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Articles - Successful Management Techniques in the Family - Business

Are you Mom and Pop in the Office?

Thursday, February 05, 1998




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Fran and Larry are corporate farmers. They have a large operation that grew from one farm, when Larry took over the business from his father, to three farms and a retail outlet, plus several related agricultural investments. They continue to expand north and south along the fertile valleys of the Pacific Northwest.

Many of the employees have worked for Larry and Fran since the time of Larry’s father, but most are new hires. As the business expanded, the company changed from a small "Mom and Pop" operation to a sophisticated multi-level enterprise, racking up impressive national and international sales. This growth required hiring more technical, sales and even marketing personnel to help prepare the business for the next millennium.

Both Larry and Fran have college degrees and are proud of bringing their agricultural business into the computer age. They have talented, well trained farm hands, mechanics, foremen, sales people, office staff and managers, who are helping the business grow in a healthy and competitive way. They have one son in college, studying farm management and a daughter already working full time in the retail outlet. They thought they covered everything when they took the business over from Larry’s dad and began moving into the future. What they had not counted on was human nature.

The element of human nature that I refer to is the tendency of employees to relate to an entrepreneurial couple as "Mom" and "Pop." You may never have considered this phenomenon before, but if you are a member of a husband/wife entrepreneurial team, you probably know what I mean. And if you work for an entrepreneurial couple, I am sure that at least once, you have referred to them as "Mom" and "Pop," if not to their faces, certainly to other employees.

Some entrepreneurial couples do not mind the stereotyping. They enjoy the role of parenting their extended business family. They even refer to the company as "one big happy family." If employees do not mind being treated like children, even indulged children, this is not a problem. However, problems arise when the transference creates more unpleasant connections. Not all employees nor employers have fond memories of their childhoods and they may have unresolved issues between themselves and their parents. These unresolved issues can erupt between employer and employee when the setup is a "Mom" and "Pop" business.

With Larry and Fran there were several signals that they were being treated like parents by employees, even when they themselves did not overtly acknowledge their role as "Mom" and "Pop." Just because they are a husband/wife team, and have grown children involved in the business, employees infer a parent/child relationship. For example, employees often come to Fran about problems they are having with Larry, even though Fran has no authority in their area. They request of her to intercede.

In another situation, Larry found one employee seeking his approval for nearly every aspect of his job. Even though this manager is quite capable, and came highly recommended, he seemed to be unable to operate independently. This sounds typical of an insecure child who needs Dad’s praise in order to feel loved.

A third example really brought the problem home for Larry and Fran. The couple noticed that whenever they openly disagreed about something at work, such as at a meeting with their managers, the employees involved would immediately become quiet. Where once there had been a feedback session among owners and managers, there were now intimidated children waiting to see how the fight between "Mom" and "Pop" would end.

The solution to these interesting problems is to bring the situation out into the open. I find that entrepreneurial couples who recognize that there will be "Mom" and "Pop" transference at the business between themselves and employees, are in a much better position to diffuse it. For example, Fran can gently remind the employee who seeks her protection from "Pop" that the employee is a capable adult that they hired to handle the job. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that Larry will be respectful and solution oriented regardless of the problem brought to him by the employee.

Larry may need more in depth discussions with the manager who constantly seeks his approval. Depending upon the personalities involved, Larry may even be able to bring the issue of a father-son parallel out in the open. For example, he might say, "You know, just because I’m the owner, doesn’t mean I know everything. It’s not like I am your dad or anything and you have to be perfect to please me. Relax and do your best. That’s what I pay you for."

In the board room, I think Larry and Fran can be quite direct with their executive team. They may even have some training with their managers on the subject of the psychodynamics of business systems run by husband/wife teams, so when the transference blooms they can go right to the heart of the matter. For example, when an argument opens between Fran and Larry, they can look at the intimidated children/employees and joke, "Don’t worry. We won’t make you choose sides between ‘Mom’ and ‘Pop’."

All businesses are human relationships first and product second. This is not just true of family firms, but is seen more poignantly in businesses where there is an overlap of family or couple system and the business system. Complicating things further is that employees bring lessons from their childhoods and their marriages into the work place and make meaning accordingly of the behavior of entrepreneurial couples. By recognizing this dynamic and developing ways of diffusing the counterproductive interpretations of "Mom" and "Pop", entrepreneurial couples will be leagues ahead of their competitors.

To improve your skill at identifying when this kind of transference is happening, keep in mind these basic presuppositions about couple-owned and family-owned firms.

  1. Most people make psychological meaning of a situation at an emotional level first; a more rational, adult interpretation comes second.
  2. All entrepreneurial couples will be viewed as "Mom" and "Pop" by all employees at some time or another, whether you set it up that way or not.
  3. All of us learned about relationships and teamwork in our families of origin, so it is natural to return to those lessons in a setting that represents a family constellation.
  4. Your creativity is limited if you are playing a role, such as "Mom" or "Pop." Step out of the role and become a fully functioning adult again, and your employee will also.
  5. If you have not resolved problematic relationships in your own family of origin, you will play them out at work, just as your employees do.

Some entrepreneurial couples have tried to solve the "Mom" and "Pop" problem by keeping their personal lives totally separate from their work. Others have opted out of couple entrepreneurship altogether. Still others have gone to the other extreme, where the business becomes their family, and they have no life outside of work. None of these options are necessary, however.

As an entrepreneurial couple, you are both spouses and business partners, sometimes alternating between these roles several times in one day. It is impossible to separate these worlds of home and work, when you work with the one you love. But it is possible to track which role currently is in the foreground. All you really need to do to keep the system humming is to ask yourself two questions:

  • Which role is in the foreground now?
  • Is this the most appropriate role for this context?

The New Year is full of Opportunities

Thursday, January 01, 1998




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Let January Pass Unnoticed.

With the holiday rush behind you, you may be wondering what lies ahead in the new year. I hope that your holidays were warm and comfortable, but for many of you, they were a stressful time. Remember good stress is as draining as bad stress. January can be a time to recoup and restore your energy and peace of mind. January is also a time to build a foundation for the goals you want to accomplish this year. It’s a long cold spell until our Spring arrives in the Northwest. Use this time to rest, reflect and plan, but don’t be too busy. Time enough for that come April.

