Identity Crisis in the Family Enterprise: Encouraging Individual Growth
“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” - Abraham Lincoln
The importance of the individual in the family enterprise cannot be underestimated. Although the success of earlier generations has clear advantages, it can also cast a long shadow onto rising generations as they grow and become a part of their family’s business ventures. Those individuals, the ‘kids’ of the family, can find themselves becoming lost in the expectations of following in their parent’s or grandparent’s footsteps, and what the broader expectations are within the family. Each person has their own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and approaches. If the individual is not allowed the space to grow, and discover who they are outside of the family enterprise, then somewhere along the way, whether it’s in their 20’s or 50’s, this lack of self-actualization becomes a problem. It may manifest as rebellion, depression, addiction, broken relationships and lack of communication, or feeling unfulfilled. Regardless of how it appears, the effects reverberate throughout the family and business.
Research has shown that the overwhelming challenges families have in their wealth lies in human behaviour - trust and communication breakdown and unprepared heirs are the leading issues for wealth destruction. To correct the issue, 3 things are needed: a mindset shift within the family, space to grow and self-actualize as individuals, and opportunities to co-create new realities as a family.
Mindset Shift: Planning As A Family Instead Of For The Family
The mindset shift required to make space for change is around shifting the perspective of planning for the family to planning as a family. Or, changing the ‘me’ focus to the ‘we’ focus. Before the shift, the next generation may face the seemingly oppositional choice between: “do I sacrifice my happiness to keep the business going as is” and “do I sacrifice the family/business for my own pursuit of happiness?” Taking the time and the space to grow as an individual separate from the family business reduces the possibility of personal differences that would negatively impact the family and business if left unaddressed.
Further, taking some space allows strengths and perspectives to mature, so that when rising generations return to the family business, they can bring their own unique approach and a rejuvenated passion to work. The real power in families lies in the qualitative, not the quantitative. With that being the case, a family enterprise can be bolstered by the individuals within taking time to self actualize and become their best self prior to focusing on the family business. With this mindset and culture shift, families are better able to meet the needs of each individual, which empowers the group to grow across generations.
Encouraging Space To Grow
There are five capital areas when we talk about family enterprises: financial, intellectual, social, human, and spiritual. By expanding our definition of wealth to include each of these areas, we can understand the value of individuals growing in each aspect, versus focusing only on financial growth. The space to grow can take many different forms, and I have seen families successfully implement many strategies. For example: coaching, finding mentors, peer groups, leadership development programs, family retreats focused on activities that allow for growth, or even a family employment policy requiring outside work experience prior to joining the family business.
The key here is in creating a path as a family, with a culture of encouraging the space for growth - facilitating individuals to explore and discover their passions, figure out who they are, and learn to fail. Through this growth and by embracing change, as a family you are providing the platform for individuals to operate at their best level. The diversity in what people bring to the table will strengthen the whole business, and bring renewed passion and perspective to your work.
Co-Creating A New Reality
With a new mindset in the family, and space for individuals to grow, what follows is implementing a framework to ensure that these good practices are optimized and that they become a permanent fixture in the family enterprise. This is where a family charter, family mission, values statement, regular family meetings and a culture of accountability become important in setting the path of growth moving forward. It’s important to note that this growth and process of self actualization is a continual process - as life events happen, people change and their needs and desires evolve as well. Allowing for trial and error, opportunities to continuously work through needs and allowing individuals to feel safe, comfortable and able to be vulnerable in the family, builds emotionally intelligent, perceptive people. This is what will help sustain the family and its wealth, in the broadest sense, in the long run. If families commit to making this culture shift in present generations, they are primed to establish positive patterns to be adopted by future generations. Collectively, this will have a big impact on the family enterprise.
Through a shift in mindset, allowing the space for growth, and co-creating the approach to individual growth within the family enterprise, we can reduce emotional upheaval and relationship breakdown, while also building passionate and dynamic individuals that inspire growth within the family enterprise for generations to come.