Updated: Dec 24, 2019
Name the top three most important skills that family business leaders need to be successful. Before you read further, write them down.
Now look at your answers. One of the three is leadership, isn’t it? And at least one, if not both of the others is a subset of leadership. Whether your strength is in business development, marketing strategy, operational efficiency or financial management, everything you do is focused on achieving results through other people. That’s leadership.
Because leadership in a family business requires leadership at home just as much as
leadership at work, family business leaders can’t escape these burdens of leadership.
So where do family business leaders hone their leadership skills? Training classes? Unlikely. Peer group meetings? Possibly. Leadership coaching? Not yet. Therefore, every family business leader must be perfect, right? I’ll let you answer that yourself.
Training classes can be terrific and affordable. But how many of us have attended a great training class, used the concepts maybe twice, then gone back to our old ways? Leadership development needs to be an ongoing effort. Do you expect to lose those pesky 15 pounds by going to the gym once? No, those results require a sustained effort and a lifestyle change. Why would leadership development be any different? Fortunately, it’s a lot more fun than going to the gym.
Training classes often come in a one-size-fits-all package, and I don’t subscribe to one formula for effective leadership. Leadership development has to be custom. Nobody can emulate another leader successfully. If I tried to lead like Jack Welch, I would fail because only Jack Welch can lead like Jack Welch. Is Jack Welch a great leader? Arguably yes. Does that mean if you don’t lead like Jack Welch, you are not a great leader? Emphatically no.
Peer groups can expand your resource network and help with the feelings of being lonely at the top. But there’s nothing more powerful, long-lasting and effective than personalized leadership coaching customized for you.
Every leader has strengths, which overused, can become a weakness. Every leader has blind spots, which, unrecognized, risk exposure. Family business leaders face additional challenges and competing commitments that can be paralyzing. For example, when a leader wears her CEO hat, she may conclude that her son just isn’t cutting it as CFO. But when she wears her parent hat, she feels compelled to protect and provide for her child. Her commitment to the success in the business feels like it is in direct competition with her commitment to being a caring, nurturing parent.
Personalized leadership coaching helps leaders:
See new possibilities they didn't see before
Become self-aware of the positive and negative impacts of their leadership behaviors
Broaden their leadership toolkit so the right tool is used in the right situation
Have a thought partner for the leader’s most difficult challenges
Slow down, zoom out, think slowly and purposefully about the big picture and the end game
The best coaches know when to poke. They know how to tell the emperor that he’s not wearing any clothes. And who else in a family business leader’s world will do that for him?
The best coaches also know when to stroke. They know how to build a leader’s self-confidence when she’s filled with self-doubt.
Although it took about 20 years, the corporate world has finally embraced leadership coaching (a.k.a. executive coaching) which is why it’s one of the fastest growing service professions in the US. It has become an executive perk.
But what about family businesses? Why are we getting left behind? We are the backbone of the country, making up 50% of the US GDP and 80%-90% of all businesses in North America, according to the University of Michigan.
Ironically, family business leaders are often the last people to hire a coach, yet they need it the most. What are you afraid of? Privacy? Coaching conversations are confidential. Looking stupid? You’re not. Don’t like outsiders? Ok, then anchor yourself to your deepest problems, and see how that works for you.
If leadership isn’t at the top of your list of skills required to achieve results as a family business leader, what is?
Find a good coach and ask for a free coaching session so you can experience the impact of coaching. And bring your most gnarly leadership challenge to the meeting. What do you have to lose?
Cathy Carroll is the founder of Legacy Onward, Inc. which provides leadership coaching for family businesses. Growing up as a third generation member of a family business, Cathy enjoyed a 20-year corporate career before leading her father’s manufacturing business. Legacy Onward is dedicated to helping family businesses achieve greater profits through greater performance.