My previous blogs, “Business is Tough, But Life is Good” and Business is Tough, What an Opportunity” focused on the need for positive leadership and the opportunity this economy is presenting to provide invaluable experience for your successors. This posting provides a twist on the topic of successor development focusing on the child/business owner dynamic.

“I am tired of being treated like a child! If this is the way it is going to be, I would rather work somewhere else!” These are the words uttered by a frustrated client during a visit a few years ago. These sentiments are undoubtedly shared and echoed by countless family members throughout the United States and around the globe. There is no question, maintaining a healthy balance between business and family is extremely difficult to do. However, it is not insurmountable!

So how can you preclude this from happening in your family or avoid it happening again in the future? Start by treating each other with respect. This sounds simple, but it is not easy to do. In the family business arena, it is the parent’s job to play the role of the boss versus Mom or Dad which sometimes causes conflict for a child who has always seen them in a parental role. Conversely, children can be stigmatized by parents for things they may have done as adolescents which can also create discord for both the parent and child. The person responsible for the above quote longed to be treated like a partner but had grown weary of constantly being treated like a child. The majority of the fifteen years he spent working in the family business were spent desperately trying to win his father’s approval. Yet his father had a difficult time respecting the difference between being a father to his son and working along side of his son.

The key to success is increasing your awareness and understanding that each party is seeking to be respected as a professional versus a family member. Here, actions speak louder than words! In the case of the aforementioned client, several years earlier, the parents took advantage of an opportunity to transfer stock to their son to reward him for successfully working in the business and also to minimize estate taxes. Technically (on paper), the parents and their son were business partners but, in actuality, nothing changed. After the stock transfer, the son had expectations that his father would treat him differently. For example, the son expected to be involved in some of the strategic business decisions since he would someday be responsible for managing and possibly guaranteeing debt associated with an acquisition.

Second, consider using a facilitator to develop reasonable expectations as to how you will interact as a family and what you expect from each other in the business. Many times, assumptions are made which can result in misaligned expectations. In a family business setting, this can be combustible. It could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back (drive your child away from the business).

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