Dog Holding leash in-front of the door

Ready to Lead > Ready to Leave

Certain topics come up over and over again in the world of family business.

Today we’ll be looking at two of them, although when you get right down to it, maybe it’s really just one, because they’re often wound pretty tightly together.

As you may’ve already gathered from the title, I’m talking about a changing of the guard at the top.

Some Batons Are Sticky

As I wrote in my Quick Start Guide on this subject, Sticky Baton Syndrome(Ask Prince Charles) there are plenty of cases where the person at the top of a family business is just not ready to leave.

There are all sorts of excuses that are typically mentioned as to why they must remain in place.

Some of them are even true, and some of them are actually good reasons. Many, however, are just excuses, given by people who are simply scared to face certain realities.

bird leading other birds

The Father of the Three Circle Model

In September I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the annual Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX) symposium, featuring John A. Davis as one of the keynote speakers.

If you don’t know who Davis is, he’s one of the co-creators of the Three Circle Model, of which I am a big fan.

See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

He regaled the crowd with a presentation about the “Future of Leadership” and then led a discussion with Philippe DeSerres that was also very well received.

But my take-home message from his talk was something he only mentioned briefly in passing, right near the end, which was the inspiration for this post.

The Money Quote

He was talking about getting the timing right when it comes to transitioning the leadership of a family business.

He noted that more and more these days, and from his decades of experience as a leader in consulting to this field, there is one factor that trumps the other.

According to Davis, it makes more sense to make the leadership transition of a family business when the rising generation is

Ready To Lead,

than to wait until the current generation is

Ready To Leave.

Notably, he took the time to spell it out, i.e. “lead, l-e-a-d” and “leave, l-e-a-v-e”, just to be sure we all understood him.

I understood. I hope you do too. But just in case, I will continue…

A man leading other people

Too Soon or Too Late

At the outset of this blog, I noted that these two topics are often connected.

The biggest way this happens is that the current leaders will sometimes subconsciously hold back on giving the rising generation the opportunities to show what they can do.

And one of the major reasons that they do this is because of their own desire to remain important.

What Else Is There?

So many business leaders attach so much of their identity to their role as the leader of their business.

I like to think that this might just be too narrow a viewpoint.
Let me explain. The key to this lies in the Three Circle Model.

Note that the Business circle is only one of the three systems that intersect, and that the “big picture” also includes Family, and Ownership.

Step Back to See the Whole Picture

If the leader of the “business” steps back and looks at the whole picture, including the Family and Ownership systems as well as the Business system with which they are already intimately familiar, they will see many other, greater, opportunities.

If the business is a huge success, yet the family falls apart and the owners end up in a dispute that has various family members “lawyering up” against each other, then just how important will the business success have been in retrospect?

Three Circle = Three Systems = Three Leaders?

If you’re trying to create a true multi-generational family business, you cannot neglect any of the circles.

Each circle ultimately needs its own governance structure, and likely its own leader, or leaders. Someone needs to foresee all of this and line up and prepare those future leaders.

There comes a point in the life cycle of any business leader when their focus should shift from running a successful business to overseeing a complete enterprising family (i.e. all 3 circles)

So you built a great business, congratulations.

If you want it to continue to survive as a family enterprise for generations, you’ve still got more important work to do.

Stop working IN your family business,
Start working ON your business family.