What about the “Michigas” in Family Businesses?

Business Leader Post, June 13, 2013

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Many of the families that I work with feel that having to bring in a consultant is an act of failure.  The senior generation, in particular, believes that they must have done something wrong—that they must not have raised their children properly. They talk about the sacrifices they made, how they denied themselves many of the pleasures of life as they were raising their children and building their business. And now that they have achieved financial success, their family is in conflict. Both the parents and the next generation express sadness at the loss of the closeness and warmth that comes with the sense of family.

I talk to them about the mishigas that comes with family businesses. Mishigas is a Yiddish word that means “silliness” or “craziness.” The best analogy is the mishigas that happens between members in churches, synagogues or clubs. I don’t know why, but really smart and well-meaning people get caught up in the mishigas. That is what it is like in family owned businesses. It comes with the territory, and nobody escapes the dynamics.

The reason I present the analogy is to help those families step back from the mishigas and see it for what it is: “silliness” or “craziness.” Families have to address the mishigas, but that does not mean that families have to be defined by it. Only strong families have the courage and commitment to recognize that they have been swept up into the mishigas and choose to bring in a consultant to help them clear their way back to the clarity of their vision and the strength of their values.