As we age, it is widely accepted that we lose a lot of our flexibility, especially when we look at our physical selves. Stretching is far more important for older folks than it is for kids, and there are good reasons why yoga and pilates are so popular with the grey-haired crowd.
But the kind of flexibility that I want to talk about today has little to do with our physical being, and everything to do with an attitude towards things that happen on a regular basis in our lives. I have not seen a lot written on this subject, so I wanted to throw some of my ideas out there.
Let me start with where this flexibility kick began for me, last year, as I was forming the idea behind my first book, on which I continue to work (update: manuscript just back from its first edit, working on a few modifications). The title of the book is SHIFT your Family Business, and the letters in “shift” are capitalized because they each stand for one of the five steps in my “call to action”.
If you are playing along at home, you have likely already guessed that the F stands for Flexibility.
The goal of the book is to get business families to begin to concentrate more on the family side of things, and slightly less on the business side. After getting Started, finding Help, and Investing time, we come to the chapter about staying Flexible, and in many ways this is the key to success. But some people find it difficult.
Many heads of family businesses attribute a lot of their success to their vision and hard work to achieve that vision, and flexibility is sometimes anathema to them.
But when it comes time to start to plan how you want to set things up for the future of the company and the family, these people will almost surely need to adopt some flexibility to assure a continuity plan that everyone can and will buy into.
The person who has always had it in their head that a certain child will certainly be ready, willing, and able to take over from him, may just end up discovering that that child is not interested, is not competent, is not liked by key non-family employees, or is not able to get their siblings to agree with them.
The family that believes they have it all figured out needs to be ready to adapt when someone unexpectedly get sick or has an accident, and it becomes clear that it is shifting gears and rolling with the punches are important for survival.
I believe that many family business leaders are actually more flexible than they realize in the way that they operate their businesses. What I think many of them could use help with, is to be more flexible in how they look after the family side of things.
The key skill that they usually need to brush up on is communication, which is actually a two-way street. Often when you are at the top, you become accustomed to doing a lot of talking and very little listening, and it is in the listening that you learn.
When you are able to listen, while holding off the need to judge, you can really learn a lot, and some of what you learn may not fit with your preconceived views. This is where the flexibility comes in.
When guiding a family business, and a business family, it is often tempting to try to just lead and expect everyone to follow. But if you adopt a more flexible attitude and truly listen to your key people, you will have more success when it comes time to hand the reins over to the next generation. Things rarely work out exactly as you expect them to.