Understanding your family business goals

A few weeks ago I came across one of those “motivational quotes” that various people like to post on social media, and for some reason, this one resonated with me. It was on my Twitter timeline, from Dan Rockwell, whose Twitter handle is “Leadership Freak”.

Here is the quote:

“Who You Are Is More Important Than What You Do”

At the time I was in the process of finishing of my latest “white paper”, Sticky Baton Syndrome, ask Prince Charles, in which one of the issues I dealt with was the way a business founder will often have difficulty letting go, precisely because so much of their identity is tied up in “what they do”.

How can you transfer your business to your offspring and then “retire”, if you think of it as the equivalent of dying? If they stop “doing”, they believe that they also stop “being”. But is “what you do” really that important?

The concept of contrasting “doing”, versus “being”, is in no way novel, in fact the coolest twists I have seen on this come when you add in a third element, such as “fitting in” or even what a person “will do”.

But how is it that some people are more concerned with how they are seen by others for their “role” compared to their true “self”?

The owner of a family business will often be somewhat of a “public figure”, depending on the size of both the business and the community in which they live, so often “everyone” knows what you do.

But of all the people who know what you do, only a much smaller number, those with whom you have the closest relationships, will really know “who you are”.

So which is more important?

Think about the last time that you actually met someone famous. When that person’s name comes up in a conversation, you will likely say something like, “Oh, I met him. He seemed like a really nice guy”.

You actually feel like you have some special viewpoint on the person’s character, even if it is only based on a brief exchange.  But that is exactly my point. It is feeling like you know “who they are” that is special, even if everyone knows what they do.

When it comes to the rising generation in a family business, it is also a very important thing to keep in mind. Are you raising Junior to be the next President of the company, or to be the best person they can be?

Are you parenting your children to play key roles in your family business, because that would suit you, or are you trying to raise future responsible adults who will find something that they would like to do, based upon who they are?

Some people expend a great deal of effort clarifying what they “do”, because it is important for people to understand your abilities, especially if you are hoping for them to pay you to do those things.

In many ways, I envy those who have careers that are simple to describe. A guy shows up at your door dressed in white clothes with paint splattered on them, a roller in one hand and a can of paint in the other, it is not hard to guess what he “does”.

But if you are part of a business family, and you need to bring in someone to help prepare a generational transition, or you have communication problems, or you have a situation that needs an outside mediator, I suggest that you spend some time figuring out who that person “is”, before allowing them to “do what they do”.

A major reason why I write these posts every week is to help people figure out who I am, even if they can’t always put their finger on what I do.