Who do you work for?

Business Leader Post, May 21, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

The typical founder of a family business works long hours and deprives him/herself of many things.  After many years of hard work that have resulted in a successful business, s/he opens the door for the next generation to provide them with an opportunity for a successful career and a good lifestyle.

The shock comes when the relationship between the founder and the next generation moves into areas of disconnect, when communication breaks down, and feelings of resentment percolate to the top. The entrepreneur is at a loss. His/her family was constantly in his/her thoughts during those long hours after 5:00pm. Why can't the next generation just appreciate everything that s/he is offering them? 

There are a number of reasons. The first is that appreciation for what one has can only come from working for it oneself. The significance and internal satisfaction of a job well done is directly correlated to the effort one puts in. A common family business error is making it much too easy for the next generation to enter the business and much too easy for them to assume positions in the company that they would not readily have if they had a different last name.

The second and more subtle reason is that thinking about your family and using your family as motivation does not easily translate to a strong emotional connection with them unless you have spent time with them.  The time lost can’t be replaced. They missed you. You were not available to them many times when they needed you. So while they may talk about how they appreciate your achievements and the material things that you provided, they have an underlying emotional resentment because of your lack of emotional and physical availability.

It is similar to the experience of coming home from a vacation and expecting your children to be glad to see you just as you are glad to see them. Instead, you discover that they are angry with you. Why? They missed you while you were gone.

Take the time now as much as you can and in as many ways as you can to spend time with the next generation.  Ask questions about their lives, their wives, husbands, children (your grandchildren) and their job satisfaction. Show interest and listen, even when they tell you that everything that is wrong with their lives is your fault.  Say that you understand and just listen! Good Luck! It will be the most difficult task you have ever undertaken.