Leadership in a family business: a case study

Leadership in a family business, a case study
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This article was written by the partner of LUZ Paul Vinicius de Oliveira, psychologist and consultant specialist in leadership and personal development.

Psychologists and specialists in people management have always been invited to discuss issues involving the exercise of command, or in organizations, politics or institutions in general, one of its tasks being: to prepare, identify and find people with authority profiles, and to diagnose possible consequences in the group situations of the absence of a manager or individuals with command ability who are also called leaders.

Recently I received a 29 years entrepreneur, heir to a promising condominium administrator who, despite the economic momentum, increased 25 per cent his client portfolio in the last three years. He, single, resides in RJ with his parents and two younger sisters.

See also: 4 leadership lessons and book management The Art of War

The organization in question, has 20 employees, already lacks new installations and, above all, most up-to-date management tools. However, the great concern of this young man whom we will call Rui is the sudden transition of command that his father, the founder and president of the company wants to promote, designating him as the main leader of the family business. In the words of Rui: 'my father wants me to take on all the responsibilities, for me to be the leader because he is already tired and wants to be reassured that the family business will continue to thrive '.

Family business

The reason why Rui came to consult with me is the fear he is experiencing in view of the imminence of assuming the whole company because,he does not consider himself prepared''you do not understand enough the dynamics of the business' and mainly, 'does not have the ability of the father to dictate orders'.

Rui's main difficulties as a family business leader

Throughout the work with my client we were identifying their main difficulties:

  1. Rui confesses that he fears to fail in the role of main leader, which could generate losses or even lead them to bankruptcy, a hypothesis that for him would be unbearable, because he can not imagine working as an employee;
  2. At the time, Rui commanded the sector of greater responsibility in the company, according to him, who did not 'rotate' without his constant presence and nobody was prepared to replace it;
  3. He resisted collecting tasks or results from more experienced or better-qualified people than he took on his discomfort that he was still a student himself;
  4. Whenever he had to make a decision on his own and that did not concern his industry, it was a traumatic experience because he was not sure if he had made the right decision;
  5. When there was a problem involving the team and it was necessary to determine 'mistakes' or responsibilities, it was the father who personally conducted the meetings and who gave the final word. 'This is a characteristic of him.'explains Rui -'My dad can not stand not to talk '.

My intervention focused on meetings with him in my office and by video conference, as well as some visits to the company.

It is very pertinent to Rui's concern about his leadership ability, since the mere fact of being the first in the line of succession of the organization does not guarantee the capacity of command the team. The name in a privileged place in the organizational chart does not ensure the involvement of the others. Credibility is independent of inherited authority.

Starwars - Leadership

There is no correct or standardized leadership model, mainly because the leader's team supports the leader's position and this varies according to the environment, culture, time and moral values ​​of those involved, among other aspects. Any particular characteristic observed in the person of the leader should inspire the group. Already in 1921 in his work Group Psychology and The Analysis of the Ego, Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, taught that a group it is not only a grouping or the sum of people, but rather it consists of individuals who would be linked and identified among themselves by a common goal and who would also identify with the figure idealized of the leader, which for Freud, is only leader if there is such identification. There is, therefore, a strong bond of feelings that makes the group cohesive.

How to work the difficulties and awaken in Rui the ability to lead?

Starting from these premises and the one of the five major questions pointed out above by my client, the question that stands out is: how to awaken in Rui such an ability to inspire and guide his team?

The present case has awakened innumerable possibilities that are not exhausted in this study. We decided to focus on the five points and propose discussion about them:

1. Rui confesses that he fears to fail in the role of main leader

The realization that my client fears to fail as a manager and rejects the possibility of having to work as an employee of third parties reinforces the certainty that he identifies with the family business and therefore does not consider abandoning the company in search of another professional achievement or vocation. Therefore, I tried to emphasize with him the positive side of his entrepreneurial vocation which is, in itself, indicative of potential leadership, despite the anxiety observed as a result of future uncertainties;

2. Rui commanded the most responsible sector in the company and nobody was ready to replace him

A manager who does not prepare his successors is not available to take on new challenges. After some interlocution, it became clear to him how much he was clinging to the old task as a way of protecting himself and also of justifying himself by not taking on bigger missions. It is very common in organizations, at all hierarchical levels, to centralize knowledge by employees. For fear of being turned off, many simply do not teach the work they do, or do it partially - omitting the 'cat leap'. For Rui there was no threat of dismissal, so he was only systematically delaying the transfer of knowledge and sabotaging himself and the organization. Over time, he began training a surrogate, practicing what he called detachment;

master and apprentice, develop successors

3. Rui resisted in collecting tasks or results from more experienced or better qualified people

It is common when training their teams that some managers take care of selecting less qualified people than himself. I met engineering graduates who did not admit to having already trained engineers, as their curriculum (managers) should always be 'superior'. Such a position harms the company by limiting the formation of its intellectual potential. What is at stake here is the dread of being replaced or supplanted by the other, dread this, based on a mental model of comparison and exclusion of a possible threat.

