Family Business Leadership: Beyond the Business

Otis Baskin

Many business-owning families focus their attention on the transition of leadership in the business without thinking of what will happen in the family when the current family leaders are no longer present. For example, what will the siblings do to keep the family together when Mom and Dad are no longer around? All businesses need committed owners, a family business needs family unity behind it, and family unity requires good family leadership.

Too often, more people in the family system go along for the ride instead of stepping up and providing leadership.  Old patterns, often developed under the tutelage of a strong leader in one generation, leave the next generation still functioning in the “its dad’s business” mode long after ownership has passed to them. Yet it’s incredibly important for virtually everyone in the business-owning family to be looking for opportunities to make contributions, and when they do, opportunities will appear.

Suppose, for example, that you accept an assignment to serve on a committee to develop policies about the employment of next-generation family members in the business. You may not be the CEO of the business or chairman of the board or family council, or even head of the committee. Nevertheless, if you take your role seriously and take an active part in the committee’s work, you have a tremendous opportunity to be a constructive force in the family for generations to come. Your actions may include doing thorough research, or visiting other family businesses to gather valuable information. That’s leadership, too.

At almost any family meeting, you’ll have an opportunity to provide leadership by saying, “Here’s an issue that we need to deal with.” When you pay attention, make yourself knowledgeable, prepare yourself to be able to recognize opportunities, say something when an opportunity presents itself, and are prepared to invest the time, effort, and energy to resolve the issue, you are providing family leadership.

Some family leaders, often members of the senior generation, due to their experience and credibility take on difficult and sometimes thankless tasks because they know it will help the current or next generation succeed.  This “Servant Leadership” often occurs without titles or other forms of personal acknowledgement in families.

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