The success of any multi-generational family business can usually be directly correlated to the quality of the relationships that exist between members of the different generations involved in the business at any given time.
As those relationships cascade down from the founding generation to G2, and then from G2 to G3 and so on over the decades, society continues to progress, with different norms evolving over time in the “background”.
With that contextual preamble out of the way, I want to discuss the ways that society’s evolution has affected the ways that family members relate to each other now, compared to the norms that existed in the not too distant past.
John A. Davis as Inspiration – Again
The idea for this blog comes from a series of posts I came across recently on LinkedIn, from none other than Professor John A. Davis, now of MIT.
His recent series, entitled “Leading the Family Business System: It Takes a Village” may turn out to be another classic, and I suggest that serious students and practitioners in the field check out all four parts of the series.
This blog will look at a single quote from within the series that caught my eye, for reasons we’re about to get to.
“Based on a True Story”
Davis quotes a “G4” leader of a well-known FamBiz:
“I used to ask my father’s permission to ask him a question.
Now I ask my children’s permission to give them advice.”
One of the first things that hit me upon reading those lines was, “Hmmm, that sounds like me!”
So what’s behind this, is it societal enlightenment, parents deferring too much to their children, “progress” as a family gets accustomed to wealth, or just a coincidence?
Or some combination of all of the above?
I can’t say for sure, so I’ll leave it to readers to consider their personal versions of this, and I’ll move to a related discussion.
The Advantages of Courtesy and Politeness
I like courtesy and being polite as much as the next guy, and as a Canadian I feel like it’s part of my DNA.
I also know for sure that when you want something from someone, your success rate in getting it is typically much higher when you ask for it compared to when you simply tell people to do something.
Has it always been this way, I can’t say for sure, and it surely varies from culture to culture, especially when discussing situations between parents and their children.
In general, though, I’d say that the quote from the Davis piece above is not that surprising to me given where we are now as a culture.
What About the Downside?
With any progress in society there are often some unintended consequences that come along for the ride.
One family I work with is in the midst of discovering some of these elements as I write this.
Let’s just say that when the parents are extra careful not to put any pressure on their children to join the family enterprise or to stake their claim to important leadership roles within the business, they can sometimes end up lamenting that those same kids don’t seem interested.
The unintended consequence can also include the offspring not realizing how much the parents would actually love to have more family members involved at key levels of the company to ensure its continuity into the future.
There’s More Than One “Ask”
As I’ve been writing this piece, my thinking has actually evolved and clarified itself. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons that I write my blog each week, because it forces me to think. Everyone who then reads this and shares it is just a bonus, but I digress.
So yes, asking for permission is nice, it works both ways (with parents and children, in either direction) and it sure beats simply telling.
But equally important is to also ask for what you want to see happen.
If it is done as a request, as opposed to an order, at least the person or people will understand what it is you would like.
When that leads to a discussion of what each party wants, the clarity that brings will benefit everyone.