How do you let go during the succession process?

Business Leader Post, February 1, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

The dynamic of letting go during the succession process in family businesses is analogous to an exercise that my fellow graduate students and I went through while getting our Masters in Counseling Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Our professors put us through a series of non-verbal exercises that would re-create the experience of dynamics that occur in relationships. In one of them, we were instructed to stand on a chair with our backs to a group of five other students, close our eyes and fall backwards into the group. The challenge/thought process that we all we all went through before we could fall back was the capacity to “let go” into the mind set of blind trust.

Some students did it quickly without thinking, some could not do it all, and some took some time before they could fall. The most interesting part of the exercise for me was that after I had committed to falling, there was a moment of panic as I experienced the point of “no return.”

The common experience for all of us was that it was not comfortable. We all get to where we are by trusting others; but at the end of the day, we all understand that our success depends on trusting ourselves. Giving up that trust to others creates a level of risk for us. Those students who were assigned the task of catching also had a sense of responsibility—if they failed, they potentially could cause harm.

The dynamic of letting go during the succession process is similar to the dynamic of the exercise that we went through as students. However, the stakes are much greater. The point of the exercise is much broader and deeper than just having the courage to let go and fall. It is important for the senior generation to make sure that the next generation is prepared for the responsibility that it will be taking on. It is the next generation’s responsibility to check and make sure that the senior generation is ready to take the risk. It is also important to remember that the exercise of succession will be accompanied by at least one, if not many, experiences of panic. Don’t give in to the panic. Keep moving.