Font Size:

Family Business Matters 07/22 09:25

Family Business Matters 07/22 09:25

Speak Up

Some management scenarios call for saying more, not less.

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

Family businesses are simultaneously full of emotion and silence. The
intense feelings of love, frustration, pride, conflict or disappointment we
feel toward family members with whom we work, while occasionally erupting in
heated shouts or congratulatory hugs, more often are met with quiet. But, often
what is needed is more rather than fewer words.

Don't misunderstand me: Silence in some cases is appropriate. Proverbs 10:19
tells us that, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but
the one who restrains speech is wise." There are many instances of family
brokenness that trace back to something one said out of anger. Knowing when to
stay silent is just as important as knowing when to speak up.

However, now may be the time for you to speak up in your family enterprise.
If the following scenarios fit your business, I would encourage you to consider
saying more instead of less.


Often, there is silence regarding the parents' intentions about passing down
the ranch or farm. Will it be gifted? When? Will it go equally to all the kids,
or will the on-farm heir get preferential treatment? It isn't easy for parents
to talk about such things; issues of mortality, equality, legacy, retirement
and financial security are bound up in the topic.

Not discussing intentions leaves the next generation guessing. That might be
acceptable if no one returned to the farm, but if a son or daughter has
returned, his or her entire career and future security are also bound up in the
conversation. Talking about the plan for the farm or ranch is critical to the
next generation's financial and career choices. The long-term future of the
farm hangs on the results of this dialogue.


Perhaps because of bonds that transcend circumstances, families working in
business together often take their relationships for granted. We expect family
members to show up earlier, work harder, give more effort, take more ownership,
stay later and stick with it -- and they often do.

Because we think our family members will be there tomorrow, we often tell
them what we don't like. Instead of expressing gratitude for their work or
effort, we complain about what went wrong. We assume they will be there
tomorrow, so we think there will be time later to express our thanks. Of
course, when they are not there tomorrow, because of frustration, burnout or a
life-taking accident, we might wonder if they knew how much we appreciated
their contribution.


When we consider highly effective nonfamily employees, we often take care to
thank them not just for their contributions, but also for the special skills
they bring that lead to success. We may acknowledge the way they lead by
example, can fix almost anything or work extraordinary hours. We praise them,
in part, because we want to retain them. We know how valuable they are and how
difficult replacing them might be.

With family members, however, we often subconsciously think that because
they are in the family, they will automatically, and forever, stay in the
business without the same acknowledgment. The principles of praise that govern
our interactions with key nonfamily staff don't seem to apply to family. We may
treat them differently, but everyone, family included, likes to be acknowledged
for his or her unique contributions.

Speaking up about the future brings the next generation certainty. Saying
thanks demonstrates gratitude. And, acknowledging your family business
partner's skills gives that person confidence in his or her abilities. Speaking
rather than silence is often the right choice.


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


Copyright 2019 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.