It is important for leaders to keep in mind that they will never master all of the knowledge required by the organization and should open space for other talents to join and excel in order to share the responsibilities, successes, and failures of each undertaking.

I tried to work with my client on his insecurity in assigning tasks. We agreed that it should focus first on dominating the core business of the company, leaving the support areas under the direct responsibility of the other leaders, gradually implementing a culture of transparency in information management, with written procedures to formalize and democratize knowledge and establish regular meetings and audits for its better functioning.

4. Rui had bad experiences making decisions on his own

Managers are constantly being called upon to make decisions which also means making choices. A seemingly simple task that demands a lot of mental energy, since deciding implies to choose between multiple possibilities, having to abdicate the others, but to renounce is not a spontaneous act of the human being, and can be very tiring. Furthermore, the fear of making a wrong decision and directing the company to an undue path is the basis of the leader's stress, especially if he has to act quickly and repeatedly over a short period of time. Its function becomes so much more arduous the greater its difficulty in delegating responsibility, that is, if it is centralizing.

In the present case, Rui complains of having to decide alone. Now, the decision need not be a solitary act. It is important that the leader summon the experts or people who have knowledge of a certain subject to advise with them. This type of leadership is called democratic, values ​​the team and is the most common in modern organizations. It is necessary to consider the confidentiality of the issues before involving other actors and always will be able to the leader to make the final decision, but for this the team must feed him with quality information. Decisions taken in the heat of emotion or under the pressure of events invariably result in hasty positions with consequent repentance. The shared decision minimizes the probability of error and reduces the feeling of insecurity, as well as producing learning in the group.

5. Rui still felt the shadow of his father in problem-solving meetings

No leader is eternal. Its position is perennial and depends on the belief and support of its leaders. Just as they are elevated to the status of leaders or heroes, they are deposed, devoid of their symbolic place. History is replete with examples of great men: in politics, in corporations, or in religions, which over the years have been forgotten, relegated and even betrayed by those who once admired and followed them.

Hidden in the leader's shadow

It is important that each leader has his / her own head to whom it must mirror itself, just as it must perceive its condition of transience. Thus, you can more easily 'pass on' the power stick at the right time. In the present case, the father father demands that the child assume his command position, but at the same time does not give up the daily exercise of leading the team and feels the need to give last word thus inhibiting the emergence of the credibility that the substitute lacks before the team.

Often a strong exercise of generosity is needed to give up your instead of talking and realize that it is the instead of listening - for the leader you want to see formed. Although the decision made by the new commander is not the one you would take, the act of publicly supporting him becomes a strong fuel for building his self-confidence. There will be the opportunity to tell you in reserved: 'I did not want to contest your decision, but what about this possibility?'. The leaders of an organization should not establish a competition of egos, but rather cooperate with each other, guarding the company as its greater purpose.

Key command attributes for a leader's likely profile

Thus, from the situations that were presented, it remained to try to list and conceptualize with my client some possible attributes of command, to, from there, compose the probable profile of a leader:

  • Superior understanding of a particular subject or business, but always preserving the attitude of humility in relation to the group's knowledge;
  • Self-confidence enough to inspire confidence from others in their own attitudes and be the of their expectations.;
  • Ability to influence, which implies in being able to communicate with its leaders - speak the same language as these;
  • Knowing how to listen: develop a listening capacity sufficient to allow the other to also position themselves;
  • Adopt a posture of coherence and congruence, that is, their attitudes must match their thinking and what they preach and speak through the corridors;
  • To perceive the right moment to correct / rectify unwanted attitudes and to point out desirable solutions;
  • Give a positive return preferably in a collective way, as a recognition of the right attitudes of the leaders;
  • Punish or reward with justice, when this is necessary, but never exposing a collaborator to personal embarrassment;
  • Be open to welcome your leader in situations that flee the rule and when his suffering is manifest;
  • Temperament: adopt posture and attitudes that respect a certain direction but without fear of going back and rectify old positions;
  • Have yourself your leader whom you can refer to and consult, aware of the transitional condition of any leadership;
  • Fall in love as much as you can for your craft, business or cause.

Of course, leadership is acquired in practice, it is not innate knowledge and the leader does not form instantaneously in a few lessons. On the contrary, he walks his path step by step, driven by self-desire, always learning while also teaching, being generous and ethical and sometimes redoing the course, but impressing his mark and particular way of leading.

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  1. Congratulations, Paulo, you are very talented and can not say that. The best is always to come :)

  2. It is true Glaís, there are many entrepreneurs in a similar situation. Thankful!

  3. Intelligent and intriguing. Congratulations Paulo there are many Ruis out there.


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