In fact, I heard that the Romans originally had a ten month calendar, before our current twelve month model was designed. The months of January and February didn’t even exist. There were no celebrations during this time, no holidays honoring any gods, no new projects of any kind undertaken. The Romans felt that this time of year was so non-descript that they should let it pass quietly and unobtrusively, while they rested and prepared for the rest of the year. Like so many inventions and ideas of the Romans, I think this one is worth keeping. Focus on what you want; not on what you don’t have.

Entrepreneurs are usually not ones to take this advice however. With the distraction of the holidays behind them, they quickly launch into new projects come January first. Entrepreneurs are good at accomplishing goals, but not all that good at establishing healthy goals. Before you launch into your typical January behavior, however, I’d like you to finish reading this column and gain a better understanding of how to make New Year’s Resolutions that actually stick this year.

Several years ago a fifteen year old young woman was sitting in my office for the first time. She was the daughter of a successful entrepreneurial couple and her short life had been consumed by the business growth. Although she had benefited in many ways from her parent’s hard work, she was facing adolescence without a sense of identity or direction. Although her mother had filled me in on her concerns, I asked the young woman what brought her to my office. She seemed quite distressed and wringing her hands, yet she could not tell me what the problem was. Nevertheless, I waited patiently for the young woman to tell her own story.

Eventually, she asked for help. "I don’t know where to begin," she said. "Where should I start?"

Because I like to start on a positive note and begin the process of building reachable goals, I suggested, "Why don’t you just tell me what you want?"

At this request the young woman burst into tears and wept uncontrollably. For several minutes she couldn’t speak at all. Again I waited patiently for her to tell me her story. Finally, she spoke through her tears and the lump in her throat.

"No one has ever asked me what I wanted before."

For years this young woman had watched her parents sacrifice their lives for the business, and ultimately sacrifice hers too. Believe it or not this problem is not restricted to this teenager alone. Many people walk around with feelings of fear and unworthiness. They are afraid to ask for what they want and therefore continue lives of failure, loneliness and desperation.

Entrepreneurs fall victim to this mentality too. You may think that entrepreneurs represent the epitome of going for what they want. However, often what drives an entrepreneur to success is a deep seated fear of inadequacy, or a desire to impress others. With many entrepreneurs, as with this teenager, the focus is on what they don’t have, not on what they do have. I have had many a self-made millionaire tell me they wished they could do their life over and have different priorities. Those different priorities would include true understanding of the self and planning a life to maximize deeply held values and beliefs.

Let the New Year bring self acceptance.

Since January first brings us the opportunity to make New Year’s Resolutions, I think it is about time to start a new tradition, that of appreciating ourselves for who we are. As one bumper sticker proclaims, "God doesn’t make junk." Let your New Year’s Resolution this year be "I will accept myself totally and unconditionally and be the best I can be this year."

If you can appreciate who you are, that each and every day you are making a valuable contribution to your community by just doing your everyday thing (not overachieving), then you will have a much more prosperous new year. You will notice your talents more and strengthen them. You will notice your flaws more too, but you can build a plan to correct them. Those opportunities that always come to others, will finally come to you. The opportunities have always been there, but your tendency to focus on losses and inadequacies prevents you from seeing the obvious and taking advantage of it to make your life work even better. If you have been successful accomplishing other people’s goals, think how much you can really accomplish if you lead your own life.

Change your paradigm.

OK so it is hard to shake off years of self imposed negativity or a belief that if you are not perfect or the best, you have failed. And you have failed at all previous New Year’s Resolutions, so why should this time be any different? This time, however, you have a new paradigm to work with. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong in your life, you are going to pay attention to what is right. These tips will help you get started.

100% of the people in the world have problems, serious problems at some time in their lives and usually regularly. You are not alone in this.

  1. You are not broken just because you are hurt (or angry, or ignorant, or misinformed, or make a mistake). Remember that being hurt is a symptom of something that needs changing.
  2. Bad things do happen to good people. Being good is not the goal. Maturing is.
  3. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. If you continue to brood over the past, maybe it’s because you haven’t learned from it what you need. Search for the lesson.
  4. Not everything in life can be changed, nor should it be. Accept the things you cannot change.
  5. Trust that you have the resources within yourself to make the changes you need and want to make. You may not know what those resources are, but trust that they will come to you one way or another.

Self acceptance turns crisis into opportunity.

OK, so now that your paradigm has shifted, do you notice anything different? Are the colors a little brighter? Is there a bounce in your walk? Are you making more money? Do you feel love all around? No? Well that’s because, you still have work to do. Just because you think differently doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. Now the hard work of change is necessary. But at least you have the right attitude to get you to your goals.

If you recognize that life is a complex and problem-filled arena designed to assist you on your quest toward wisdom and maturity (just as it is for everyone else), then when you have a problem you’ll face it squarely with full self acceptance. You’ll dig in, assess, diagnose and search out the meaning. You will use all the strengths at your disposal to create workable solutions. At the end you’ll be a little smarter, a little wiser, a little stronger, a little saner.

Long ago I learned that the Kanji for "crisis" is made of two figures. The first is "danger" and the second is "opportunity." With self acceptance securely under your belt, you will be able to wrest the opportunity out of any danger. Although not all problems can be solved necessarily, all problems can produce learning in preparation for the next step in life. Use your New Year’s Resolution of self acceptance to help you live the life you were meant to have and to take you where "no one has gone before" to paraphrase Start Trek. In other words, instead of just accomplishing things, instead of impressing others, instead of striving to be perfect, make your New Year’s Resolution to accomplish those things that really have value to you. Happy New Year!

Does Cutting Costs Create Mental Illness?

