I am frequently asked – “What is the biggest problem that family businesses face?” The ugliest problem by far is what I call The Family Business Curse: ENABLEMENT or FAMILY BUSINESS WELFARE which can be described as – able bodied, capable minded family members active or inactive in the business who for any number of excuses are not contributing, but are provided ongoing financial assistance/subsidy to keep their standard of living up to par with those that are sacrificing to make the business work.

Enablement generally starts with the rational that a child or sibling is down on their luck which then evolves into enabling the family member to expect that they deserve a subsidized standard of living. This curse is derived from a Family Business Equilibrium imbalance towards family: “we will take care of our own, especially those less fortunate, regardless of commitment, effort, attitude or motivation”. The underlining reason for this problem within a family business is “over-parenting” which is the assumption that as a parent you are responsible for the welfare of all of your children regardless of the circumstances; equal love, equal cash.

Enablement or “over parenting” is like eating a chocolate bar versus a healthy sandwich for lunch.  Satisfying the urge to attend to the perceived needs of our children provides an immediate rush. Then immediately following the rush is guilt because you recognize that you have rewarded a child above and beyond relative to other children and employees who have made a commitment to hard work, diligence, and self discipline. Then depression comes from recognition that the gift you provided and those that have proceeded have created an entitlement attitude that generates resentment among family members, managers and employees who have not been enabled to maintain a lifestyle without cost and sacrifice. And finally there’s the return of the empty gnarling feeling associated with renewed awareness that the child is not being prepared to fend for him/herself when the parent will not be around to “tend the net”.

Enablement in family business is a curse. It starts a nasty chain of developments beginning with entitlement, which subsequently erodes commitment which in turn stimulates resentment from others. Enablement creates a curse of disunity and skepticism among those that is critical to the family culture and ultimately the delivery of products and/or services.

Read my next blog post titled, Family Business Advisor Teamwork

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