Recently I was sitting with a father and son who had reached an impasse in the succession planning process. The son, who took over operations several years ago, had been pressing his father to do more planning, i.e., transfer more stock. The father’s reaction has been less than positive as he doesn’t like being pressured, which is true of most people. There are other siblings in the family who are not involved in the business and who have received less stock and more of other assets as a part of the ongoing planning, but the father wants to include them in more of the stock in the next round of transfers. The son wants them out.
At one point in the discussion, the father delved into a bit of his history, talking about how he had to scrape and scratch to make ends meet, and when he took over the business from his father, it was out of trust and near bankruptcy. And yet his siblings, who also were not involved owned part of the deal. It took years to buy them out, and the father revealed how he had always resented the way his father had set things up; basically, putting him in a position to make sure his siblings were taken care of at his expense because of his efforts in the business. I think most people would resent this. I said to the dad, “it sounds to me like you want your son to do exactly what you did, but without the resentment.” After a brief introspective moment, he agreed that was the case. In other discussions, it has been clear that there is a bit of resentment of the parents toward their children because they had to fight so hard to gain success and now, they are making their children millionaires through little effort of their own. Understandable.
Resentment in a family business is certainly a common occurrence as there is plenty of opportunities to play the comparison game, with positions, titles, work ethic, talent, attitudes, advancements, compensation, perks, etc. Resentment is simply a feeling of ill-will over a perception of having been wronged or treated unjustly. It stems from jealousy or envy when someone else has or receives something that we believe should be ours. When jealousy goes unchecked, we are no longer fighting for what we think we deserve from a place of justice, but from a place of resentment and anger. Maybe it’s a longing for a father’s love or acceptance, or maybe it’s for all the stock in the family business. This may not be inherent. wrong, but choosing to be resentful is.
The cure for such a feeling lies in the recognition that life is a gift, and no one owes us anything. When something is given to us, the proper response is to receive that gift with a heart of gratitude. Developing a heart of gratitude is a sure cure for resentment.
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