Friday, June 06, 1997




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Recently I heard a well known Dale Carnegie graduate give a talk on how to attract new business. He used as an example, what attracted him to the family physician who had attended to him, his wife and children for years. The good doctor had given a similar talk at a public event and impressed the man with his expertise, solid reputation, and sincerity. For something as personal and life important as the health care of his family, the man wanted such an individual as this dedicated doctor. And for years his initial decision to choose this physician proved to be a good one. Yet in spite of the importance of choosing the “right” health care professional, this Carnegie graduate dropped the doctor like a “hot potato” when managed care rolled into town. Because his company chose a managed care plan that would not allow the doctor to join the panel, the dedicated patient who had so carefully chosen and developed a meaningful relationship with his health care provider, decided to follow the impersonal dictates of the managed care plan. Closer to my own area of practice, psychology, is another story that is even more disconcerting. A young teenage girl had been treated for depression by a psychologist. In actuality she was not seriously depressed but rather angry at her boyfriend for being somewhat shallow. The girl’s parents called the managed care company and were referred to the psychologist. After a few short sessions with the psychologist, the girl felt she had more control of the situation and would not allow the boyfriend’s manipulation to continue. Two weeks after terminating psychotherapy, the girl and her father had a fight that erupted into yelling and screaming between the two of them. The father in frustration called his managed care plan (an 800 number in southern California) and told them his daughter was suicidal. Without any psychiatric evaluation and without contacting the daughter’s psychotherapist, the clerk at the other end of the 800 number advised the father to take the girl to a psychiatric hospital. Although the girl was not suicidal and didn’t need hospitalization, she did learn to fear her father and to behave lest she be hospitalized again. Not a healthy outcome. By now you probably have the tone of this article. While managed care may save your company dollars, and while there is a need for health care reform, you might think twice about just what you are subjecting yourself, your employees and your family to. The mistakes made by the Carnegie graduate and the father of the teenager are not uncommon. There is a mystique about managed care. People have come to believe that the 800 number is like a parent, able to solve all of their woes. They believe that they will get the same personal service they received for years by a doctor who knows them. They are puzzled when the service they do receive is not sufficient to resolve the problem. Often they assume that there is nothing more that can be done, since their managed care company has not authorized additional services. It’s as if the managed care company has assumed the paternalistic mystique that the family doctor once held. But now the mystique has no concern about the individual, only cutting medical costs.

All right, I realize that I am biased on this subject, given that I am one of those doctors that is being pressed by the managed care industry. It may be hard for some of you to accept my complaints about managed care, even though others of you have your concerns too. So let me relate a few statistics to bring you up to date on the state of the art when it comes to psychotherapy. The following points come from recent published research. Ninety percent of emergency room visits are psychosomatic in origin. In a review of 58 studies, 85% of the studies found substantial reductions in the medical and surgical costs of patients who regularly used psychotherapy. In a review of 475 studies, the authors found that the average psychotherapy patient at the end of treatment was better off than 80% of those patients who need psychotherapy but remain untreated. Therapist competence relates more to client improvement than does the particular treatment modality. By 8 sessions of psychotherapy 50% of the patients are measurably improved. By 26 sessions or about six months of psychotherapy, 75% of patients are improved. Cognitive-Behavioral psychotherapy alone is as effective and efficient in treating depression as are drugs, or drugs and cognitive-behavioral therapy combined. Drugs have side effects. These are pretty impressive statistics. If as an employer you could improve the health of an employee, certainly you would see an improvement in your bottom line. Healthy employees produce. Most managed care companies, however, are not into improving employee health, but in cutting insurance and medical costs. If they were really interested in your bottom line, why are they not increasing mental health benefits? If psychotherapy works as well as or better than drugs; if psychotherapy reduces emergency room visits and medical and surgical costs; if psychotherapy works better than no psychotherapy; if competent experienced psychologists are part of the success, why then are benefits for psychotherapy being slashed and watered down so dramatically? You may question my findings, noting that your managed care plan includes mental health benefits. However, if you review your benefits in particular, you will find some serious flaws. Such flaws include the fact that your employee is entitled to five or ten employee assistance visits with a counselor. If the problem cannot be resolved in five or ten sessions, they get no more. Also the counselor they must see cannot be of their own choosing. Many of the psychotherapists contracted to managed care companies are inexperienced master’s level people. Another flaw is that all psychotherapy plans must be reviewed with the clerk at the managed care company. The treatment plan is not a confidential arrangement between the client and the psychologist. It is part of a computer record available not only to the insurance company, but to the managed care company who reviews and authorizes insurance claims.

There are some estimates that up to 12 people see your psychotherapy treatment plan. For things as personal as serious depression, or marital problems, this is hardly sensitive or confidential. Furthermore, do you really want an anonymous clerk to be making decisions about your personal mental health? A third flaw is that the managed care company makes decisions about what kind of treatment you should receive based upon actuarial tables. It is not based upon your unique situation, nor what you and the doctor feel would be best. There is no sensitivity to your needs, but what fits the budget. If psychologist competence is significant to treatment outcome, then why is a clerk making these decisions? I personally am willing to participate in only three managed care plans for the above reasons and more. I will work only with those plans that leave the treatment plan between myself and the client. I will work only with those plans that maintain client right to confidentiality. I will work only with those plans that pay me what I am worth as a seasoned professional. I will work only with those plans that authorize appropriate treatment and will not cut off therapy for short term gain, forgetting the long term health loss. If you are shopping for a new health plan and if you are considering a managed care plan, why would you be interested in my point of view? After all, as I said earlier, I am biased in favor of preserving my profession. But there are compelling reasons to take a good look at all sides of the situation. It’s like my CPA says about taxes. If you find a way to save some taxes in one area of your business, you ultimately pay more tax somewhere else. It’s the same with mental health. If you cut premiums and cut services to your employees when it comes to their mental health, you pay the price in increased medical and surgical costs, employee accidents, higher turnover rate and so on. In an ideal world, there would be enough to go around; enough dollars to pay for health care and the ability to choose any provider you wished. However, obviously employers have to strike a reasonable balance and health care has skyrocketed. But in the time that medical and surgical costs have skyrocketed, mental health costs have not grown. They are essentially at the same utilization rate and cost as they have been for decades. So psychotherapy is not the place to cut. It just doesn’t make financial sense, when the price you pay is increased health problems. So when you are shopping around for a health plan, I hope you consider just what you are buying when it comes to mental health benefits. ? Do you have ample psychotherapy benefits; at least 26 to 52 visits per year per employee? Do you have the right to choose the most experienced and competent psychologist? Is there true confidentiality guaranteed? Is the treatment plan dictated by actuarial tables or by the unique needs of the situation and the employee? Is the payment to the therapist worth the time of a competent professional, or are you forced to seek out an untrained, inexperienced person who will charge rock bottom prices?

