Some of the most challenging situations I encounter in coaching my clients come from those individuals who are involved in owning or running a family-owned business. A lot of businesses make a point to treat their employees like family, but when you’re actual family, by blood or marriage, the realities of closeness become much more complicated.

The company itself becomes an anthropomorphic member of the family. It doesn’t talk or eat dinner like the rest of the family, but it exerts its influence at all kinds of opportunities. People have different time commitments to it, in years or in number of hours spent there during the week. People have different levels of financial reliance on it. Each member of the family business develops their own specific attachment to the business as if it were a large, silent, powerful family member.

The relationship to the company is different for each family member based on their role within the company. People always say, “watch out for the third generation” because they’ll screw up the company. Of course this is not always true, but it is a reoccurring pattern. The first generation has a different relationship to their “baby” than the third generation, which never saw any of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making the final product you see today.

The company inevitably gets intertwined with non-business related emotional and familial issues. Coworkers have disagreements about how things should be done all the time. But the rules of engagement are different when you’re just coworkers. When you’re family, you know how to push each other’s buttons easier, and the gloves come off much quicker.

These are all issues that you must be acutely aware of if you’re part of a family-held business. There’s no reason a family-owned business can’t thrive in today’s markets but you must be a little more prepared to deal with these types of difficult problems. Stay tuned to the Doubledare blog for more on succession planning and family-held businesses.

photo credit: Susquehanna State Park: Giant Beech Tree via photopin (license)