What Family Businesses Can Learn From the Olympics

David Ransburg

It’s Olympic season, and there’s much that can be learned from these special athletes… and not all of it comes from the playing field. One Olympic moment that stood out for me occurred during women’s gymnastics, when American Aly Raisman was competing. As exciting as Ms. Raisman’s performance was, it was equally compelling to witness her parents’ reactions as they watched her perform (for those who didn’t see this on television, you can watch a brief clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5Mz8UCxL5o).

What’s especially interesting to me about this clip is that it’s become a kind of Rorschach test for the relationship between parents and their children. Some people watch the Raismans’ behavior and see love & support (mixed with a little anxiety – gymnastics injuries can be serious…). Others watch the same scene and see over-involved enmeshment, parents whose purpose and identity has been consumed entirely by their child’s pursuits.  Of course the truth is likely some of both.  When a family member is performing on the world stage it is natural to be proud and nervous.  In addition, in the context of elite sports, it is almost impossible to achieve world-class status without what might be otherwise described as ‘excessive’ involvement of the family – it simply takes that much sacrifice to make it happen.

Most families do not have a world-class athlete at home, yet families that own and operate a business together do have to navigate complex boundaries of love and closeness that may be different from other families.  There are no guarantees, of course, but the family businesses that can manage the often-present extremes mentioned above have a chance for success along the lines of Ms. Raisman’s.

(She won a gold medal.)

One thought on “What Family Businesses Can Learn From the Olympics”

  1. David – This is great. Maybe we should poll folks for their reactions to the clip.

    I have been thinking about the Olympics as well – a different angle has captured me. I’ve been watching how the athletes rebound (in gymnastics, literally!) after missteps or mistakes. When they fall off the beam, or step outside the mat, they don’t fall apart and hide. After absorbing the initial disappointment of the defeat, the great athletes show their ability to pick themselves up and go on to do even better next time. I think Aly Raisman is an example of this as well!

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