A common cause of conflict in Business Families has roots that date back to childhood, studenthood (not quite a word, but you get my point), business family ethos, and youthful career planning / decisions.
Family members grow increasingly frustrated with themselves, with their role in the family business, and with their lot in life in general, when they feel they aren’t in the right job and, perhaps, never have been. They realise that it’s probably too late to make a graceful, face-saving change and, as a consequence, they feel trapped, put upon, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled.
Like beleaguered couples in unhappy marriages, they become “miserable durables” – desperately sad, and unable to make the changes Blind Freddy, and his spotted canary, can see they need to make – and probably should have made, 20 years ago.
As emotional and commercial pressures build, they take their toll on personal mental health, on emotional equilibrium, and on family and business relationships. Affected individuals either: (a) externalise their frustration and anger by lashing out at others, or (b) internalise their angst and become increasingly sullen, untrusting, and negative.
If the affected family member is also a senior executive in the family business they will have a profoundly corrosive impact on commercial decision-making when they block all manner of necessary and worthwhile initiatives. In a nutshell, their personal insecurity makes them view everyone and everything with suspicion – and suspicious, insecure people resist change like no others.
What encourages / allows this to happen?
It’s usually a complicated mix of: (a) sense of obligation to parents; (b) commitment to family legacy; (c) defence of anticipated inheritance; (d) unrealistic sense of one’s own worth to the business; (e) no reasonable prospect of earning anything like as much as they are earning, on the open market; and (f) personal pride and sibling rivalry – egos demand that they maintain their overtly senior role and social status, especially vis-à-vis siblings.
To avoid the risk of waking up one morning feeling your entire life has been wasted -because you’ve been following somebody else’s dream – individuals need supportive networks of family and friends to help them see and apply reality when faced with life-altering choices – especially during their formative years. To have a happy life, individual needs need to be given honest priority over business / family needs.
For example: if a young person’s talents, disposition and inclinations mark them as a future concert pianist the worst thing you can do to is persuade them they’ll have a more safe and secure life as a professional accountant.
Although this may make sense rationally and statistically, realistically it’s the equivalent of hammering a square peg into a round hole – it may stick there for a long time, but it will never fit, and it will always look and feel … ugly.
Mental health is largely a function of feeling comfortable in your own skin. When you feel you’re doing what you should be doing to be a worthwhile, contributing member of a family / group / society, you feel OK in and about yourself, and you enjoy your life.
When you feel that everything’s wrong – that your role in business is too big / unattractive / complicated / demanding, and/or that you really aren’t able to do justice to your job / the business / the family, it’s a very short slide down the razor blade of life to despair and depression.
Individuals that get into this situation may need some or all of: executive coaching, mentoring, counselling, and even psychological support. What is sure is that if this condition is left unresolved, individual angst will grow into family angst, and that family angst will spill over into the business – potentially, with very profound impact.