So how is it that entitled brats can make their way into otherwise healthy family businesses devouring efficiency, productivity and teamwork? What is it that blinds a hard working, highly experienced, bright business owner to the ridiculous, sophomoric behavior of their children or in-laws who have become profound impediments to the successful continuation of the business through the next generation of owners and managers? Apparently, there are no black and white answers to these questions. Otherwise, I would not be witnessing this pandemic of family business chaos. Otherwise, there would be active dialogue and “How To” books on this subject from family therapist colleagues. Otherwise, I would be encountering “conscious incompetent” business owners who would be saying “We know what we are doing wrong, we know how to fix it, but we just cannot make it happen”.  To the contrary, what I am seeing are “unconscious incompetent” business owners who are excited to have their kids in their business and just don’t have a clue that their business is on the road to crisis, decline, and a significantly reduced probability of “Succession Success”.

In the absence of someone much more educated offering a thesis regarding the cause and cure to this succession sickness, I’ll throw in my two cents. As to the cause, it appears to me that there are some family business leader personalities that have an extreme “need-to-be-needed”. I suggest “extreme” because I believe that all socially compatible people have a need-to-be-needed or otherwise mankind would lack fundamental relationship cohesiveness that is an important motivating component to supportive families, friendships and teams.  I contend that some of those with extreme need-to-be-needed personalities by virtue of talent, hard work, good luck or the sperm lottery have become leaders and operators of closely held businesses. Their presumed healthy ration of “need-to-be-needed” served them without significant complications in their effort to manage and grow the business. They projected humility, acknowledged dependence, showed appreciation and promoted teamwork and earned the respect, loyalty and commitment of employees and key managers who were seeking responsibility and empowerment.  However, upon the advent of Junior or Sissy as successors, the problems associated with the previously unrevealed “extreme need-to-be-needed syndrome” become painfully apparent to all those non-family members who have a vested interest in the continued success of the business. Those dedicated employees, key managers and strategic vendors who previously believed they had earned favored positioning find themselves disoriented, in utter shock and disbelief, living the nightmare of being forced to deal with the disruptive attitudes and behaviors of the bosses kids who live in the “now” and think only for themselves. With the owner blinded to this chaos, organizational productivity and efficiency begin to erode as employees, advisors and vendors ruminate with questions such as: Can I outlast this brat? Will the boss grow a brain? Does the boss have no respect for what I/we have done for him? Will the boss fire me if I tell him the truth about what is really going on? How much can I take before I blow and get fired? 

Next week we will next look at a possible cure to this common family business issue in my post, Entitlement – How to Eliminate the Threat to Business Success.

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