Here's the secret to finding a reliable auto mechanic

Thursday, February 06, 1997




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Have you ever experienced that chilling feeling that creeps up your spine when your car starts acting up? It's bad enough to be inconvenienced by having your car in "the shop," but what's even more frightening is having to face the mechanic, a person you don't trust, yet need.

Mechanics lie to you. They make unnecessary repairs and over-charge you. It's not just a feeling. There have been "undercover" stories on television where the mechanics are caught "red-handed." Mechanics can't be trusted. That's a fact! At least, this is what I believed until a couple of years ago when I met our current "family auto mechanic." This guy is like a breath of fresh air. He and his wife run the shop with a couple of employees. He's honest, hardworking, RELIABLE. His prices are fair. The work gets done in a timely manner. And to cap it off, my car is always better after he's fixed it. Is it any wonder that his business has grown steadily over the years, so that he had to move from his quaint little storefront to larger more professional space? I hope the growth doesn't change his values. With this issue of the Vancouver Business Journal , I began to wonder what is it that makes our "family auto mechanic" so exceptional. There are the basics. He's timely. He's knowledgeable. He's personable but not terribly out-going.He remembers my name. He charges what the work is worth, not what the traffic will bear. I always get answers; no double-talk. He rarely tells me he has no time for me. If he can't fix it, he tells me where I can get the car fixed.

He does little extras; he's willing to pull leaves out of rain drains so that the interior of my car stays dry.A major appliance company conducted a study a few years ago to learn how to improve the quality of the repairs on customer's appliances. The technicians were given tests to determine their personality style; then divided into one of two types, introvert and extravert. Introverts are people who quietly within themselves figure out the problem. Whereas, extraverts are more noisy about their problem solving, needing to talk aloud and get feedback from others. The appliance company then asked their customers two questions: (1) How satisfied are you with the repair?; and (2) How satisfied are you with the technician? While the customers found the extraverted technicians more personable, there were fewer complaints about the repairs done by the introverts. In other words, the guy who quietly goes about his business of getting the job done, but doesn't interact much with the customer does a better job. Our "family auto mechanic" fits this picture. But there's more. There's something deeper that makes my mechanic special. He really seems to love his work. He works hard, often late into the night. And his wife is working right beside him. It must be that he enjoys solving the mystery behind my car problems. He probably wants to earn money too, but money is a byproduct of doing what you love.

Obviously our "family auto mechanic" is being paid well for doing what he loves. I know that I am not alone in this desire to have a mechanic I can trust and who does quality work. Recently on National Public Radio I was listening to "Car Talk," a lively program dedicated to answering tough car repair problems called in by listeners. On this particular night I was amused to have an astronaut call in from his space shuttle orbiting the Earth. Although the reception was compromised by a little static, I learned about the problems astronauts have with their vehicles.But what was even more fascinating about the program is that the hosts were offering to set up a free locator service for mechanics. They asked listeners to send in the names of mechanics that they felt were RELIABLE and trustworthy. If you want to find a mechanic you can trust, you need to get to know the person. Just as with your physician or hair dresser, the relationship with your mechanic should be more than passing. In our frenzied world, many of us have lost tract of the community spirit, but that community spirit is what helps build trust. If I know my mechanic and his family and he knows me and mine, we can build a relationship of trust over the years. He knows just how I like things done. I know that I can trust him to have my best interests at heart. Most importantly, I want to work with someone who cares about me, not just my car; and I want to work with someone I care about too.

Building balance in family business partnerships

Thursday, December 05, 1996




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


The Yin and the Yang; other than an interesting design for a T-shirt or jewelry, what do we really know about this symbol? Better yet, what is the relevance to our modern life? Simply, the Yin and Yang symbol represents those masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves as individuals, as couples, as neighborhoods, as corporations, as countries. Because the symbol is drawn to show the intertwining of these aspects, the meaning inferred is that we are dependent upon both to build a whole...a whole person, couple, neighborhood, corporation or country. Whatever your spiritual convictions, most people will agree that there are these feminine and masculine traits to be seen in many situations as well as within us. Psychologists have even developed tests to determine how strong certain masculine and feminine traits are within an individual. For example, some people score highly feminine, some highly masculine and some androgynous (or highly masculine and highly feminine). The masculine qualities are typically assumed to be aggressiveness, decisiveness, little show of emotion and so on. Feminine qualities are passiveness, supportiveness, emotionality and so. None of us have only feminine traits or only masculine traits. And some of us even have both masculine and feminine traits in abundance. The value of assessing your Yin/Yang quotient is to determine how much balance you have in your life and your relationships. It is not more desirable to be androgynous or masculine or feminine. The real question is whether you have struck a healthy balance within yourself and among your loved ones. In a family/business this balance is even more crucial. Not only is the health of your relationships affecting family functioning, but business functioning as well. Therefore, a healthy dose of masculine and feminine within a family/business should keep it humming successfully. "I couldn't be successful without her." "I wish more wives could learn the joys of working with their husbands." "

You don't really understand what it takes to run this business because you work in the office." "He doesn't really care about his family because he works all hours."These are examples of the Yin and Yang in operation among couples who work together. At times there is respect for the strength of the other person even though it is different than your strength. At other times, we get bogged down in our own reality and forget the valuable contributions of our partners. When the latter happens, the couple and the business are headed for trouble. Avoiding the pitfalls requires lots of love, open communication, and fearlessness in confronting problems. For example, I had a wife come to me in tears because her husband was dominating her in the family business. Apparently the wife had started the business at home in their garage. When the business took off and became too large to handle, the husband quit his job and came to work for his wife in the business. Unfortunately, his masculine qualities were pushing against his wife's feminine qualities. While she wanted to have his help, she still wanted to be the leader. And as his wife, she wanted to be loving and supportive, but not if it meant giving up her accomplishments. The husband, on the other hand was totally oblivious of the trouble he was stirring up. He was only trying to help. In a typical masculine way, he thought that if he had a good idea, and if his wife didn't say no, then it was OK to proceed. This type of complication between husbands and wives who work together is all too common. The research shows that husbands will dominate decision making and leadership in the business even if the wife founded the business...even if the business is a stereotypically female business, such as a nail salon!

