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Support Groups for CEOs

CEO “support groups”, in which business leaders regularly and confidentially share problems and hopes with peers are rapidly gaining in popularity. Like they say, it is lonely at the top, thus support and sharing can be very reassuring and helpful. But when a family member CEO of a family business participates in such a group, some issues require sensitivity. Family CEO Other Family Executives •My involvement in this peer group is •I know my CEO cousin feels he Invaluable. I can safely open up and gets a lot our of his peer group Share some of the frustrations of my job. discussions. They meet monthly and he’d never miss one. But I wonder if he’s talking about me? •As other CEOs, with the final burden of •Even if he is talking about our responsibility and similar family problems, family and its issues, I can see I really appreciate the support of the group. how that kind of resource can be They believe in me and make me feel more helpful to him. It’s useful to talk self-reliant and confident in my leadership. out issues and have the encouragement of capable, self- reliant colleagues. But I wish I had an equivalent opportunity. Exactly. CEO peer support groups have great value. But, two key issues come up when the CEO of a family business enrolls. First, is the idea of a shared peer group so good that others in the family should benefit from the same kind of opportunity? (At university based Family Business centers across the U.S. this opportunity for non-CEOs is often possible.) More complicating is the perspective common to CEO support groups: they tend to be champions of entrepreneurship, self-reliance and individualism. The often aren’t sympathetic to the collegial, consensual culture so often essential in a family business. The CEO can be prejudicially encouraged “to do his own thing.” And the support group, of course, only hears one side of the most stories--the CEO’s. These comments are not meant to discourage family CEOs from joining such a peer support group. They can be precious resources for learning and personal growth. The purpose of this discussion is, though, to encourage sensitivity to a few key issues unique to family firms.




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