What Is the Advantage of the Interdisciplinary Method of Consulting to Family Owned Businesses?

Business Leader Post, May 30, 2013

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

In my last column, I discussed the dangers of professionals stepping outside of their areas of expertise to give advice in areas where they are not trained.  The interesting thing to me is that professionals do not walk boldly into those areas—instead they are frequently invited into them.

As I’ve said before, successful advisors to family owned businesses generally establish a level of rapport with their clients. As a result, clients place a significant level of trust in their advisors and share a lot of information, both business and personal.  Frequently, the conversation turns to the family side of the business issue; and professionals can feel a sense of obligation to attempt to answer the question and /or to help the client solve the dilemma

In most cases, professionals have either wrestled with those issues themselves or have witnessed others struggle with similar issues.  Based on their experience, or on “anecdotal evidence,” they will offer advice.  It is a very seductive process, and it is difficult not to engage in it. Most professionals are loath to utter the words, “I don’t know.”

I, too, am vulnerable to that same dynamic, but my protection comes in two forms:  The first is that I always work with another professional, whether it is an attorney or accountant, whose expertise lies in the business arena. That professional acts as a resource for business information that is outside my expertise. Consequently, I can help the client solve the problem by simply asking the business professional his or her advice/opinion.

The second stems from a quote by Leon Danko:  “You can always buy brains, but you can’t buy trust.” In order to keep your client’s trust—the most important part of your relationship—be honest with yourself and with them.  Say “I don’t know,” and find the professional who does.

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