To bring things back into balance, these copreneurs need to remember why they chose to work together in the first place. They need to assess whether the Yin/Yang balance is a good one in the work place and at home. The research shows that working people find great rewards at work, unlike what they get from family interactions. Yet these same working people report that their families are more important to them. In order to get the most from both worlds, especially when they overlap as in a copreneurial venture or family business, you need to really appreciate the Yin/Yang in your self and your spouse and other family/coworkers. For example, when you find yourself complaining that your wife/business partner doesn't really understand what it's like "out in the field," ask yourself if you could do her job in the office. Better yet, ask yourself who you would hire to replace this trusted employee and tireless worker. When you feel that your husband/coworker doesn't really love you anymore or that he treats his business clientele better than you or the children, ask yourself how the business would have grown without his determination and willingness to sacrifice his own personal time. With these new perceptions you are in a much better position to renegotiate the terms of the relationship. To be sure, if one spouse keeps putting in long hours at the expense of the family; and if spouses work side by side, doing their jobs, but never understanding each other, there is not much of a relationship, personal or business. Instead, with love and appreciation for past contributions, begin talking about change. Talk about striking a balance between love and work. Talk about the risk of losing a client or losing a spouse if priorities don't get straight. Talk about doing a little training with your spouse so that they do understand just what your job involves. Train the kids too; prepare them for the future when they too will seek to balance Yin and Yang.

The developing of a resilient organizational leader

Monday, October 14, 1996




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

What makes a leader? Is leadership a genetic trait or a learned ability? Are men better leaders than women? Is leadership ability universal or situational? Do leadership skills fade if not used? These are questions that research has yet to answer. But leadership development is one of the major concerns of American executives. Business owners are frequently faced with the problem of developing leadership skills among executives and managers. These same executives and managers may be highly skilled in their particular specialty, but lack what it takes to lead his or her people to excellence in their industry. The qualities of a leader are many. And to some extent the type of leadership style that works in one setting may not work in another. What is common to all successful leaders however, is the ability to communicate with his or her subordinates, colleagues and superiors. The confident leader communicates this confidence and encourages the best from others. Over the years I have often been surprised at how many successful and wealthy business owners have such poor communication and leadership skills. Apparently having good interpersonal skills is not a requirement for business success, but it certainly makes things go more smoothly. One wonders how much more could be accomplished by these wealthy and successful folks if they had improved interpersonal skills. When you are the boss you can compensate for poor people skills by firing troubling people. Most entrepreneurs are extremely hard workers, so another way to compensate is to put in more hours to cover for your lack of leadership ability. In family firms, if no family member emerges as a successor to the founder, the business can be sold.

These strategies seem rather primitive when good communication and interpersonal skills can be learned. It may be that some people are just born to lead, but with training in communication skills, a natural leader may be discovered who may otherwise have been overlooked. The kind of skills that will enhance any leader's position and that could create a leader from someone with raw talent, come under what I call the "resilience factor." Within this factor are the qualities of flexibility, the win-win philosophy, quality over quantity, toughness, and foresight. No matter what surprises lay in store for this leader, he or she is flexible enough to do what works in the moment. He or she can learn from even the lowest employee in the hierarchy. A father can take direction from his son or daughter. Competition is a waste of time for this leader. A husband and wife who work together learn to appreciate the unique talents that each brings to the business. This leader's philosophy is that everyone wins. Doing things fast is replaced by doing things thoroughly, efficiently and with quality. The leader who has mastered good interpersonal skills has a devoted work force, family and clientele. Therefore, taking the time to do it right and to learn from others pays off. Leaders who win are tough. They don't give up. Their employees and family members can count on them to come through. They aren't afraid to speak, nor to speak an unpopular position. And when they speak, they have thoroughly researched their opinion.

Winging it was OK in those start up years, but if you want people to follow you, be thorough. Among family business owners, cultivating leadership is even more difficult. The development of interpersonal skills is often thwarted by the system of primogeniture. That is, the leader of a family business may take leadership solely because he is the eldest son of the founder. He may have little leadership ability, and poor interpersonal skills, but as the son (or eldest son) no one looks further for true leadership. Leaders of family firms who want the best for their families and their business confront the problem of cultivating leadership openly and honestly. They insist on training the next generation in the development of problem solving skills, communication skills, confrontation skills as well as the skills of the specific product manufactured. Passing the business on to the next generation requires foresight, another quality of successful leadership. Being wrapped up in ego needs, leaves a business owner with no one to trust the business to when he or she retires or dies. The truly resilient leader is one who has planned ahead and created a resilient business. Resilient leaders recognize the abilities and talents in others as well as themselves. These leaders realize that their greatest contribution to the business is their ability to lead, to cultivate excellence in others, to create a quality business with longevity. Without developing the interpersonal skills that create trust and confidence in the leader, this is just not possible.

What's your family/business mission for 1996?

Thursday, January 04, 1996




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


As 1996 is upon us, I suppose everyone is at least giving some superficial thought to new year's resolutions. When you sing AuldLang Syne at the holiday parties, it's supposed to be a reminder to put the past behind you and move ahead to a brand new life. Easier said than done. It takes a lot of effort to change old habits, especially if you have the enormous task of running a family firm where the needs of family are tugging at you at the same time you are trying to expand the business.
Struggling as I do every year to come up with my new year's resolutions, my mind began to wander as I began this column and I thought about the days when I was a girl and my mother would take me shopping in the second hand and antique stores. One of those stores was Powell's Books.
Most everyone has had the chance to drop into Powell's bookstore in Portland. Dropping in isn't really that easy since the store covers several buildings over several blocks. It is truly amazing to think of a used bookstore the size of Powell's.
Having grown up in the Portland/Vancouver area I had the opportunity to see Powell's go from a small relatively unnoticed second-hand bookstore to the multimedia enterprise of today. One has to wonder why Powell's grew and other second-hand bookstores have not. Some of those other bookstores still exist today looking much the same as they did when my mother and I would browse for bargains. But Powell's is different. They have a Mission.
The fact is that most families in business do not have a mission, or at least have never thought consciously about one. The family business was started because of a need to support the family or to give a creative venue for the entrepreneur. But once this goal was accomplished no further thought has been given about how to grow the business.
The truth is that most family firm owners do not think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Recent studies have shown that family firms do not grow as fast as other enterprises. One reason seems to be that family business owners are in the business of family. They are satisfied with making a good income that can support the family and send the children to college. There is no desire to burn the midnight oil and to become a millionaire.
However, there is a small group of family business owners who really do think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They are interested in making money, lots of money.

