family members. They build discussion rooms - not silos - and teach others to work within the spaces they’ve created.

2. The Crocodile Brain

Thriving family business leaders know how to manage what neuroscientists have dubbed the “crocodile” brain, so named because it is controlled by gut emotions; thought processes are limited, and impulse control is nonexistent. The crocodile brain is the reason that people are not rational actors; it explains why decisions should never be made without trying to help people process their feelings, passions, rivalries and egos.

After placing people in the right room, thriving leaders deal explicitly with the irrational side of decision-making. “Let’s talk that through.”

3. A Place to Land

Thriving leaders in family businesses help to create places to land when their gig is over. Aging family executives don’t just move over to the curb. They stay around as a board member, shareholder or adviser, or to work on special projects. Thriving leaders embrace the reality that they can still add real value after their stints as business executives are over. Their identities are not all tied up with living and working in the C-suite.

4. Passion and Wisdom to Develop the Next Generation

Thriving leaders’ greatest joy is in seeing their children succeed in their business and as owners. They recognise that their own role, while central, is temporary.

Developing the next generation is really tricky. These thriving leaders have great wisdom in how they do it: they don’t "coddle"; they challenge. They recognise and accept that their kids’ leadership style will be different from their own. They provide real jobs with real challenges. They let their kids fail and then help them back up.

Ultimately, it’s a very different approach to leadership than in corporate environments - but the rewards are different and deeper. These thriving leaders find meaning, money and mentoring in ways that aren’t available outside of family businesses.

Source - BRW