This week I want to take you on a quick journey through a few different metaphors that all involve light and are related to family business.

The initial idea for this post, as evidenced the title I chose, was to talk about the importance of having someone “light the way” for the family business.  So we’ll start there, but also take a bit of a tour of different types of lights that can also come in handy too.


The Torch Bearer

When you think about a family business, there’s often one person, typically a founder or a key leader from another generation, that comes to mind. I like the visual of a person holding a torch, leading the way, with others following.

The importance of great leadership in any organisation cannot be overstated, and family businesses are no different.

We often also hear about passing the torch to the next leader, but I much prefer another metaphor that I’ve heard and will continue to spread.

Rather than passing on their torch to someone else, wouldn’t it be better to light someone else’s torch instead?

Fire is something that you can give away and still have, kind of like love, in a way.


Under the Spotlight

There’s another form of light that is also typically associated with business families, and that’s the “spotlight”. Anyone who has ever gone to work for their parents knows about this light, and it isn’t always a comfortable place to be.

When your last name is the same as that of the person who signs the paycheques, and especially if that name is also on the sign above the door, you just know that everyone will be watching you.

Of course this can also be a good thing, because it does help keep these rising generation family members honest, knowing that it will be difficult to hide anything that they do that perhaps they shouldn’t.


The Search Light

I much prefer the search light or even a simple flashlight as a metaphor, because even though they are pretty similar to a spotlight, the intent is very different.

What I’m getting at here is that you use this type of light to look for something, by shining the light into places that are perhaps not as clear as they could be.

I often talk about the human capital that lies in every business family, and sometimes the search for such human capital is not as active as it could be. It takes time, effort, and intention to do this, but shining that light can pay huge dividends.


The Beacon or Lighthouse

The beacon has some similarities to the torch, in that they both act as a kind of guiding light. The lighthouse has an added element of stability and strength, though.

It almost feels like something that would apply to someone who has held a key active leadership role in the past, and has remained on the scene in a smaller role, but continues to be a wise soul for those who are now running things.


Sunlight: The Best Disinfectant

You may take issue with my including sunlight as one of my lights here, but that argument won’t get you very far, since it is completely natural to include it. 

You may be surprised at my reason for including it here, because it’s very different from the others.  

I really like the expression about sunlight being the best disinfectant, which is something we sometimes hear when discussing politics and government.


Transparency Is the Key

When it comes to families, though, it also has its place. I’m thinking about the fact that very often some family members are not as close to the family business as others.

When there is unequal information about what’s going on, especially when it comes to financial issues like compensation, there’s often plenty of suspicion as well.

That’s why I am talking about the importance of sunlight, because transparency is the best antidote to those suspicions.


You Light Up My Life

With apologies to Debbie Boone, a family business can be a huge plus for so many families, and it can truly light up the lives of so many family members.

It isn’t always all sweetness and light, though, as the blessings of a family business can quickly become curses instead, when things aren’t done as well as they should be.