In our line of work, it is common for one family member to describe another family member in less than glowing fashion. We hear a lot, no make that A LOT, of descriptions by one member of another that suggest or proclaim themes, hidden agendas or perceived personality flaws.
And in every case, the descriptions are true and valid from the speaker’s point of view and based on their own personal perception.
In family business the stakes not only include family relationships but they also include money. Significant amounts of it relative to the overall net worth of every member of the family. And we humans predictably and understandably become worried, anxious and / or frightened at the possibility of our own financial ruin, and that it could be caused by another member of the family. In the saddest and worst case scenarios actions like, time with grandchildren being withheld as punishment against grandparents, siblings no longer speaking to each other, and estrangements and cutoffs occur. We have all read tragic sagas in the newspapers of family members going to court, or worse family implosions that cause the demise not only of the business, but the family.
And yet, in most cases, these same family members who seemingly judge, criticize, battle with, or do not trust one another – when assessed by independent, objective and trained professionals – are determined to be, not only normal, but, in their heart of hearts, well intentioned. Sure, they can sometimes appear to be mean spirited, arrogant, or self-serving. But, beneath that facade, usually lies someone who is well intentioned, and loves their family, despite the not-so-great ways they manifest their own fears and worries.
Current leaders, next generation leaders and family leaders may sometimes not appear to their cousins or siblings as being well intentioned. And, it is just as common that these leaders view those same cousins and siblings as being less-than-well intentioned too.
The empirical research is clear: the genesis of family enterprise failures most often are caused by strife among two or more people who, really, in their heart of hearts, have the very best of intentions.
So what is the answer? It seems like it might be complicated, but the simple solution is to always keep the lines of communication open, take the time to understand what another might perceive. If you shut down the communication there is no hope, but choosing the often difficult path of trying and trying once again, it is at least possible that families could eventually understand and uncover the good intentions of their family.