When addressing the topic of resolving conflict in family businesses, my team and I often discuss the common points of friction between parents and children primarily during the transition from one generation to the next. In this article (How To Go From Pushy Parent to Inspiring Leader in Your Family Business), let’s take a broader view of the parent/child dynamic in family businesses, and I’ll suggest five strategies to move to a new paradigm — that of inspiring leader/inspired successor.
In every family business, there’s, well, a family relationship. The challenge for most owners is to build on the family bond to create something new: a professional relationship that brings out the best in both parties and the business.
How To Go From Pushy Parent to Inspiring Leader in Your Family Business
1. Put on the correct hat
As an owner/parent, you wear at least two hats: parent and owner. Your child also has at least two: child and possible successor. The trick for each of you is knowing when to put on each hat and being willing to shelve the other. Forcing a child to wear a business hat that they haven’t yet grown into is the hallmark of “the pushy parent.” Knowing when to switch hats is a skill that takes time to develop, so be patient with yourself and with your child.
2. Acknowledge your expectations
In my experience, both parents and children bring tons of expectations into the workplace; some realistic and some wildly unrealistic. Some parents expect their children to understand/know too much, too soon. Other parents give children little to no responsibility, protect them from failure and wonder why their children aren’t stepping up. Most parents swing between the two extremes!
Children, on the other hand, enter family businesses either totally confident that because they’ve “grown up in business,” they are totally capable of leading or totally confident that with one false step, they will disappoint their parent(s).
Creating a channel of communication in which both of you can acknowledge your expectations with humor and positivity is a great base for growing a new professional relationship.
3. Take a breath
The natural parental temptation is to ask a child/successor to do too much too quickly. The irony is that when parents ease up on the gas pedal and give children time to absorb new information and learn new skills, children gain confidence in themselves and learn more quickly.
4. Create a relationship constitution
The purpose of a “relationship constitution” is to define roles and authority so that everyone is acting from a common playbook. A constitution is a great tool, so use it to your advantage. Do your best to formalize these guidelines to help both parents and children transform their relationship.
5. Remember your end game
All of us want to raise children who are happy, whole and successful, and most children want their parents’ approval. These goals can easily get lost when the success of a business is on the line. As a parent, find a way to physically remind yourself to remain focused on the business, as you navigate new roles and aim for a successful transition. Consider posting them on a bathroom mirror or in a sock drawer where you’ll see them every day.
This article originally appeared on The Denver Business Journal website.