Effects of Personality Differences

Personality differences have huge impacts on the nature and quality of interactions between family members – in and out of a family business – and between family members and family business employees.

“Character” is how the world sees you, and how you see yourself – as a stable, accumulated collection of traits and qualities that underpin how you think, feel and act in any given situation.

“Good character” helps to make families and businesses sustainable.  “Bad character” invariably creates problems.  Family Business can be a battleground that encourages acting out character differences – often polarising individuals into Gilbert & Sullivan-type extremes of behaviour: honour / duty / fairness / resentment / envy / revenge – you get the picture?

The classic fight between good and evil is basically a clash between good and bad character.  Although there’s some wriggle room to decide what constitutes “good” and “bad” (being inherently subjective judgements), the principles used for assessment (ethics and morality) are almost universally agreed.

“Personality” operates as an individually-sculpted subset of Character.  It describes how somebody is likely to behave in given situations, and with other types of people.

Personality is shaped by genetics, environment, conditioning, education, life experience, birth order, and many other influences, including a person’s “age and life stage”.

Behaviour, at a given time and place, and under particular circumstances, is also influenced by: (a) Lenses – the way you see a particular thing, based largely on personal experience and environmental conditioning and, (b) Moods – the way you feel at that time, due to whatever is going on in your life, then.

In any family, the range of personalities across generations, siblings, cousins and relatives (by blood and marriage), always seems to be extraordinarily broad, which often leads to “interesting” outcomes – depending on whether those differences complement, or conflict, with each other.

What is very clear is that conflicts will arise between family members, and will almost certainly ripple out through the rest of the family, if naturally incompatible, competitive, or antagonistic personalities are forced to work together within a family business, when that’s the last thing they’d choose to do, in a free world.


  1. Work hard on parenting your children if there’s an expectation they’ll be working together one day in the family business. Encourage and celebrate individuality and diversity, rather than endorsing an environment of do or die competitiveness.
  2. Teach and show children how playing to their differences is more fun, and more productive, in work and play. Always remember that serious training for work, should begin with play.
  3. Conduct psychometric (personality) profiling for all family members at a young age. If that’s not possible, do it as soon as you can. It’s relatively easy and painless and, while you’ll get much greater value from using a reliable process that includes de-briefs from an experienced practitioner, even online assessments can produce remarkably useful results.  Personality profiling provides a great basis for having important conversations and it should be a key component of teamwork training for the next generation of the family team, and a key element in preparing for an eventual succession process.  Make sure it happens in good enough time to do something useful with it.
  4. Be realistic about the aptitudes and capabilities of individual family members. Don’t try to squeeze square pegs into round holes.  That never works over the long-term, and family businesses are all about long-term sustainability.
  5. Don’t be afraid to alter family, or family business paradigms, to better suit an incoming generation. Renewal and refreshment are survival essentials for modern businesses.  It is trite, but remains true to say that fossilisation of key individuals, or of the business, usually spells the end of the family business, and perhaps the effective end of the family.  Conflict is all too common between family cliques that want “no change” and cliques demanding “all change”.
  6. In short: objective decision-making, effective planning, and appropriate follow-up actions, are key to securing future success and avoiding conflict.
  7. Have a plan, and make sure works for the people who have to drive it.

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