The Princess and the Peon

JoAnne Norton

“You just don’t know how hard it is to work with the princess,” the frustrated executive began as she anxiously played with her pearls. “She comes into work late, if at all, leaves early, and doesn’t abide by the rules. I am beside myself because her father sees her as the future leader of the company. Those of us who have to work with her just see her as a spoiled brat, and if she is chosen as the next leader, we’ll all walk.”

Because the executive was a well-respected, long-standing non-family leader in the company, I asked her if she had ever tried to approach “the princess” to discuss the situation with her diplomatically. “Yes!” she cried, “but it completely backfired. When I finally broached the subject, she responded by placing her hand on her hip and asking me condescendingly: ‘Do you know whose name is on the front door?’ With that, I was dismissed and shown the way out of her palatial office. I felt as if I were a peon, that I was just an irritant to her majesty, and yet I truly want what is best for her, her family, and the employees.”

Being the child of a successful entrepreneur is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there are many opportunities not afforded most. On the other hand entrepreneurs can frequently be absent from family life. Blinded by guilt for not having been there enough when their children were growing up, entrepreneurs are sometimes motivated to try to make up for lost time with their adult children. Some entrepreneurs try to do this by bringing their children into the business.  When they do this without providing needed guidance or limits, the risk to the company is serious as princes and princesses of privilege can quickly destroy a family business that took a generation to build.

Loyal non-family executives can be pivotal in solving the “Princess Problem” by identifying the issue and encouraging the family to seek outside help.  Of course, this only works if they are ‘heard’ by all sides.  Parental love and guilt are powerful forces that can blind an otherwise rational person to the hard reality of their offspring’s limited skills or destructive attitude.

Generally what makes entrepreneurs so successful is their hard work and self-discipline. Good family business coaches use those entrepreneurial strengths to design a program that will be effective for both generations. The present generation of leadership will need to be more disciplined in their approach to their children, and the children will need to be more disciplined in their approach to work.  This can represent a significant shift in how both have operated for a long time, but it is essential for the survival of the business.

Jim Rohn once wrote, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” Mature, well-meaning non-family leaders can make sure there are no regrets.

JoAnne Norton can be reached at norton@efamilybusiness.com or 714-273-9367.  Click here to read JoAnne’s biography.

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