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Family Business Matters 02/15 11:12

Family Business Matters 02/15 11:12

Mind Over Matter

The key to a successful family business is to recognize when your own
mind-set is either helping or preventing the growth of the family and business.

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

Years ago, I began to see similarities in how individual members of
different family businesses were wired. For example, some family business
members constantly thought about growth, which often helped capture new
opportunities but sometimes created financial challenges. Other family members
would never expand the business and were totally risk-averse.

Some family members saw themselves being owed by their parents, while others
made absolutely no claims on a future inheritance. Some parents avoided
discussion of difficult topics at all costs, while other family members
approached communication as a political chess match.


Below are a few of the common family business mind-sets I see as I counsel
with families. Which mind-set do you hold? Which mind-sets do you see in others?

The Victim: The victim in the family business is the member who, despite
claiming every effort to "do the right thing," constantly complains their
family members, employees or even vendors are out to get him or her. They
seldom acknowledge the negative impact they have on others through their
communication or workplace behavior, instead pointing to other's actions as the
root of all problems.

The Opportunist: The opportunist in the family business (aka the
"wheeler-dealer") is the person always moving to the next project or
opportunity, sometimes without a demonstrated track record of success on
current or past projects. Some of the projects may be very valuable to the
business, while others are a waste of time and effort. But, by the time the
verdict is in, they are usually on to the next deal.

The Entitled: Entitled family members often think they have a right to
something of value in the organization, which could be ownership of an asset,
an amount of compensation or a position or level of responsibility in the
business. When a family member working in the business expresses such
entitlement to non-family staff, the culture of the business suffers due to an
absence of perceived fairness. They may also act on their sense of entitlement,
which can put the business at risk.

The Denier: The denier is the family member who refuses to admit a problem
most others see or who refuses to address the challenge even when they
acknowledge it exists. I most often see this "ostrich effect" in parents who
refuse to accept the difficulty their family has in working together or in
recognizing the likelihood of future conflict.

The Politician: In family businesses with many members, the politician is
constantly looking to satisfy his agenda by using individual communication and
alliance-building. Working behind the scenes to move the family in a particular
direction sometimes has positive effects for the business, but these tactics
can create distrust and often "keep the pot stirred."

The Mediator: The mediator in many family businesses is often Mom, though it
sometimes can be the middle child or even a spouse, or in-law. They strive to
bridge the differences between family members. When there are family members
naturally at odds, the mediator helps reduce the tension. But, the constant act
of being in the middle also wears out the mediator, causing occasional stress,
depression or retreat.


Not every member wears the same hat all the time, and most of the mind-sets
have both positive and negative dimensions. The key to a successful family
business is to recognize when your own mind-set is either helping or preventing
the growth of the family and business.


Editor's Note: Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204
Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email


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