Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz
This week we’re going to look at something that many family business leaders face, and that often makes them feel powerless.
While they appear so powerful to others, deep down inside, well, maybe, not so much.
Life Imitates Art
I was a big fan of the TV Show The Sopranos when it first aired on HBO, and it became appointment TV viewing in our house.
Tony Soprano was a mafia boss, and he had a family, but he wasn’t the prototypical family business leader.
We have a promotional poster for the series in our basement, that shows Tony in the center, with his wife, mother and kids on one side, and his “work family” on the other.
“Meet Tony Soprano:
If one family doesn’t kill him,
The other family will”
I still get a kick out of it every time I see it.
Not Just for Business Leaders
The Soprano quote below that inspired this blog post came from a story I read a couple of months back about David Chase, which ran in GQ Magazine.
The story was about Soprano’s head writer David Chase, and it examined some similarities between Chase and the Tony Soprano character.
The end of the story included this quote:
(Some of the letters have been replaced by ***, but I think you can still get the gist of it):
“All due respect, you got no f***ing idea
what it’s like to be number one.
Every decision you make affects every
facet of every other f***ing thing.
It’s too much to deal with, almost.
And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”
Does It Have To Be So Lonely?
Let’s look at some options that the person at the top has as possible outlets or resources.
Tony, of course, had Carmela and they spoke quite often about many important issues. But deep down, Tony knew that there were many things that he couldn’t and shouldn’t burden his wife with.
An understanding spouse who is a good listener can be very helpful but is rarely sufficient to relieve the loneliness burden.
Some of the most memorable scenes from the show were ones that included Tony and his top management. Paulie and Sylvio were the mainstays, and Christopher was a rising star in the group.
But much like the spouse, these people are so tied in with the decisions, that it becomes difficult to broach subjects that affect the group.
The closest thing Tony had to a peer group was the other top mafia bosses from other territories.
We occasionally got glimpses of this, and they sometimes offered an opportunity to exchange with others who faced similar challenges and decisions.
The nature of their business on the show, however, added a dangerous element that discouraged too much sharing.
Real family business leaders usually have lots of opportunities to join peer groups, through organizations like FEX, TEC, Vistage, etc.
Rising Generation of the Family
Tony’s kids were too young, and AJ, his only son, did not seem to have the “right stuff” for the line of work his father was in.
For real leaders of family businesses, there are plenty of opportunities to share what one is going through with their offspring, especially those who work in the business with them.
This is an area that I think is underexplored by most people.
Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear to be playing favourites by sharing with one child more than others, or maybe it’s an effort to avoid putting a burden on them.
My belief is that some sharing, in appropriate amounts, at the right age and stage, and in the proper way, can be a win/win, because it also helps prepare the future leader(s).
Trusted Outside Advisor
Tony’s frequent visits with Dr.Melfi, his shrink, were a recurring theme throughout the show’s run.
Mental health practitioners are a potential outlet, but so are other trusted professionals, like your accountant and lawyer.
There are also plenty of executive coaches and family business advisors that could certainly play a role too.
Board of Advisors
The ultimate solution, just shy of having a full-fledged “Board of Directors” would be to set up a less formal “Board of Advisors”.
This takes time and effort to set up, but those who have done it swear by it.
Tony Soprano probably should have had one too!