A Kick in the Teeth

Newsletter No. 9 – March 8th, 2024
Written by a human. 

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."

I’m on spring break with my kids this week.

Yesterday, we went down to the ocean front to climb on the boulders protecting the marina’s shores from the battering tides.

There’s no way around it, climbing on the rocks as a kid is pure joy.

My kids acted like they were sea lions, barking into the ocean air. They laid on the rocks, as if they were sizzling pieces of meat (funny, and a little strange). Then they jumped from boulder to boulder pretending that giant geckos were chasing them.

I knew the chance of them returning home with some bruised legs and a few scrapes and cuts was high.

But I didn’t let that stop them.

They were safe and needed to experience the joys of bouldering, even if it came with bumps and bruises. And more importantly, they didn’t need me protecting their every move.

We all do our best to insulate the ones we love from pain – whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain.

It hurts to see those we care about hurt.

However, short term pain in the form of bumps and bruises – both physically and emotionally – are far less damaging than bubble wrapping our loved ones. Because while our intention may be to shield shield them from pain, what actually happens is we keep them from experiencing the reward that comes from learning through their pain.

One of life’s greatest teachers is pain and suffering, for in pain and suffering we find wells of hope, optimism, resilience, and fortitude.

Those character traits don’t come on a silver platter, they come from being in the trenches – of feeling and experiencing it all.

Why is this so important?

Because in a family business or family office there is a tendency to make sure family members succeed. It’s natural to try to make the owning family look flawless in the eyes of stakeholders. But if a family member is to truly succeed in their role – and have the confidence of their peers – shielding them from failure is the worst move possible.

So, what can you do?

    1. First, build a system where family members have mentors, guidance, and continuous feedback from those who have been trained on how to manage family owners. These managers need to provide candid feedback and not sugar coat poor performance. Simultaneously, they also need to coach the family member on how to improve and demonstrate what success looks like.
    2. Second, family members should not take on a role that is above their current skill level. Don’t put a family member in a managerial position unless they are equipped to manage. If they don’t have the experience, then you are putting them and their team members in a very difficult position with a high likelihood of failure.
    3. Third, create guardrails for family members. Give them enough space to make real decisions that have an impact, but with boundaries that mitigate the risk to the company. They need to build confidence by making real decisions and your employees need to see that the next generation can make the right decision when it matters.

Being family in a family business means that you’re under a microscope. And the urge to appear picture perfect can be strong.

However, living through the bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes, and even the occasional kick in the teeth might just be the best part of the journey!

~ Josh Gentine

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