Yet they too have a difficult time making the business grow. In other words, their businesses grow no faster, on average, than other family firms. Again we can look to research for the answer.
Family firms fail to grow because of the complexity of balancing personal life and business development. Executives report that the most meaningful aspect of their lives are their family relationships, yet they gain the most rewards from work. How then do you balance these competing demands to make the most of each?
Take a moment to conduct a short exercise with your spouse/business partner. Each of you take a sheet of paper (8.5 x 11 will do) and draw a line down the middle, vertically. On one side write the heading "Business Mission" and on the other side write the heading "Family Mission."
Now, without censoring your thoughts each of you write down your goals, values, dreams for the business and the family. Don't worry about what the other person is writing. Don't worry if business goals conflict with personal goals. Just write what you want and what you value.
Compare your lists and see where they are similar or different. Notice the contradictions and striking agreement. These lists are the beginning of an important development in your family enterprise. These lists represent the rudiments of your Family/Business Mission statement, a statement that will guide you to an integrated and balanced family and business life.
A second step to clarifying your Family/Business mission is to rank order your lists and/or perhaps to weight the items according to their importance to you. Again compare to your spouse's list. As you work and rework your list, you may notice that there are some basic truths emerging. These truths are the values that you live by and will be the guide for making all future decisions.
Whether you are the type of family/business owner who desires to grow the business to multi-million dollar proportions, or are satisfied with a smaller successful business that supports the family, your mission will help you stay on track. For years, executives and business managers have known the importance of having a mission for the business, but seldom did they include the personal side of a mission.

With a family enterprise there is no way a business can be successful without including the values, goals and dreams of the family (and each individual involved).
As your mission statement shapes up on paper, evaluate whether you are meeting it today. If not, change whatever you are doing now! Always stay true to your mission. This is a key ingredient to all successful enterprises.
If you want more time with your children, design the business to accommodate. If you desire more independence from your spouse, perhaps it is time to restructure the business so that each of you have more distinct and separate roles in the business.
If your goal is to have your son or daughter work for you or even take over the business someday, begin designing a succession plan (even if the child is 12). If you are getting flabby and your cholesterol is high because you never have time away from work to tend to your health, perhaps it's time to set up a health and fitness program at work.
Whatever direction your mission is taking you, take note and use January 1, 1996 as your start date for rejuvenating your personal life and your business life. Clean out old habits that keep the business from growing, if those habits do not serve the family or the business anymore.
Come to terms with the rate of growth that is comfortable for you; the rate of growth that keeps the family system healthy as well as the business. Not everyone is cut out for billion dollar international corporate life. Then again, if you are the type who wants to make a lot of money, clean up the sloppiness in your life and get clear about your direction. Afterall, how can a business grow if it has no direction?
There has been a lot of talk lately about "corporate culture," as professionals become aware that businesses have personalities that guide them as much as competition and the bottom line. A family business is no different and in fact is the epitome of the integration of personality and business.
If you want to make 1996 a banner year, think of your family enterprise as a cultural extension of your family. The values that you teach your children, that your parents taught you and that your grandparents founded the family on, are the same values that you surround yourself with at work. Make sure they are really your values and that you stick to your convictions. Happy New Year!

Management Style in the Family Firm

Friday, July 07, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

When she was about six, I overheard my eldest daughter describing my work to one of her school friends. She said, "A psychologist is a mommy who sees clients in the basement." At the time my office was located in the basement of my home, remodeled for just that purpose. And since I work often at home, my daughter has been able to see me in many of my roles, the most important to her of course is that of mommy.

Being the owner-manager of a family firm requires juggling many roles too, not just with family members but with your employees as well. How you handle your marital and family obligations affects your management style with employees and vice versa. For example, in family firms where you are working with your spouse, you must assess your style in three arenas, (1) marital, (2) parenting, and (3) business management. Furthermore, you must assess the integration of these three styles.

Let's take marital style first. Are you both leaders? Is one the leader and the other the support person? Does the style change depending upon the context? Are you a team? Or are you both separate and dedicated to your own spheres? Does your marital style differ greatly from your parenting style or your management style?

Marital partners find each other for myriad reasons. Sometimes we are attracted to opposites. Sometimes we want someone like Mom. Other times we seek a complementary relationship. Whatever your marital style, know it. Don't assume that it is irrelevant in your family firm. This style shows in the board room and on the production floor. If it is incompatible with the business, then you will have many problems. Employees sense the discrepancies. They know when there has been a marital fight.

If you have children whether they work in the business or not, you need to know your parenting style too. Your parenting style is affected by your business management style and vice versa. We learn a lot from our children about human behavior. Those lessons are translated to the work place.

Are you an authoritarian parent? One business owner orders his family around at home just as he does his employees at work. His wife and children don't like it and are in fact a bit intimidated by him, but he says he can't help himself. Are you permissive? Permissive parents often have children who are rebellious because they have always had to make their own decisions. Are you authoritative? This type of parent generally has a good balance in that they make decisions as the leader of the family, but include children when appropriate so that the children learn gradually the responsibilities of adulthood.

Parenting style is obviously related to marital style. If two marital partners do not think alike about parenting, there will be a disorganized and perhaps very depressed family. Discussing your differences about parenting and looking for a united plan is the best thing you can do for the family structure. Equally so, it is important that you determine if you are treating employees as you would your children.

Your management style at work is the third aspect of family\business style that needs to be evaluated. One way to categorize business leaders is as one of four styles: (1) telling, (2) selling, (3) participative, (4) delegating. Which are you? Are you apt to tell employees what to do? Or do you build a good case for what they should do? Or do you include employees or other managers in the process of developing new business? Finally, are you inclined to run the show yourself but delegate tasks to team members?

