Family businesses are the backbone of the world economy, and so it is of vital importance that family business structures and systems are strong — not just financially, but also relationally.
Human capital lies at the heart of all companies’ competitive advantage, and this is nowhere more so than in family business, where success hinges on robust relationships. It is therefore critical to nurture and develop strong relationships by grounding them on key values, as well as finding the right people to help guide us through this process.
We all have people we look up to — mentors/role models — whether in person or virtually, who help guide us. We can have one, two or even five mentors, as many as required for different roles in our lives. We can also provide mentorship to others.
For example, I can have someone who is mentoring me as a mother, another who is mentoring me as an author; I can have a sports mentor, business mentor, etc. They are all different and yet equally valuable. I am also a mentor to many others, in particular, guiding families to effectively navigate difficult situations.
What exactly is mentorship, and how does it differ from coaching?
A coach is someone who asks questions that help to clear away the “fog” that often clouds our awareness and perspective, thereby freeing us to see our life with more clarity and resolution.
A mentor is different. A mentor is someone who shares their life experience, which we can then “borrow” from to gain lessons and insights. Mentors may be older or younger — what matters is that they have gone further down the path of life than you, whether by virtue of age or circumstance. In other words, a mentor is someone who has had a different life experience from you, and is willing to share.
From my experience in working closely with and mentoring families, here are three key values that facilitate strong relationships and successful family businesses:
Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings of another person; to see things from someone else’s frame of reference. Families that value and build empathy between family members grow stronger in responding to challenges, because they deeply understand their precise needs and can therefore focus on the appropriate solutions. Empathy may not come easily or automatically to everyone, but it can be cultivated: be curious, listen well and respect others.
Gratitude comes from latin word – Gratus – which means thankful or pleasing. If you are grateful, you are pleased with something that someone has done for you or something that has been given to you. When employees develop gratitude it gives them a change of perspective: they are more open to feedback, complain less, are more cooperative, and they work harder. Gratitude is an important value across all levels of a family business. Gratitude makes us less entitled and less arrogant; we become more open to learning, more collaborative and more patient; we become kinder. All these are qualities that will make us someone others want to work with and work for.
Why is forgiveness important for family business? Hurt and disappointment are common and inevitable emotions that challenge all professional and personal relationships. Family businesses are especially vulnerable since these relationships are deeply intertwined, so it is important to protect your family assets by ensuring that you repair all relationships with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is two-sided: for it to be fulfilling, it needs to be asked for by one, and granted by the other. It can also be difficult to genuinely forgive depending on the extent of hurt and disappointment, and here is where having an effective mentor can really help families to work through their everyday differences of opinion and learn to forgive each other – vital for family business success.
Building a strong family business can be a long journey, but a fruitful one if grounded in key values like the three listed above. Internalizing and nurturing these values takes commitment and practice, but having a trusted and effective mentor can help guide and facilitate this process, helping to ensure that your family business grows into a significant asset.