My father served 26 years in the U.S. Army, retired, and continued to do work with the military on a contractual basis in addition to maintaining several acres of land. I occasionally get to help out on the land with various tasks, and more recently, my four year old son has been invited to pitch in as well. As I watched my son take his place in the father-son (now father-son-grandson) ritual, I began to reflect on the values and principles that I received from my father and am now passing down to my sons. Growing up, I certainly had my own way of doing things. I wasn’t cut out for traditional military service, much less working for anyone but myself; however, my father has always been encouraging and allowed me to be my own man. He gave me a foundation of what was truly important and encouraged me to build from there, a legacy that I am now trying to instill in my own sons.
The same principle applies to family and legacy businesses as they are turned over to successive generations. As a new generation prepares to take the reigns of an organization, it is important that the organization’s foundation is built in such a way that it encourages, rather than impedes, growth. Some of the setbacks family businesses often face include:
▪ Sentimentality over strategy
▪ A proposed change in trajectory equates to disloyalty
▪ A fear of growth at the expense of tradition
The legacy my father passed down to me is not one of uniformity and compliance-based approval. Rather, it is the values of integrity, character, and responsibility. In the case of family businesses it’s important to remember that the values that were established by the founders manifested in a way that was unique to the environment in which they operated. As the environment changes, so does the manifestation and expression of those principles. It’s ridiculous to think that organizations should continue operating in the same way, when a new generation, with new talents, ideas, and opportunities, are prepared to take it into the future.
Still to this day I look to my father for wisdom and insight. What makes this so valuable is that he does not try to make decisions for me. Instead he does what he does best, which is to reassure me that I am capable of making the decisions that are best for my future.