Americans have been successful in the world marketplace because of our emphasis on the "rugged individualist." We have been willing to fight to protect the rights of the individual. But as we move into the 21st century, Americans are beginning to realize that we are all part of one planet and one global economy. We cannot afford to be isolationists. We have influence and others influence us. As members of a family firm, you are in the position of understanding these influences better than most. A family/business is a delicate balance of interacting systems such as the marriage, the family, and the business. How you manage and respond to these systems will determine your success.

An authoritarian father with a "telling" business management style and a traditional marriage characterizes the entrepreneurs of the 1940s. But because that model is so dominant many family business members don't know what other styles exist. If following in Dad's footsteps works for you, then look no further. But if you desire alternative styles to keep up with the changes in your business and your personal life, then look for answers to the questions in this article.

First, accept who you are. Whatever your style it is probably the most comfortable way for you to be. This doesn't mean there is no room for improvement. But it's best to start with who you are and then to build marital, parental and management styles around your personality.

Second, accept your spouse's style too. She or he has developed a certain personality that is unlikely to change. Rather you two are looking for ways for both of you to realize your full potential. Don't compromise before you have explored all of the ways for both of you to be fully who you are in the marriage and as parents.

Third, when considering a parenting style, not only do you consider your partner's style, but you must also include the personalities and needs of your children. Most parents are astounded at how wildly different each one of their children are. While a permissive style may be appropriate for one child, another may require more authority.

Fourth, remember that your management style at work is more related to your marital and parenting styles than you realize. It is in the family that we first learn to relate to others. We learn about male/female relationships from our mothers and fathers. We learn about power and control and decision making too. We learn about love and friendship and sibling rivalry or competition. These early lessons shape us for the rest of our lives. How you treat employees and how you want them to treat you is dependent upon your understanding and utilization of these early lessons.

Virginia Satir, a noted family therapist once said that parents are in the business of "People Making." In a family/business I think this is true in more ways than one. As parents, certainly your children are shaped by the family firm, just as my daughter sees me as a mommy who works in the basement. And as family business owners and managers your employees are also shaped by your marital/parenting/management style. You can cultivate the best in your people or something much less desirable. Understanding your unique management style in the workplace and how you have integrated past and present family lessons into a Family/Business will help you to be flexible and to adapt to the requirements of the 21st century.

A beginning and an end: what comes after the prom

Friday, May 05, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


My husband and I were married in late April so each year when we take each other to dinner to celebrate our anniversary, the promise of Spring fills the air. It's a wonderful time to renew our commitment to each other. We usually like to go to dinner at a nice hotel, sometimes a resort. This year we drove the 40 minutes to Skamania Lodge in Stevenson and enjoyed one of those rare sunny afternoons in the usually rain-drenched Gorge.As we enjoyed the meal, the view and the company, we began noticing the young couples entering the restaurant. Each year at this time of celebrating our anniversary it's like going to the Prom. We invariably are one of the few older couples in the restaurant amid the young teen couples out for dinner before their senior prom. The young men are dressed in tuxedos; this year seems to favor the traditional starched white shirt, cummerbund and black jacket, some even with tails. The young women are lavishly dressed in evening gowns, shoulderless and backless. Their hair is styled with curls and glitter. They look nervous and laugh a great deal. They look so young, yet grown up too. And they always order dessert, usually chocolate. Like our anniversary, the Prom signals an important passage for these young people. They are no longer children. They must make their way in the world as adults. Some are off to college, others to travel, others the military, and many straight off to work. Whatever, their direction, they are no longer kids. We may think they still need guidance, but they will move into adulthood without looking back. If we haven't prepared them for this move by now, the parents in their lives have little to say anymore about the life paths they will choose. In a family-owned business preparing children for entering into adult life is different in some ways than for other families.

In addition to teaching life skills parents assist their children to integrate independence and confidence. They are preparing their children to fly freely and strongly when they leave the nest. But in a family business the assumption may be that the child will stay in the nest; that they are being groomed to take over the family business when the parents retire. There is an inherent conflict in grooming your child for independence and yet holding that independence in suspension until the parents retire.Family business owners who wish to groom their children to succeed them in managing the business, need to work with this inherent conflict. Too often the mistake is made that the child is never fully prepared for leadership and thus they remain a child indefinitely (much like Prince Charles). Or another mistake is to assume that the child will take over the business when they are not interested nor inclined to. Preparing children for taking over the family business requires that parents selflessly attend to preparing their children for healthy independent adulthood first. A child who has grown into a self-sufficient, wise and autonomous individual is in a much better position to assume the role of leader. A child who remains subordinate to the parent into his or her 40s can hardly be practiced at autonomy or leadership.Therefore, those family businesses who plan ahead for succession require a more thoughtful approach to emancipating their children. Having young children work in the family enterprise teaches them skills they could not learn otherwise. They not only become familiar with the product and style of the business, but they acquire confidence. They are participating in taking care of the family which is an important value to instill. As children get older they can be given more responsibility, even management duties. However, their progress up the ladder should not be based upon the fact that they are the son or daughter of the owner. They need to be evaluated as would any other employee.This teaches the child to do the hard work of improving themselves.There comes a point in adolescence when a decision needs to be made about whether a particular child is leadership material.

If so, a new path must be developed for this child. It is impossible for the child to become a leader and continue to work under their parents. They need a period of proving themselves in the world, apart from their parent's protection. If they have never worked for anyone other than their parents, how can they or you be sure that they really can handle decision-making alone?Parents are often very reluctant to let their children leave the nest. In a family-owned firm this reluctance is extremely strong. The business has evolved as a reflection of the family identity. It almost seems as if the family is breaking up or the business if a family member leaves. But for the health of the child, the family and the business, children must leave and discover their own talents.Firms who have handled this transition gracefully, have encouraged their children to leave home and work elsewhere for a period of years. If after this time the child is ready to return to the family enterprise, and there is a suitable position for the child, then the match can be made. The risk, of course, is that once out of the nest the child will never return, that they will find another life that suits them better than working in the family business. But then isn't that what parenting is about? The business will be much more successful being managed by strong capable leaders who want to be there and by a leader who has proven his or her talent in more than one arena.It is important for families in business to be open about their planning for business succession. Children should be advised early about who is being considered for leadership. But there should also be flexibility about this decision. Over time another child may prove to be the better successor. Or perhaps the chosen one chooses another direction. If parents keep in mind that their job is to raise healthy autonomous children, then they are a success no matter which direction their child chooses. Whether the child chooses to return to the family business or not, they can always be a contributing member of the family.

