We were reminded recently of the elements of a role in the family that is not always understood. When six siblings needed to learn how to be business partners, three being uninvolved and three active in the business, they asked their mother what she did to hold them together so far. They had a history of times when they were very close and times when they had drifted apart…as well as times when some had not spoken to one another for several months. They wanted to know what she could show them that they might learn to do for themselves. She told them it was simple; they should respect one another, maintain a passion for family, and appreciate each other’s talents and needs. We might call this the job description for mom; what she does to maintain the family glue.
Family glue is what’s there when a family maintains its relationships. The right amount of family glue shows itself with family members who have well-established ways of communicating with one another especially important in times of stress. Family glue is at work when a family pulls together to help out one another when it is needed. When the glue is holding the family together, an individual knows there is a safe harbor of acceptance, love and support even when it is not needed for a crisis.
Family firms and business families benefit greatly from mothers who may not have a paying job in the business, yet provide it with a potent asset – family strength. A business owned by a strong family has a terrific advantage over public companies, as well as an advantage over other family businesses that do not have strong families. Strong family glue helps keep multiple family shareholders tolerant of one another and helps to keep everyone on the same business strategy.
The Key Components of Mom’s Job Description
It would be presumptuous of us to define the special nature of a mother’s relationship with her children in a job description. Rather, our purpose is to identify key components of mom’s role that will assist sibling business partners who wish to maintain their relationships with one another.
Respect for one another. A mother would tell her family that being respectful toward one another is important for its own sake…but that it is especially important for harmony among her children who will one day be sole owners of a dynamic family firm. Any relationship is enhanced by diplomatic respect. Too often, siblings take one another for granted and relax their normal standards of good manners and politeness when dealing with one another. Siblings need to practice giving each other the same respect they give to customers of the business…or to neighbors and friends. Common courtesies are important and they take effort. It is not just avoiding rudeness and other forms of disrespect — showing respect involves thoughtfulness and understanding of one another. Who better models such behavior than a mom? Doing so and showing respect is a genuine way to say, “You are important.” A mom would say, “practice showing respect and the understanding of one another will grow and so will the harmony”. Ultimately, that respect, understanding and harmony will be seen in the working relationships between family shareholders.
Maintain a passion for family. Mothers are often the ones who draw the line on business conversations at holidays and family gatherings. Doing so is protecting “family time” – the activities of being together, having fun with one another, and integrating new spouses and young children into the family. There is no business reason for family time—a strong family is its own reward. Maintaining a passion for family means making sure business or commerce does not intrude too much or dominate the family. When the business or enterprise takes over family time, an imbalance results to which mothers are very alert. Siblings expressing a passion for family would find ways to maintain an appropriate balance. They would share an understanding that the business is not the enemy of the family but imbalance is. Mom’s advise: Make an effort to carve out time for nothing but family time. She would not call it a business investment, but a family business reaps immeasurable returns from it.
Appreciate and respect each other’s talents and needs. A mother may not tell us that a healthy self-respect is bolstered by genuine respect from others around us, but she will encourage her children to be genuine with one another. A mom will strive for her children to invest the time and energy to truly understand one another so that talents and needs become known. If brothers and sisters are to be owners of a firm, the active ones certainly need to have respect for the contributions each one makes, and the inactive family members need to respect the contributions of those in the business. Perhaps even more important and harder to accomplish is for those active in the business to respect and value the talents and needs of those who are primarily involved elsewhere. Mom will say: “Invest the time to get to know your brothers and sisters. They must learn what you need from them, but start by genuinely learning, and appreciating, what they need.” Moms know their children should not get everything they want, just what they need. She would hope for her children to adopt this role among themselves. And, if it is done well, a strong family is preserved into another generation, which makes it possible for the business to survive as well.
Mom herself may not be active in the business, but as chief emotional officer she may be the single individual most responsible for the family business’s multigenerational survival.