How to Be a Better Leader for Your Family Business

Apr 18, 2019 1 Min Read

While the dynamics in a family business can be very different from a traditional corporation, leadership is as critical to success as with any other business. In many cases, the leaders are preparing to take over the business, making this role even more crucial for the success of the company.

Ted Rollins, board member for long-time family business, Rose Hall, explains: “In a family business, it is unfortunately all too common that those who created the business pass on, leaving it with the next generation who have not developed the skills necessary to carry on the business and who are ego-driven not to bring in the right talent and provide them with the empowerment necessary to succeed.”

Consider the steps to take now, so you’re prepared for what comes as your role grows within the family business.

1. Balance work and family

When your work life and your family life are intricately intertwined, it can be easy to blur the lines that distinguish where one begins and the other ends.

If you run a family business or play a key role in one, it can feel like you’re on the job 24 hours a day – leaving you burnt out and stressed, neither of which a leader should be.

Family business advisors, Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer, explain in Harvard Business Review that addressing this challenge is as simple as separating family time and business time. This may seem obvious, but Baron and Lachenauer share a story that may be familiar to you.

“Something common to all our clients is that they are passionate about their work, sometimes to the point of being obsessive. One Latin American business family, for example, held weekly Sunday family lunches, but all the men sat at one table; all the women sat at another. The men talked business, and the meal turned into a de facto board meeting.”

Having time away from the business, mentally and physically, gives you the space you need to decompress and focus on the things in life that make you happy and help you relax.

2. Clarify company roles

Clarifying specific roles within the company is vital to restricting the possibility of conflict within the family from spilling over into the business. There are many companies renowned worldwide for their very public family drama and how those experiences had a negative impact on their business.

One such example in the United States is Market Basket. The grocery chain experienced both employee protests and a loss of USD583 million in sales thanks to public fighting between two cousins over control for the company.

Generally, the public doesn’t want to do business with an organisation that has such negative publicity surrounding it.

Every tiff that you have within the confines of the business’ walls could have an impact on business and the bottom line. Creating specific and clear roles can help avoid this conflict.

Baron and Lachenauer call these silos. They explain, “Silos can be boundaries that prevent the confusion of responsibilities and authority that so often plagues a family business system. Silos have the added advantage of giving family members something that they can call their own.”

As the leader, it’s your job to create this clarity to avoid conflict. If these roles don’t exist yet, now is the time to develop them.

You might be interested in: Asian Family Business – Stewards or Inheritors?

3. Learn to listen

Listening and understanding are critical soft skills for leaders because managing a family business means juggling several different needs at one time.

CEO to CEO founding principal Robert Sher says: “Leaders of family businesses must manage three conflicting demands: what the business wants and needs to survive, what the family needs and wants as a whole, and what each family member needs and wants to thrive.”

Being in tune with everyone within the business, in addition to what the business itself needs, will make you a better leader. If employees trust you and feel heard, the business can flourish and grow.

Listening and understanding is especially important as family members come and go, suggests Sher. He explains: “Family members must also be able to leave without penalty, emotional or otherwise. Can you fire a son but still love him? Yes. Will you treat a son who quits like a traitor? I’ve seen it happen.

“The hard truth is, only with freedom to enter and exit can we ask for and receive true commitment to the business, and true commitment to the family.”

Running a family business can be challenging, and learning how to manage it and be a great leader can be even harder. Use these tips and ideas to improve in your role, allowing the business to grow for many generations after you.


Jessica Thiefels is the founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, a content marketing agency. She has been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also regularly contributes to Virgin, Business Insider, Glassdoor, and more. Connect with her on LinkedIn or get in touch by sending an email to

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