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The Predecessor and the Successor: Building New Leadership for the Family Business


The new leader of any family business must bring together his or her own management team. It’s a challenge, but one that can go easier if successors and their predecessors observe the following recommendations: 

For Successors 

Choose your team according to the business needs 
You need to ask yourself questions such as: 
> what’s your strategy for the business? 
> what’s the vision for the business? 
> what’s your motivating dream that others – preferably people who have skills that you don’t have – are going to share? 

Make sure all the owners of the company understand the goals  

It is important that you receive the support of the owners to ensure they endorse your plans for the future of the business. 

Develop your own leadership style 


Build a team that will support your style. This doesn’t mean, however, bringing in people who won’t challenge you. 

Don’t wait too long 


The quicker that successors can take ‘ownership’ of the team as being their team, the quicker the team’s confidence is going to come around. That’s not to say you should come in and replace the entire staff. You don’t want to lose the experience and value that some members of the previous team can provide. 

Raise the bar 


The key is not to accept mediocre performance but to raise the bar of what is required. By hiring savvy people from outside, it raises the level of professionalism among all the team. This will have important benefits in the performance of the business. 

Treat your predecessor’s managers with respect 

There’s a huge balancing act for recognising somebody’s past contribution and building for the future. You may need to come to terms with the fact that the management team you inherited may not be the best fit for the future. 

Become a mentor yourself 


If you have had good experiences with your own mentors, pass that experience along. In addition to having good, qualified peers, you will want to have protégés whom you will feel confident in developing and making a part of a successful team relationship. 

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake 

And don’t beat yourself up over hiring mistakes.  

Recognize that they will happen. The real test is not that you hire the wrong person, it’s that you don’t make the decision to fix the problem. Having your own management team to advise and support you gives you confidence that you really are in charge and that you’re not living in the shadow nor living off the success of someone else’s efforts. From then on, you are really accountable for your own team. 

For predecessors 

If you’ve transferred control to your successor, offer encouragement and help the person build self-confidence. If you still have ownership control, give your successor a lot of free reign and do whatever you can to show them you’re not going to pull on that rope. 

Convince successors that they should make hiring decisions based on business needs, not on what they think will please you. 

Recognize that your successor will have a different leadership style 


Allow the next generation to surround themselves with people who support their style. 

Be conscious of the need to let go 

This means giving the freedom to the next generation to make decisions, to try new things, and to bring in people with whom they feel comfortable. 

Help older key non-family managers understand their role 

Family companies that succeed in transferring leadership from one generation to the next are those in which the older family members make it clear that the younger generation is taking over. Also make sure that non-family managers understand that they are important to the process.


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