How Do You Address the Senior Generation's Mixed Messages About Letting Go of Control?

Business Leader Post, March 6, 2012

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

The first challenge is to have both generations establish, believe in, and commit to the real goal versus the stated goal. The stated goal is easy. It is said out loud at some point, e.g.: "Someday this will all be yours." Or: "I know that you would like more compensation but be patient. Your reward will be in the value of the stock." Passing on the ownership is easy. Passing over control either through stock or authority and responsibility is difficult. It's an emotional issue for both generations.

Once the emotional commitment is made, the second challenge lies in the behavior of both generations. The passing of control in the business changes the generational relationship from of an adult/child relationship to an adult/adult relationship. That is difficult for every adult/child relationship. Throwing in the family business to that already complex relationship multiplies the challenge by three. There is always ambivalence on both sides because the change is scary and difficult for both generations. It takes time for confidence to build, for the senior generation to think, "He/she can handle it," and for the next generation to think, "He/she believes in me."

The way to arrive at confidence is through an accumulation of many situations and behaviors that feed the thought process. Along the way, the two generations will send messages to each other through their respective behaviors that will create doubt and will appear contradictory to their mutual goal. This is normal. Change is difficult. The emotional stakes of changing the dynamic of a family relationship is very high. Try to view the behavior that creates doubt as an adjustment process, not as a statement. Concentrate on the goal, believe that everyone is working as hard as they can, and give them the benefit of the doubt.