Turning Loose is Hard to Do

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Family Business Next Success Series

I had dinner with a prominent family business consultant last week. Someone who has worked for many years with very substantial family businesses. Business families who are ready to create their own next success. To pass the torch and do all of the things they need to do.

There’s just one small catch…. As we talked, the most stagnating of the transition challenges kept coming up as “the big one”. Of course, there are myriad obstacles to work through, but the big one stands alone in its prominence. Most commonly with the first generation founder. He and I could agree, having seen a few hundred successful family-owned businesses get royally stuck over the decades. Much more than for any other reason, these good businesses, and these good families, get bogged down over this one particular failure.

Point #1 -This is family-business devastating - If you are the head of the family business… The guy or gal who has built it from a much more modest place… Respectfully, you’re the problem! Moreover, you do not like being told what to do. That’s the problem too!

Point #2 – They don’t understand you – Nobody who hasn’t walked in your shoes can truly get it. They can’t understand the risk you lived with, the years of dirty hard work, and all the rest. How could they? 

Point #3 – You don’t understand you – You understand who you have become on the outside, what you do every day, a bit about the family you have helped to create, your powerful identity. But, you have layers. We all do. Your top layer, your ego self, gets up every morning, drives your car, and operates your company. It is hell bent on control. Here is the thing. There is a whole other layer “beneath the surface of life”, that is actually in control. 

Point #4 – You are complex – You don’t think of yourself that way. But, you are. Who has the drive to have gone out and do what you've done? Where does that come from? What does that drive, and everything behind it, really tell us? And, what else developed along the way? You started out as suspicious and secretive. Had to be. You became successful and powerful. You’ve been largely unreviewed. Eventually, you became immortal and then divine!

Point #5 – You like what you do – More than that, this is who you are. You can’t step aside. You are not a step aside kind of guy or gal. Your mind sees you as CEO of your company. Period. There is nothing else you want to do. Really? Do you really believe that?

Point #6 – Point #5 is bullshit – Not the part about your liking your CEO role. Your name on the door of your company. Doing what you have been doing for the last decades. The BS is your “clinging on” feeling, driven in large part by some notion there is nothing else. 

Point #7 – The answers aren’t where you are looking – The presence of this "hanging on need" is understandable. Your ego self is darn needy, and mighty powerful. The answers are there, residing within you. But, rest assured your ego self is not too keen to let them see the light of day.

Point #8 – You know you can’t die in the saddle – You will retire. Most everything they are telling you is spot on. Businesses MUST transition. You can do it in a healthy, intentional, proactive way. Or, you can let things go to hell. That is a choice. It’s mostly your choice since you hold the strings to the whole thing.

Point #9 - This is no longer about you - Well, that’s a little harsh. Of course, it is about you. But, it’s really about more than you. It’s about your creation, your legacy, your family, your employees, your continued success. And, of course it’s about you.

Point #10 - To wait to decide and act is death -  Interestingly, the next evening I met with a senior professional with one of the major bank trust departments. He manages family businesses owned by trusts of which the bank becomes trustee. The head of the family business has physically died. He said to me, unsolicited, words to the effect of: "Of course, many of our situations are workouts. The senior generation held on too long and things have already begun to go south." I have seen it again and again. Face reality. You won't live forever and your business won't either - if you don't enable the next leadership team to lead and create the next success for your family.

Point #11 – It’s time for a new dream – This is not a time for clinging onto the wrong dream. At this point, hanging onto the impossible dream. Yours was the right dream before, but now it isn’t. The idea that your company is who you are, is wrong. The idea that there is no next big dream. No next success. That’s all ridiculous. I am not talking about a new business endeavor for you, although it could be. A new role in your business, although that could be too. That’s the beauty of being where you are now. You are a creator. You can create anything you want.

Point #12 – It’s time for a conversation you’ve never had before – We both know you are not going to be told what to do. That is why family-owned businesses get stuck. That is why everyone feels like they are often beating their heads against the wall. They are all trying to come at you with something you don’t really want to do. You know the right answer, intellectually. You know you aren’t immortal, intellectually. Yet, you are hanging on for dear life. You say one thing and do another. You are having the same conversation you have always had with yourself.

It's time for a new conversation. Through that conversation, you will start to discover your answers. And, it’s going to be good! 

Family BusinessDon Scott