The Next Generation Will Conduct Business Differently

Why is it challenging for second-generation business owners’ to become good managers and strong leaders? What do they need to do differently?

Why is it so challenging for the children of business owners to step into a business leadership role? There are many reasons, including a few you may not have realized!

First, let’s be clear about this challenge. I am talking about the second-generation business owners’ ability to become good managers and strong leaders. Why is it so hard?

The challenge is completely different from the first generation’s challenge. The first generation built the business from the ground up, from nothing to something with substance. The first generation owners typically achieved this with long, hard hours working in the business.

If you consider a business to be like an orchestra, the first generation learned to play every instrument themselves, then hired a few good and a few bad players, gathered them together to form the orchestra, and reluctantly, inefficiently, and through trial and error ended up as the conductor of the orchestra. This orchestra may still have a few challenging instrument players in it today! The conductor has earned the trust and respect of the whole orchestra over 20 or 30 years of effort.

Enter the new apprentice conductor – the next generation (and often the child of the current conductor). How does the current conductor approach the preparation of the apprentice for the job?

Are they required to build an orchestra from scratch to gain the experience the same way the first generation did? Do they need to learn every instrument in the orchestra? I believe that these types of expectations are placed on this next generation quite often.

However, isn’t the orchestra already assembled? Isn’t today’s challenge to improve the skills of the current players, fire the bad ones and grow the orchestra from here?

This is an entirely different challenge than building an orchestra from scratch! The current challenge is for the next generation to be the best conductor of the orchestra. (Note: the conductors don’t need to know how to play the instruments.) This next generation will succeed with solid management ability and confident leadership ability.

More complications arise when we throw the family dynamics into the mix. It is very difficult to teach management and leadership skills to your child when you are pointing your finger at them the same way you did at home!

Family and business blend like oil and water – not very well!

I think the best solution is some formal management and leadership training from a resource outside the family. It would also help if the resource understood the current management and leadership style of the first generation. Current management is who the existing orchestra signed up to play for in the first place. My guess is that these players would like to keep the current conductor around if they could.

In summary, implementing a succession plan requires training up the next generation to become good conductors of your business orchestra, which is a completely different challenge from building a business from scratch. We see this challenge so often we are considering developing a formal management and leadership development program for second-generation business owners. Let me know if you have some young, aspiring conductors who may be interested!

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