Love Your Family Business, Or Leave It

Think about family business. Was love the first thing that popped into your head? Probably not. Relationships are complicated. Family relationships in business – more complicated.

We try to make sense of our relationships. We talk to friends, read books, watch the families of other people. We try hard to figure out how to show up in those relationships. We seem to watch a lot of movies about families.

We feel better, less abnormal, when we watch movies like Eulogy, Father of the Bride, Little Miss Sunshine and Captain Fantastic. We can laugh, cringe, and fast forward through the parts that hit too close to home. There’s no remote control that works on the people in our families; no easy button exists.

Knowing the complexity of family dynamics, we can appreciate all the more those families who choose to work together. Companies such as Walmart, Mars, Cargill, Comcast, and Ford Motor Company are famous examples of family businesses that are assets, resulting in amazing wealth.

Each of these companies has suffered ups and downs that played out in public. However, each has also managed to recapture the spirit of their founder as new opportunities are seized. The challenges can include:
• Nurture the culture of a startup, ready to pivot and profit
• Love your spouse, or sibling, or parent, at home and at the office
• Learn to navigate the industry, market and relationships successfully
• Establish an individual identity outside of the company

None of it is easy. And yet, so often we expect to know how to deal with each of those things successfully. We are willing to invest in new equipment or chase a revenue stream with a new initiative.

Yet, we resist enlisting the aid of those who have the skills to teach us how to be our best selves with the people that we love and that we work for/with. How can the family businesses of today manage to love one another, and work together to create companies that are assets? It isn’t easy.

I’ve dedicated this fall to exploring family business dynamics on my podcast, Catalytic Conversations, entitled No Love Is Greater Than That Of A Father For His Son. My guest on the first episode is Jay Cowan, of Business Owner Exit Strategies. Jay received permission to tell this story from his stepfather, Glenn, shortly before Glenn passed away. It’s a tragic story of a successful business, a loving father, and an unsuccessful transition to a beloved son.

Family members aren’t always the best at preparing the next generation to lead. That next generation is not always willing to prepare for the added responsibilities. Cross generational communication issues, played along family roles, become obstacles that the family isn’t equipped to navigate. Yet, many families persist in believing that they should be able to figure out the family dynamics as they mix with the business dynamics. These elements are as volatile as chemicals. The reactions, once mixed, can result in:
• Word wounds
• Mistakes made
• Damage done

The costs are emotional, financial, and generational.

Take a look at this video from Inc.’s Founders’ Project to see two founders, Rebecca Minkoff and Trinity Mouzon Wofford, who recognize the intricacies of navigating love and business. Consider who you may need to add to your tribe to successfully build relationships within your organization. The goal is to build assets within the family, AND within the business. Go for it!

Wishing you every success!

P.S. Explore gaining the skills you need, confidentially, with me as your coach. I’m as close as your phone. Call me at 804.372.7575 and leave your email address. I will send you some information, a questionnaire, and we will schedule a time to talk. Don’t wait!

Wendy Dickinson

About the Author

Wendy Dickinson is the founder of Ascend Coaching Solutions LLC, a coaching firm that specializes in working with business owners and executives who plan to expand their leadership capacity as their business grows.

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