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An approach for the next generation to engage in difficult discussions

Don Tyler for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 May 2021
Having a discussion

There are times when the next generation of the family business finds themselves in situations where they need the elder generation to make crucial decisions, plan more clearly for the future and take more deliberate leadership actions.

Despite pleadings of the next generation, the elder generation remains hesitant to have those discussions, leaving others in the difficult position of doing their best to keep the family business moving forward.

This is a very awkward position for the next generation of a family business. On the one hand, they want to respect the authority and historical success of their elders, but at the same time, they see important opportunities slipping away, strategic decisions being overlooked and crucial conversations avoided. If reluctance to engage in these discussions continues for several years, the next generation will eventually wonder if they will ever have these answers and they find themselves thinking more about their personal futures than the future of the business. It is logical for them to consider all their potential possibilities when their future lacks clarity and others are not providing information crucial to their choices.

When this occurs, it is important for the next generation to engage an approach called “leading up.”

Leading up is a strategy for those without complete control to enhance and maximize their influence in crucial areas.

If you are one of these frustrated members of the next generation of the family business, there are some initial steps to take in this strategy to ensure you get the best results. You must make certain to do every aspect of your job well. If there have been complaints or concerns about your performance, level of activity, devotion to your job, passion for the business and your industry, or respect for others, it will be difficult for you to take any significant leadership actions. A good way to garner the respect of your elders is to consistently over deliver. Go the extra mile. Put in the extra effort. Be the first one there and the last one to leave.

Make an effort to value and respect what is important to your elders. There may be some pieces of old equipment, artifacts that represent activities from many years ago, or other outdated items taking up space that could be used for something more productive and current. Show respect for these items by asking about the personal value they hold and the memories they create. Increase your value by valuing what is important to them.

Once these initial steps have been taken, you can take personal leadership initiatives to help move the operation forward. These actions are valuable for any business at any stage of growth and should not be seen as threatening current leadership’s objectives.

You can begin to schedule your own internal meetings and invite the elders to attend if they prefer. These meetings should focus on day-to-day activities, setting priorities, addressing problems, scheduling tasks and operations, and planning upcoming projects.

Be deliberate about your personal improvement and professional development as well as that of every person who works in the operation.

Identify some of the more common challenges that the operation faces, as well as day-to-day production issues and start to formulate your own solutions to those issues. Take initiative to be very thorough in this investigation, researching all options, determining which option you feel is the most appropriate and then developing a budget for that approach. Be certain to include an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of your plan and potential consequences if things do not go as planned. As you list those potential consequences, provide a summary of the ways you will monitor progress and the strategy you will implement if any negative consequences arise. You can also detail how you will minimize the impact of those outcomes on the operation and make the changes necessary to get back on track. Once completed, this can be presented to elders in a professional manner, seeking their input and approval.

Push forward or let up

When you start to take these types of initiatives, it is important to determine which ones are highest priority at the initial stages. In some operations, these actions may be seen as overstepping the bounds of a person’s current role. For others, they may provide proof that the next generation is actually up to the job of taking on more responsibility and will be welcomed and embraced. It is essential that you know when to push forward and when to let up.

As your strategies are implemented and the results of your actions are becoming visible, it is essential that you personally own the results – good or bad. In these initiatives, there is no room for blame shifting. If you want to take 100% of the credit for a great idea, you must also be willing to take 100% of the blame when things don’t work out.

This is also an opportunity for you to position yourself as the leader of the next generation. Make every effort to show you are up to the challenges that come with this role. Become a good listener and focus on developing relationships with your family and non-family staff that allow open discussion and bidirectional feedback. Show humility. Recent surveys show that humility is one of the top traits that people look for in leaders. Be appreciative and provide regular encouragement to everyone you interact with throughout your day. Position yourself as the individual that everyone can count on to get the job done, make the best decision, be willing to get your hands dirty and do the things others are hesitant to take action on. end mark

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Don Tyler is owner of Tyler & Associates Executive and Management Coaching. For more information about this topic or as a trainer/speaker, he can be reached at (765) 490-0353, by email or through his website at Tyler & AssociatesTyler & Associates.

Don Tyler
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