What is going on with the boss’ kids? Will the boss fire me if I tell him the truth? How much can I take before I blow and get fired?  Those are common questions asked by the unfortunate employees who are stuck dealing with family business terrorists: enabled kids who think and act by different standards than everyone else who has had to earn their way in the business. The damage associated with enabled family member employees is brutal, and almost always substantially reduces the probability of successful succession. Enablement blocks successor preparation. As we all encounter, experience, and recognize the high price of family member entitlement, the question is: how can this cultural disease be prevented or cured?

As with all diseases, prevention of the family business terrorist is the best course of action because exposure to distraction, disruption, and disillusionment are avoided. As we consider prevention, the first thought is that it’s not the kids fault. It is certainly not a crime to accept a little enablement. Being offered a job is a little enablement and most would be respectful of a little assist and not presume entitlement to being above established policies and procedures. Unfortunately, some children and grandchildren don’t get it. They don’t understand or don’t care that too much candy will make their teeth fall out. They need help, boundaries, coaching and at times a kick in the rear. Regardless, before the lynching starts, everyone should accept that the problem is not with the brat, but it is with the boss who allows this nonsense to happen.

As I see it, the best route to prevention of a family business terrorist is boss enlightenment; recognition of what has happened and what is happening. First, the boss must recognize that what has happened is that they have an “extreme need to be needed” which has motivated them to create the unhealthy dependence of their child or grandchild. Second, there should be recognition of what is happening. The continuation of enablement, the affirmation of “business brats”, social misfits and inept successors is in essence the perpetuation of a pitiful lie because friends, vendors, managers and employees will not tolerate the brat’s disrespectful, insensitive, self-serving approach to business once the boss is no longer in the picture. There should be recognition that the satisfaction of one’s “need to be needed” is really a curse that will ultimately undermine their children’s success. Enablement is in direct conflict with the stewardship responsibility to prepare successors for life and business as it really is. Overindulging and spoiling a child during the years of oversight and leadership only sets a child up for a harsh dose of reality in the parent’s absence. Without the respect and help of managers who have had to earn everything, successors will not be supported. Some managers and employees will even facilitate and ultimately celebrate the failure of enabled, disrespectful, presumptive family members who have not had to experience accountability and earn some semblance of their genetic good fortune.   

Unfortunately, enlightenment does not automatically result in acceptance. Denial in family business governance is alive and well. Deep seeded misconceptions of how to build and sustain relationships are strong forces that are not easily changed. Typically, these emotionally needy business owners need lots of help and understanding from friends, colleagues, and managers and potentially professional help to fully understand and correct the ill results of their good intentions.

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