Family dynamics are usually fairly intense among immediate family members. Throw in-laws into the equation and you can have potential build up of underground pressure leading to explosions of volcanic proportions.  Put this pressure in the context of a family business and the lava and ash flows can suffocate the life out of the family and business.  If you’re an in-law connected to a family business, beware, lest you become an outlaw.

 An outlaw as a noun is someone who has done something illegal and usually remains at large. As a verb, to outlaw something is to ban it.  In the context of family an outlaw is an in-law gone wild. To make sure you don’t cross the line of the unwritten family laws and find yourself banned from the family, the first step to successfully navigating is to understand your position in relationship to the family and the business.

You are an in-law.  If you’re the husband of a daughter in a family business, you should realize that you will never be anything more than the frog that kissed the princess.  If you’re the wife of a son in a family business, you should realize that you may never be anything more than the princess who kissed their lovely little frog. That may sound a bit harsh, but my point is this – in-laws need to maintain an attitude of humility with regard to their role in the family as it relates to the family business. You will need to understand that it doesn’t matter how smart you are or what kind of credentials you have, you will never be considered as an equal alongside your spouse and his or her siblings.

This will largely hold true whether you become an actively involved in-law (via employment in the family business) or remain passively involved. Note, there is no such thing as a passively uninvolved in-law.  To the degree that you become actively employed in your spouse’s family business, you will need to understand that your success will be dependent upon pure motives and a high level of commitment. Being motivated to make a mark in the business irrespective of whether your spouse’s family has ownership will take your further than being motivated to protect your spouses perceived share of the “golden goose.” Limit your expectations to that of any other non-family employee and your prospects of success will be higher.

 Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to stay informed on how to overcome related succession planning issues.