Understanding The Burden of Ownership
By Kyle Danner
What does it mean to be an owner of a family business? How do you instill a sense of ownership when it comes to running the family business?
It’s one thing to be a competent manager and capable leader. It’s another thing altogether to appreciate the full weight of ownership. I’m not talking about managing the financials or juggling the daily demands. Rather, I’m talking about the weight that sits in your gut. That feeling of “the buck stops here.” It’s a question parents struggle with when thinking about passing the business to their kids.
Ownership is especially challenging because it’s a lonely game in business. There’s something about feeling personally responsible that comes with owning a business that few people comprehend.
It’s feeling the burden of making sure the bills are paid, payroll is met, orders are filled, the right people are hired, and customers are happy. That loneliness isn’t something owners readily share, but I hear it when helping them plan what’s next for their business.
I hear not just their feeling of being alone. I hear their very real concern of how to instill that feeling of ownership in their family who will take over the business.
So where do you begin the conversation?
Start by asking future owners “What does it mean to you to be an owner?”
Rest assured, they’re already thinking about the question and like you, their answers may not be fully formed either. That’s okay. It’s an opportunity to start from a common place of uncertainty.
Yes, it will feel awkward. After all, you’re the head of your family and everyone leans on you for guidance and support. But remember, when you started the business, you didn’t have all the answers either. You had to learn along the way and talking with future owners is one way you can learn together.
Next, be open about your missteps and failures. Again, it’ll feel awkward. Kids grew up expecting their parents to have all the answers. That expectation probably continues now that they’re working in the business. That reluctance to share is normal. Parents by nature are protective of their families. That includes not explaining how tough things were in the beginning.
A second mortgage may have been taken on the house or credit cards maxed to keep the doors open. You either didn’t want to worry the family or the kids were too young to comprehend the pressure.
Now’s the time to share the tough times AND the lessons learned from those experiences. It reassures the Next Generation that they won’t have all the answers, but there are ways to tackle the challenges. More importantly, sharing those lessons is the first step in making ownership less lonely for you while preparing the family and business for what’s next.
If you need help starting the conversation, download a free chapter of my ebook, Is There An Elephant In The Family Business?