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Succession with Non-Descriptive Expectations


Dear Advisor:
 
Dad assures me that I will succeed him as president of our family's company. He is 62 and says he will retire when he turns 65. I am 36 and have been with the company since I left college. My title is executive vice president.
 
Dad also says he wants to make sure I am ready before I take over. I keep asking him what he expects me to do to show that I am ready, but he will not be specific. He says he expects me to take initiative, to take responsibility, to provide direction -- but while he says those things, he won't tell me how. What should I do?
 

Your father seems to understand, explicitly or implicitly, the moral in a tale about Dr. David Livingstone. Lewis Timberlake tells that when Dr. Livingstone was working in Africa, he received a letter promising new volunteers if a good road had been cut through the jungle to his location. Livingstone replied, "If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."

So it is with potential leaders of family businesses. If they must be shown the way, they may not be worthy. Chief executives have no one to show them the way. Demonstrate your readiness to lead by carving out your own path to the top. Your father issued the invitation--now he's waiting for you to arrive.

 

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