There are many potential landmines for in-laws in a family business environment. To navigate them successfully, keep the following simple steps in mind: 

  1. Acknowledge your role as an in-law. You are “family” with a caveat. Tread carefully and treat everyone with respect.  
  2. Understand the family’s unwritten laws. Observe and strive to uphold those laws. 
  3. Maintain pure motives regarding your involvement in your spouse’s family business. 

The third step can be tricky as it requires being honest about your true motivations and potentially saying “no” to an opportunity if you identify your heart is not in the right place.  If your spouse’s family business is the best opportunity to fulfill your talents, strengths, capabilities, and you are approaching the business without the intent to take advantage of or manipulate, then your heart may be in the right place. If it doesn’t work out it’s okay, you will simply move on to the next best option as you would in any other job. Approaching  the business with the right mindset positions you to make an unreserved commitment to the mission of the business and existing leadership, providing you the highest probability of success. 

On the other hand, if you see your job as a way to protect your spouse’s perceived share of the “golden goose,” the odds of success will be poor. If your job with your spouse’s family business is merely a way of paying your spouse a fair share of the family business booty, you will be caught on the rotisserie and eventually your spouse’s siblings and other family members will turn up the heat and roast you alive. If your heart and passion are not in the business and you simply see this as the easiest way through life, rest assured your paradise will soon turn into an inferno. 

In essence, success in your spouse’s family business will depend upon having pure motives and a high level of commitment to the cause of the business. If there is something else you are passionate about and you can make a living doing it, then do it. If, on the other hand, because you are passionate about the family’s business, have developed skills needed by the business and you believe you can’t pass up this opportunity, then, and only then, should you join in.

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