Daughters as heirs or caretakers of the king

Thursday, February 02, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"A son is a son 'Till he takes him a wife; But a daughter's a daughter The rest of her life."

My mother was fond of telling me this little aphorism when I was a girl. Perhaps it was because she had two daughters and no sons. Or perhaps it is because she was the only daughter in a family of sons. Whether she was trying to teach me the lesson, or to merely advise me of a fact, I have noticed the truth in this saying more often than not. The value of relationships does seem to be more important for women than for men. Not that men do not enjoy loving relationships, but that women tend to define themselves more in terms of their relationships. Women and girls are more willing than men and boys to put their needs aside to maintain a relationship. Within a family firm for example, it is often the wife who does not take a formal salary. She is equally likely to forgo a formal title in the corporation, although she is just as hardworking an asset to the business as her husband. Likewise with daughters. Daughters in family firms often see their roles as supportive of the family. They are not as driven to be leaders as are their brothers. This does not mean they do not want recognition. Rather their first priority is to ensure the success of the loving relationships. After all, these relationships came before the business. They are the driving force behind the business; the reason it came into being. The research indicates that family owned firms were started by their founders primarily as a way to support the family. The women in family firms still recognize this intent long after the men have turned their attention to developing a thriving enterprise.But this concern for family first often gets in the way of founders considering their daughters as successors. Although their daughters may be hardworking, college educated, committed to the family enterprise and have many other talents, founders most often groom their sons to succeed them in the leadership of the business. The research shows that even founders who have no sons overlook the possibility of a daughter taking over the business. Considering the importance women place on nurturing the family, and considering that a successful family firm requires a cohesive and committed family, daughters may be the most likely choice to succeed the founder of a family firm. In her study of 18 family firms, Collette Dumas identified the roles that daughters typically play in family firms. Dumas chose only those family firms where the daughters held management positions.She also identified the qualities that make for a successful transition of leadership from fathers to daughters in family firms.

The majority of fathers and daughters that Dumas interviewed expressed great difficulty in managing the ambiguity in defining the daughter's roles in the family and in the family business.The roles assigned by both fathers and daughters ranged from "Daddy's little girl," which emphasizes a fragile, defenseless, dependent position, to that of a tough and independent manager in the business. While the daughters studied were capable and assumed several roles in the family business, their primary role with their fathers (and which was learned at an early age) was that of defenseless dependent. As one daughter put it, "Even though I've been working here a long time, I still have to kiss him every morning. Otherwise he'll be hurt. I don't think he's made the transition to seeing me as an adult. I'm still his little girl." While sons may also stay boys in their fathers eyes, at least sons come into the family business with the expectation that someday they will take over. Daughters rarely have this illusion. Therefore, they may remain Daddy's little girl indefinitely. This position leads many daughters in family firms to struggle with a sense of identity. Many daughters in family firms, as well as their mothers, work side by side with their brothers, yet their names are not on the organizational chart. All of the fathers Dumas interviewed reported that they had never considered their daughters as potential successors in the business before their daughters came to work for them. And all the fathers reported that long periods of time went by after their daughters came to work for them before they considered the idea. Dumas refers to this phenomenon as the "invisible successor." Only when a crisis emerged where the daughter was needed to help out Dad, did either party consider her potential as a successor. Unlike sons, who come to work for the family business to further their career and eventual ownership, daughters come into the family business out of dedication to Dad and the family. As a result of struggling with these issues (role ambiguity, invisibility and identity), daughters in family firms develop one of three styles according to Dumas: "Caring for the Father," "Taker of the Gold," or "Caretaker of the King's Gold."In the first style, "Caring for the Father," the daughter may feel a lack of purpose and direction. She has not developed a clear and strong identity. Such people often attach themselves to strong leaders or father figures and become dependent on them in an attempt to feel "alive." In the family firm these daughters are largely oriented toward pleasing the father and caring for his comfort and wishes. His needs come before the daughter's. While there is nothing unhealthy about caring for another person, to do so exclusively not only robs the daughter of her identity, but may harm the firm.

If the daughter's behaviors are oriented toward caring for her father to the exclusion of actions that would be beneficial to the organization's effectiveness and survival, she will not be prepared to take over the CEO's role when she succeeds him. In the second style, "Taker of the Gold," the daughter has taken the opposite extreme by developing a rigid identity or sense of self. She works hard to achieve and even overachieve, but she thinks only of herself. In the case of daughters trying to become independent of fathers, the takers-of-the-gold become more interested in taking charge of the business assets than in responding empathetically to the father or recognizing his accomplishments. While these daughters are strong and quite capable, they operate independently and thus do not take advantage of the resources available to them to make informed decisions. These daughters have behaviors that are rebellious and disrespectful of the business's norms. In the long run this style produces a great deal of conflict between father and daughter and potential distress for the business. The third style, "Caretaker of the King's Gold," represents a mid-point between the first two styles where the structure of the identity is harmonious and stable and at the same time less rigid and dramatic. This daughter suffers less from a sense of inner emptiness and is less inclined to continuously prove her existence to others. In other words, this healthy sense of identity allows the daughter in a family firm to simultaneously take charge and take care of the "king's gold" (the business), "the king" (the father), and herself. This style may seem to cast the daughter back into the dependent role of "Daddy's Little Girl." However, daughters who represent the style of "Caretaker of the King's Gold," have found their identity through interdependence with their fathers. While sons cannot feel like men until they break away from Dad, daughters mature through affiliation and interconnectedness. Fathers with this type of daughter find that they can gradually phase out of the business. Their daughter is capable of running the business with out them, but she also values working with her father for as long as he is capable. Murray Bowen, a family systems psychiatrist has suggested that interdependence is one sign of a healthy family. Certainly this is no less true for a family firm. Fathers and daughters who are able to be respectful of each other, nurture each other's developmental needs and both creatively pursue the business are in a better position to make a healthy transition from father to daughter when the time comes for the succession of leadership.