I’ve recently been dealing with a number of family businesses where the “next generation” is already in their 40s and even 50s and whose parents are “protecting” their children. Protection comes in several forms: providing lots of money; bailing them out of trouble; giving them jobs in the family business with little or no accountability for behavior or performance, and the like. As one family business business leader put it: “I want my children to be accountable — I just don’t want their feelings hurt.” Paradox aside, the result can be a next generation full of entitlement, unprepared to rise to the responsibilities of management and/or ownership, and oblivious to their own shortcomings.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recent column aimed at new college grads sound a similar note. He describes current graduates as “members of the most supervised generation in American history,,,they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.” Brooks points out the mismatch between the mindsets and skills learned under such circumstances and those required for success in an environment “requiring a different set of skills which they have figure out on their own.”
Self reliance is the key and it is difficult enough to develop in affluent young people even when the conditions are right. The ability and confidence to figure out which problems need solutions and how to go about developing and applying solutions are essential to successful family business leadership. Such skills and attitudes can be developed only with the opportunity to make and implement decisions, to get rigorous and unvarnished feedback, and to be explicitly held accountable for behavior and results. Young people held to high standards won’t always feel “happy” with such discipline. They may even decide (or have it decided for them) that a career outside the family business is a wiser choice. In the long run, such decisions are usually best for all involved — the young person, the parents, the family and the business.