Advice for the family that works together

Think back to the last time you had a big fight with your father or mother. The facts in the dispute were probably jumbled with all the other typical parent-child emotions: need for approval, guilt, resentment for past hurts, sibling jealousy...the usual family stuff.

Now imagine going to work tomorrow and having to face your parent as your boss and your brothers and sisters as your peers or subordinates. Family run businesses have more to worry about than the bottom line. They have an added layer of personal and management concerns that may not impact other companies.

For example, sons and daughters who have never worked anywhere else may wonder how their skills compare to peers outside their organization. They ask themselves, "Would I have succeeded if I hadn't been my father's son?" Pressures to be super-competent by the parent or themselves can cause extreme pressure.

They may have difficulty making friends in the organization, since they are always treated differently. They can't go out with the gang after work and fit in-it's not safe to share information with a family member since he or she has a direct line to the top. Consider that the person may not even enjoy the family business but feel stuck because leaving would be tantamount to divorce or running away from home.

"It's not only lonely at the top; it's lonely in the middle when you're a son or daughter in a family run business," says Dr. Dean Fowler, a Milwaukee-based consultant who founded The Next Generation Forum, a management development and peer support group for the next generation leaders of family businesses.

At a recent meeting, members of the Forum offered advice to one another about asserting themselves as leaders and keeping communications open. Their insights may be helpful for family members of other family businesses:

·        Have a regular routine for discussions with your father (or mother, if she owns the business). Separate family topics from business topics. One member said he has one meeting per week for personal business or strategic discussions and another weekly meeting for day-to-day business discussions.

·        Initiate communications with your parent. Don't wait-start having discussions on estate and financial planning now. Share your goals. Get the right third party involvement in estate planning.

·        Develop good communications with your siblings both inside and outside the business.

·        Have formal discussions. Too often in family business, the communication patterns are too informal. Make sure you have business discussions that include the non-family employees and managers.

·        Take risks and develop a track record of success. It's rare for the father to simply give leadership to the son or daughter. They must take responsibility and earn the leadership role. Ask yourself, "When my father is out of town, am I recognized as the leader? Is there a layer of leadership between my father and me? Find a way to develop leadership. For example, develop a new product or service you can manage yourself or identify a specific problem area and turn the situation around.

·        Participate in the banking and finance role of the company and develop your own relationship with a banker who is approximately your age, to develop credibility and experience.

·        Participate (or ask to be an observer) at all board meetings, strategic planning sessions and other key executive meetings led by your parent but in which you are not normally involved.

·        Spend time with your father outside the business to "pick his brains" about the business and its future.

·        Develop a mentor within the company who can help you with leadership issues. If appropriate, use the mentor as a go-between with your father.

·        Try to establish a reasonable time frame and understanding with your father about his own retirement objectives.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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