Mom as CEO (Chief Emotional Officer) of the Family Business


In our role as succession managers,when we develop and implement a succession management strategy for the management team of a family business, we also know that a critical requirement for the next generation of the family is to have a succession plan for the CEO of the “family” too. We refer to Mom as the CEO of the business family – the “Chief Emotional Officer”. Mom is often the peacemaker in the family. She usually has more leverage with dad than the kids and can influence how and when dad makes his decisions.

The actuarial statistics show that in most marriages, the husband dies before the wife. Our experience as succession managers for family businesses has taught us to know that when Dad dies, the impact to the family and the business never seems so bad as when Mom dies. When Mom dies it seems like all the problems within the family and the business get amplified.

It is not uncommon for the problems smoldering under the surface to reach a flash point when Mom dies and sometimes these problems tear the business family apart, irreparably.

Those types of situations support our contention that Mom is the glue that holds the business family together. So if it makes sense to have a succession management strategy for the business, it makes equal sense to have a succession management strategy for the family.

When we discuss the role of “Mom” in the business family, our primary consideration is how the communication system works for the family in business together. Mom is involved in both the formal and informal communication systems. The business will have a formal communication system and an informal communication system that is often characterized as the “grapevine”.

Likewise, the family has a formal or obvious communication system and it also has an informal system, the family “grape vine”.

As succession managers for family businesses we are not surprised to find that many family issues, conflicts and misunderstandings occur in the realm of the family’s informal communication system. One of the major problems is called “triangulation”.

Unfortunately, Mom is often unaware – an unknowing, well-intentioned component of this communication

problem. To visualize the concept of triangulation, think of Mom, Dad and son/daughter being the three points of the triangle. Son/daughter will go to Mom with a problem they are having with Dad. Mom then talks to Dad where he explains his side of the problem. Mom reports to son/daughter what Dad said – or what he tried to say. In this example the communication linkage never directly connects son/daughter and dad. Consequently the problem continues to fester because it never gets resolved. The two key parties never deal with the issue, one-on-one.

For families in business together, getting any and all disputes and misunderstandings resolved is critical to the success of the succession strategy. Not doing so can stall the entire succession planning process.

It is interesting to note that when disputes between siblings bubble to the surface at succession time, the siblings in the business often tend to be more “rational” about the process whereas the siblings not involved in the business tend to deal with the succession process from an “emotional” point of view. This creates an environment that produces many opportunities for significant conflict in the family and the business.

Without outside intervention, reconciliation and remediation can be very difficult. For the parents it can be heart wrenching – especially for Mom, the business family’s CEO. She becomes the “shock absorber” for much of the emotional drama that occurs during the business family’s succession process.

Smart succession management for business families includes preparing the next generation of family owners for the leadership of the business. Smart business families also prepare for generational transition by identifying and training someone within the family to be the next CEO (Chief Emotional Officer) for the family.

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