The family business founders whom I come across frequently ask, “What will make my child the business owner that I am?” I am usually unsure of where this conversation will go but I always have the same simple answer: “When they lie awake and worry about something business related.”
Many next generation members are initially puzzled about the relationship between my response and business ownership. What does such preoccupation have to do with successfully running a business? My answer is “EVERYTHING”!! I do not, nor have I ever met a business owner and founder who can honestly say that they have never lost a minute of sleep worrying about their business. The sleepless nights can stem from an endless list of causes, including finances (making payroll), customer issues, staffing concerns, exploring potential growth areas, and exciting opportunities in the marketplace.
Like me, these business owners are also Moms and Dads. As parents, we work very hard to protect our children from hardships and unpleasant events throughout their lives. We shelter our children during tough times and celebrate with them in the good times. It is what good parents try to do.
How does that work in a family business? Is it prudent to shelter your next generation kids in the business from problems, highly stressful workplace situations, and financial issues? Sheltering your adult children, who you hope will carry on your business legacy, is dangerous. They will be ill equipped to deal with adversity when called upon and as such, should be exposed to these business issues early and as often as necessary. As parents, we protect and nurture, but as bosses, we want our team members to be experts at dealing with rough seas.
These issues cause the loss of sleep. If you are never exposed to them, then you may sleep soundly. But, you will not be properly equipped to take the reins one day.
Mom and Dad, the family business is NOT the place to be overly protective. It is the site of a true education in how to deal with turbulence in the corporate world.
Be transparent, share these issues, ask your children for their opinions, and look at things from all sides (past, present, and future TOGETHER).
Remember: it is okay for your future successors to lose a bit of sleep now and then. It will strengthen their abilities to be successful and have a more promising future as next generation business owners.