In the past few newsletters and blog pieces I have been focusing on challenges younger-generation family members meet when trying to initiate change in their family businesses while the older generation is still in charge. This is a significant issue in family business and I want to go a bit deeper into the subject.
While these challenges may not exist in every family, their occurrence is all too common and all too important to ignore. Exploring these situations, several trigger factors have been observed: levels of emotional intelligence, experiences of intimacy and connection in the father’s and the son’s earlier development, and natural life stages of father and son.
Note: At this point, for simplicity, I am speaking about these challenges in terms of father and son relationships. And while recognizing there are important differences between sons and daughters in family businesses, I do not mean any of this to be relevant only to fathers and sons.
In earlier articles I have quoted from Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses, written by the father/son team of Pyles and Pyles. [i] In it they point out that the overlap of family and business dynamics, unresolved personal conflicts, lack of trust, difficult interpersonal relationships, sibling rivalry, and generational communication issues are just some of the human issues a father and son must manage.
A good, intelligent starting point to understand these dynamics is to look at the family business and what it means to the father:[ii]
In his book Fighting for the Crown: the father/son relationship in first generation family enterprises, Moveed Fazail noted three vital issues at play within the father’s psychology:
- The business is a source of personal identity, pride, legacy, opportunity, and means of providing for his family
2. Fathers do not normally wish ill for their children, but they (fathers) can fear being diminished by them
3. Many individuals in the father’s generation have witnessed the rapid decline of their contemporaries’ energies when they retire, and cannot accept a similar fate
These issues are both subtle and complex. But knowing they exist provides a starting point for conversations that open them up, providing an opportunity for moving forward that respects both the father and the son.
[i] Edward Pyles and Thomas Pyles. Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses. 2016. Westbow Press. p. 178
[ii] Moveed Fazail. Fighting for the Crown: the father/son relationship in first generation family enterprises. FFI Practitioner, Family Firm Institute, July 16, 2013.