Let’s first set the foundation for this answer. I pity you if you have problems; issues that you are unwilling to address. That means there are lumps under your carpet large enough to scare your cat. That means you are tip-toeing around the room like a timid ferry trying to let the smelly sleeping dogs lie. How do you manage family and business relationship? Grow a set! Family business demands leadership, not a panty-waste patronizer who cannot stomach confrontation. Leadership is not a popularity contest. The imperative of leadership is purpose and if your highest priority is the continued success of your business at large; not the entitlement of individual family members, you are in a fight way above your weight class and your business could go comatose. A CEO is not a chief consensus officer. If you think you have problems, you are the problem! Step up or step aside for a leader.
More than likely, the problems you are referring to are really ‘issues’; persistent, complex challenges with no easy answer: a Dr Merlot Conundrum. Welcome to my world. I’ve been seeing this in family business for the last 47 years; different places, different names, same issues. Whereas I have become an objective, to the point, occasionally crass, realist; for significantly less years, you have been trying to make sense out of repetitive, nonsensical, egocentric behavior of your family. This protracted struggle has rendered you frustrated, weary and even cynical. But beyond the negatives, the good news is that you stayed in the struggle and have asked a question which means there is a good chance you are ready to listen.
First, congratulations for hanging in there beyond the advice of your spouse, advisers and friends who have heard you vent. You certainly merit a Purple Heart but whose got time for ceremonies and a metal will not resolve your issues. I congratulate you for having the huevos to call an ass an ass, not tolerate mediocrity and confront family members that believe they are entitled to special treatment. You don’t think you are making any progress but you are. Stay in the struggle. Pursue issues as evidence that you are pursuing your purpose. If you can garner the juices, increase the pressure on family terrorists. Don’t carry the weariness and frustration; pass it to them by doubling down on your commitment that no individual is more important than the business and that family is the servants not the royalty. Challenge them to participate, cooperate and contribute or get the truck out of here!!
Second, strengthen you foundation. Identify supporters of your purpose to achieve succession; to build and protect your family business. You cannot do this alone. If you are a leader, you need to identify those that are following your example and passion. Most important, listen to them and do not rely on singular often self-serving thought. You need to make sure everyone knows your purpose and those that share your mission. There are more than you think but if it is only you and the custodian, that’s enough for today, just expand that base tomorrow. Search for disciples who share your ‘discipline’ and who are willing to lock shields to protect your family business. Succession success relies on the theory of large numbers
Third, take a day off and come back to this challenge understanding that this is not a must win battle, but an infinite game which is more about endurance vs. winners or losers. Family and business are not compatible bedfellows. Family business is an oxymoron. Family is a highly subjective association based upon unconditional acceptance. Business is a group endeavor based upon conditional performance. When you combine family and business you spontaneously have excitement that can bring mothers to tears and brothers to combat. There is no perfect family business. As all family businesses evolve, including both yours and mine, issues evolve and you must be prepared to deal with Dr. Merlot’s Family Business Cycle of Excitement. When you overcome the challenge in front of you, thank God that succession continues and confidently proclaim, “Next!”.