Family Business

Building a family business that lasts


4 min




Listen to Dr. Joseph Astrachan, who teaches family business at Kennesaw State University, explain how and why leaders need to acknowledge the importance of investing in leadership development inside the family enterprise. As a founder, to ensure the long-term success of a business, it is important to take a step back and observe how the business operates without you. Pulling back will allow other members to take on a leadership role, and will communicate to employees that they have garnered the founder's trust.


Joseph Astrachan




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A lot of people, when they are in business, particularly founders or energetic next generations, get really stuck in a rut. The rut is, here is what is comfortable to me, and I justify my behavior by the fact that what I am doing seems to be working. As opposed to saying, here is what I need to be doing to achieve the long-term goals that I have. So when I talk to people, whether it is in speeches or one-on-one, I will say, what is your long-term goal? My long-term goal is to have a healthy, thriving, surviving business and a family that is together, cohesive, and harmonious. Well, if you want to do that, there are certain things that you need to develop to ensure the business will continue well once you are no longer there to oversee it, and to ensure that the family will continue well ... View More once you are no longer there to provide the glue or the conflict management that you provide now.

One of them is to develop people underneath you so that they can run the business in your absence, which means you need to step out of doing the day-to-day business things. Being the control freak, being the day-to-day manager, making sure nobody makes mistakes, works against your goals of developing a company that can out-survive you. You need people who are comfortable making mistakes and learning from them so they can develop and move forward. You do not need the best possible organization while you are alive; you need the best possible organization that can survive. And to do that, you are going to have to step back. There is no other choice.

I once had a person that I had worked with who I took away for a couple of weeks of training, and it was in another country. And he just could not stand to not be around his business. He wanted to be in the middle of it, and when some worker had a tragic and fatal accident, he almost stopped his training and got on the next plane to go back. And I said friend, what can you do from there that your people cannot do, other than be the person who is there? What will change if you are there? What will change in any way, and what would you be communicating to them if you do not go back? On the one hand, you could assume I am communicating disinterest and I do not care. I said, they know you better than that. So what might else you be communicating? Well, they may be feeling like I trust them. I said exactly! You need to communicate through your actions, and not just your words, that you trust your people. They will develop and work into your trust. Six months later, best advice you could have ever given, I am so much more comfortable going away now. My people are performing better than they were before I left.

So, step back a little bit. Allow the business to in your mind sub-perform, because it would perform better than you do, to develop its own capacity to perform well. And at the same time, focus on building those things that you need to build. Now, in the business, that includes better systems to develop people, but it also includes governance to make sure they are doing the job that they need to be doing, which is kind of what you do as a leader. And on the family side, it is systems to keep the family cohesive and unified. And as a leader of the family and a leader of the business, those should be top priorities.