What is the counter intuitive challenge in family owned businesses?

Business Leader Post, July 14, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

My colleague and I have been talking to a number of professionals about providing consulting services to real estate owning families.  My colleague has specific skills in organizational development with extensive experience in the world of real estate, and I provide expertise in family dynamics. The feedback that we have been receiving about real estate owning families has validated our belief that the interaction between the owners of  real estate companies and the  next generation of managers can produce very challenging and complicated issues for the family and the business.

However, many of these professionals have told us about the resistance that these families might have towards bringing in outside consultants to work with them.  That resistance stems from the unique characteristics that this category of entrepreneurs shares.  To be specific, the confidence in their judgment and in their vision has allowed these entrepreneurs to take the risks necessary to build their empires. Ironically, their ability to solve and anticipate problems has also become their weakness. They usually surround themselves with those who, in their opinion, are their necessary advisors. Reaching beyond that circle of advisors to professionals who might help solve their family issues is counter intuitive to them after having  solved so many complicated business issues and to some degree, having addressed some of their internal organizational issues as well.

When the professional posed this dilemma--how to convince this entrepreneur with a powerful ego that he needs help--my response was that the motivator to reach out is pain. Pain is a driver. We all want relief.  Those individuals might entertain the notion of at least meeting a professional who might offer relief from their concerns and/or worries about the two most important parts of their lives:  their business and their family.

The professionals found that answer reasonable, but their next question was how to get them to change, to “let go” and allow for a meaningful transition process to the next generation.  My response to this question was this: Here their strength becomes their ally. They are almost always extremely bright.  Once given the possibility of creating meaningful change, they harness the strength of their intellect to overpower their traditional emotional response to the events they encounter. In other words, they are capable of participating in counter intuitive behavior. They learn to “swing easy when it's breezy” or stand back and allow others to solve a problem.  That is not an easy task and one that is learned over time. But given the strength it takes to behave counter intuitively, I am comfortable describing these individuals as heroic. They are able to see past themselves and concentrate on what is best for their families and their businesses.