(by Beth Adamson, as appeared in FamilyBusinessEducation.com)
This is a series of six blogs comparing the characteristics of our great national bird, the eagle, to the characteristics of successful family businesses. In the first blog, I talked about the eagle’s keen sense of vision.
There are many things to fear as one builds a business and grows a family. When doing both in the family business system, there can be enormous challenges and great opportunities.
Trait #2: Eagles are Fearless
An eagle will never surrender to the size or strength of its prey. It will always give a fight to win its prey or regain its territory.
Family business leaders face competition, government regulations, ethical business challenges, staffing concerns, rapid technology changes and balancing the needs of the family with the business. As they look to the future, using their acute sense of vision, it would easy to simply say “I can’t do it”. But like the eagle’s ability to strategize, successful family business leaders display their remarkable business strategy, creating opportunities to beat the competition, building a respectable business, employing a “family” of employees and developing their next generation leaders.
No matter how overwhelming a challenge may appear, family business leaders “attack” the issue without fear. Their instinct is to protect their family, their employees, their customers and clients, and their business reputation.
Successful leaders are fearless. They face problems head on. Family business leaders have the same challenges as their non-family business counterparts AND a few more! To succeed, they need a positive attitude and confidence! Thinking about transitioning leadership, the competence of the next generation and succession issues in general is scary for most founders. Being fearless doesn’t mean you live without fear, it means that despite the challenge you address them, never giving up until you’ve accomplished your vision.
The successful transition rate for family businesses to the next generation is low because too many leaders let the fear of having difficult discussions and making difficult decisions keep them from doing the transition work that needs to be done. Here are five points to consider as you begin planning your family business succession.
- Prepare your family to communicate, communicate, communicate! For some, stepping out of the family communication style and learning to communicate as employer/employee or co-owners is a scary situation. A family meeting is a great place to discuss what’s working and what’s not, to learn and practice new skills and to learn how to develop family business relationships.
- Clearly define the skills and responsibilities you expect your “successor” to demonstrate. You want your son or daughter to “fill your shoes” and your just not sure they can meet your expectations? You will elevate much of the fear if you clearly communicate, in advance, what the expectations are and provide the resources to help the potential next generation leader acquire those skills.
- Hire great advisors!! You know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know! Let those who do know take some of that fear away. Ask them for honest, and constructive feedback. Expect them to work together as a team-especially when it comes to your transition/succession planning.
- Come from a place of YES. YES to educating your family members on the family business system. YES to joining leadership groups (CEO groups and next gen groups). YES to having family meetings. YES to creating family business policies. It’s much easier to say NO, but that’s what those who let fear rule their lives do.
- Don’t be scared to be wrong. Having regrets is worse than being wrong. Learn from your mistakes but don’t be afraid to make them. What better place than family to find support and forgiveness. Establishing effective communication processes in the business is a great foundation to support this.
The greatest fear for a family business leader is the fear of the unknown. When you understand the potential challenges of transition and succession in a family business, you can take the time, with the help of advisors who are trained in family business transitions, to alleviate much of the fear and replace it with confidence and excitement for the future!