The Art of Being a Good Family Business Leader
22nd January 2016
Penny Webb of Familias identifies some of the key qualities and attributes that are required in order for a leader to succeed in a family firm.
Based on a career working with families and executives around the world, Penny has a clear insight into what successful family business owners do in order to rise to the challenge.
According to Penny, “the position of leader can actually be quite a lonely position where decisions have to be taken that are not always popular particularly when family firm leaders have to wear multiple hats and seek to keep the business and the family happy.”
Reflect Continuously – The ability to take time to reflect on your own strengths so that you can build on them. Reflection helps to build self-awareness and enable family business leaders to grow based on what they are good at. As Penny says, “find out what you aren’t good at and stop doing it”. Working with a private coach can help enormously in this regard.
Have a Clear Vision of Success – Good leaders have a good idea what they want to do and set out on a journey to achieve these goals. They are also able to establish what personal and professional success looks like and work towards these goals. If leaders are not clear and consistent in their own goals, how can others follow?
A good exercise for any leader is to consider themselves at 80 years of age, looking back on what they have done and whether or not that would provide them with the contentment they are looking for and ensure they have lived according to what is truly important to them.
Collaborate– Good leaders partner and collaborate with individuals who can enhance the overall competencies of the business rather than trying to do everything themselves. Moving into the collaborative space is beneficial to add to the overall focus on achieving the goals of the organisation.
Engage with People – You can only be a good leader if people are prepared to follow you and engaging with people is essential. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and ask others to help you in your quest for success.
By displaying some vulnerability, you give others the opportunity to do the same and create a much more open working environment. Also, help others to identify their own life purpose and resist the temptation to hold onto employees because it suits you and the business. Let others grow and help them to do so.
Display Empathy- Clearly demonstrate that you have the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. “Ask more than tell, Enquire more than you Advocate,” continues Penny. “This is never more required than in a boardroom setting.”
Stimulate Creativity – Good leaders ask ‘what if’ and do not accept the status quo. They make time during meetings to push the boundaries of accepted wisdom as an exercise in stimulating creativity. When all seems to be going well, good leaders recognise the need to “test” and recognise that acceptance of good performance is a dangerous practice.
Dismiss the concept of a work-life balance – Good family business leaders recognise that it is impossible to separate work from day-to-day living because the reality is that everyone has to live when they are working. The key to success is developing a life that allows you to be authentic on a 24-7 basis. IF a leader freels he has to leave part of himself at the door every Monday morning, something is wrong.
Create Alignment – Good leaders are able to ensure, on a continual basis, that every level of the organisation understands the strategy and their role in its execution. Penny says, “Often we ask employees, family members and board members to articulate the firm’s strategy and the lack of alignment in their responses is telling.”
Appreciate Cultural Differences – Good leaders need to recognise that what works in the West doesn’t necessarily work in the East. They also understand the need to not impose their views on others.
They tailor their messages and moreover, seek ways to learn from those who are different. Penny says, “think about the number of family firms who have sought to invest or develop outside their home country? It doesn’t always work well”. How can a family leader ensure that sufficient due diligence is done to assess a firm’s readiness to work and succeed in a different culture.
Be Decisive – It is essential for any family business to enable individuals to make decisions and boards need to make sure that decisions are made. All too often boards discuss matters that need to be addressed and the finer points of implementation are left in the ether and not monitored.
A good leader identifies priorities and holds others to account regularly. Moreover, in the event that issues are not readily agreed, a good leader takes decisions anyway, learns from them and is willing to change their mind should things go wrong. Inactivity and leadership are not good bedfellows.
Build a Support Network – Due to the nature of the role and potentially the need to manage different stakeholder groups, a good leader needs to build an external support network to help them keep things in perspective.
Just like good sportsmen and women have coaches and support teams, leaders of family businesses are no different and need to get the right support when they need it.
They don’t always rely on one individual but build a wide support group that can help them to manage both emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual challenges.
Be Generous – Good family business leaders have a generosity in what they do and are generous with their time, helping others in their own careers too. They are “Servant Leaders”. They know they are there to help others to succeed and spend more time worrying about what others need from them rather than their own personal egos.
Admit Mistakes – It takes courage to admit when something has gone wrong but good leaders are prepared to stand up for what they believe in and admit when things have gone awry.
Be Proud and Stand Tall – Family business leaders that succeed make no apologies for their success and this is a great skill. Self-deprecation helps no-one. Teams need to be led and have clear direction and leadership and good leaders do not apologise for what they have achieved.
Family businesses contribute significantly to the global economy and have continued to prosper due to their leadership during these challenging times.
Great leaders need to constantly reflect on what they are doing and the impact that they are having around them, because in order to be a great leader they need to inspire those around them to want to follow.