Leading From ‘Within’

As families grow in size and complexity, the number of potential positions of influence and/or leadership also increase. Defining the positions and the criteria for obtaining one of these positions is of importance to the overall functioning of the family. And defining a process for selecting leaders, while not easy, is important for having a just and neutral methodology that everyone can abide by. Being prepared for a particular position requires not simply a specialized education but a knowledge of self (EQ). Frequently forgotten is something I call FQ - Family Intelligence, that is, knowledge of your family history, dynamics and probably most importantly, your role in and responsibility to it. It is understanding the system and how it works. Without attention to this kind of knowledge, family leaders often find themselves muddling through and unable to truly accomplish the great things they desire. Leadership, especially in a family enterprise, is leadership from within in both meanings of the phrase - leadership from within self and leadership from within the system.

From my many years of working with leaders in a variety of positions and development, I have defined five qualities that seem essential, especially if you want to lead from within:

·     Calm presence

·     Neutral position

·     Knowledge of stakeholders

·     A story or narrative that can lead a group forward

·     Good personal boundaries

Calm Presence. In the film, Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks portrays a captain who epitomizes the phrase, a calm presence. While he maybe ruffled inside, he never lets his anxiety and concern show to his “men”. This does not mean that he is not vulnerable, because clearly he is. Rather, he knows to whom to speak about his concerns and how to speak about them without raising the anxiety of others. If he feels that something must be addressed, he does so and in a calm manner. Furthermore, he is not easily reactive to other’s upset and anxiety, rather seemingly defining his role as a soother of these feelings. He wants optimum performance and he knows that his team will function best if he does, too. In a family enterprise, where long term relationships predominate and patterns of reacting to one another are fairly well established, it might be easier to become responsive to the anxiety of others or to carry out an old part in a pattern that did not work, well even earlier. The more you know about your own triggers and about what it takes to keep calm or non-reactive, the more able one is to lead, to think clearly and make decisions based on data, which of course can include emotions, just not reactions. 

Neutral Position. A neutral position implies that one is aware of one’s biases and does not let them dictate decisions. The ability to hear and entertain a variety of positions at the same time is a skill set that one can learn and it is invaluable in making decisions, at least decisions that let all participants feel that they are heard. And being heard becomes essential to the willingness to feel part of the decision and act on it. If one jumps onto one side of an argument, especially if you have the extra cache as the leader, one will unwittingly affect how the decision is reached. This is especially true with family enterprises where previous history has established triangles, where there are two in alliance and one on the outside. Lining up in your usual spot in the triangle will pretty much assure that the decision will be viewed as reactive, same old, same old. Stretching yourself to speak with all parties so that you hear opposition as well as agreement becomes essential to developing a balanced viewpoint.

Knowledge of Stakeholders. If one does speak to all parties and collect viewpoints, one can also begin to gain a better sense of the stakeholders. By stakeholders, I mean all those who going to be affected by the decision, policy, plan or strategy that is under consideration. Knowing more about everyone’s viewpoints will not only assist in decision-making, but will also provide any leader with a sense of how the decision will be received and what work will need to be accomplished in implementation. Stakeholders who are family are very important in this process since they are the ones who typically own the enterprise and have ultimate decision-making responsibility in many areas. While old family ties and patterns may suggest that someone is an outlier or not engaged, interested or participative, it is my experience that these are the most important people to hear from. They often will be outside the mainstream and still speaking so hearing what they say is important. As I once asked of the CEO of a very large family enterprise who was questioning why he should speak with his brother’s 20 year old children about a decision, “At minimum they have views and will express them to others, so would it not help you to know what they are thinking?”

A Forward Defining Story or Narrative that the Group can Embrace. In order to develop a new narrative that is your own, you must first understand the narrative(s) that has preceded you. One of the biggest mistakes made by new leaders is to choose a narrative that is forward moving but without grounding in the inherited narratives. This is not to say that a new, out of the box narrative cannot be put forth but rather differentiating it from what has gone before lends credibility to what you are saying and acknowledges the past work of the family. It demonstrates that you are responsive and respectful to what preceded you. 

To be successful, a story of one’s own must make sense to others, and grow out of what they know, what is their fabric. It must weave together threads or the context of past narratives making it easier for others to understand how it relates to them and to have an image of what things would look like if they would join you on the journey.

Good Personal Boundaries. Most respected leaders are those who are clear about who they are and what they believe in; they know what they know and what they don’t know; and they are willing to ask others for assistance when it is needed. Each of these qualities signify a person who can stand on their own and demonstrate critical thinking in a state of anxiety. This person is not easily swayed by the emotions of others and is able to carve out a position from the thoughts and opinions of others. This person is clear about what he/she brings to the table and is realistic about themselves. They demonstrate a fairly accurate self-view and have a sense of competence and reflectiveness at the same time.

A leader who demonstrates good personal boundaries is trustworthy. Family members can trust that what they say to him/her will be considered and confidences go unshared. This person, while having a position of influence, is at the same time viewed as one of the larger group. This is someone you want to have on your side because their intentions are good and their actions match their intentions.

Leaders Like This- Those Leading from Within. Leading from the inside – both personally and systemically from within the group - is what makes for successful family enterprise leadership. These family members realize that remaining constantly aware and true to both enhances their influence and their functioning.



           

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During my career, spanning more than a quarter of a century, I have served as a pioneer and continual innovator in the family enterprise field. I am a founder of Relativ...