Do and Dont’s: Preparing Kids to Take Over the Family Business

Do and Dont’s: Preparing Kids to Take Over the Family Business

Guest Piece By: Kathy Kolbe & Amy Bruske


Too many family-owned business leaders put more energy into passing on wealth without passing on the secret sauce – the creative problem solving – that creates wealth. Whether you are a parent, an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent or a non-family member manager in a family owned business, a significant part of your job should be developing a high level of ambition in the next generation.

We’ve seen family owned business survive economic losses, fires, tornadoes, threats, and deaths. We have never seen a family business survive heirs who lack ambition. Instilling respect for doing the work takes extra work on your part.

The Dos and Dont’s that make the biggest difference:

Do Develop confidence, not arrogance

Learning humility is valuable for all employees, but young family members who lack this trait when they enter the workplace can alienate their colleagues. Not only do they carry with them the burden of “royalty”; they act as though they’re “to the manor born.” The combination of being a family member and arrogant can make them impossible to work for…or with.

Humility comes from knowing yourself and understanding that since you can’t do everything, you have to surround yourself with people who have a variety of different natural (conative) strengths. Does it work to include this since they haven’t had all the prior info on conation?

Don’t accept the “I dunno” response

One of the worst qualities in any employee is indecisiveness. It’s ugly. If you haven’t taught your kids how to rate almost anything on a scale of 1 to 5, you better do it before you put them in a business environment – especially your own business. You may cope with their indecisiveness at home, where you might get exasperated, but you can shrug it off and move forward. But that doesn’t work in the shop, at the trade show, or during a presentation.

If your child can’t decide which popsicle he wants, it’s time you helped him learn to make choices. Start by offering choices among things you know he wants to have. If he doesn’t make immediate choices, give him what’s left after you or others have eliminated options. Children who are used to having to decide what to order, what to wear, who to ask, when to change activities, and whether something is a good idea become decisive adults.

Do help kids play to their strengths

One of the greatest gifts you can give children is the confidence in using their instinctive strengths. Sometimes that requires that a parent encourage a child to do things in ways that wouldn’t work as well for the parent. Directing kids toward career options that will give them the freedom to use their conative strengths is the ultimate goal. Just because there are jobs in a family business that would give kids a chance to get work experience, don’t put young relatives into them if those jobs don’t fit their natural strengths. We’ve seen far too many kids not do well in such situations and develop fears about whether they could succeed in other jobs.

Do listen to future family business members

Creative problem solving is not an age-related ability. Next generation family members may be able to solve problems as well or better than highly educated people who tell you what the book says is the right answer. Because they haven’t faced the same old problems, they don’t have the same old answers. The next generation know a lot more than you think they do. Give them a chance. Seek their opinions. Have them rate products and services. Let them make some of your decisions.

Do include the next generation in unique growth opportunities

Take the members of the next generation to events at which they can see and hear relationship building, deal making, and commercial espionage in practice. Start when they are an early age. Shadowing family-owned business leaders at conferences, trade shows, sales calls, and vendor negotiations offers priceless educational value. If you keep it real, this will be far better than “take your child to work” activities that are often hokey. The key to making it worthwhile is prepping before the event and debriefing afterward.

Don’t limit family member interns to a narrow group of jobs

Good management of any business involves cross-training so employees can step into various jobs if others are absent. Methods developed for training new employees usually work well for training teenage interns. Those family member interns who are trained may well end up helping the company out during urgent situations. It also exposes them to career possibilities rather than just special project situations that are often given to interns. By training teenage family members for a variety of roles, it also helps remove the feeling of “family cluster” in some parts of the business.

Don’t hide the realities of work

When you bring in family members as interns, give them real work, not busy work. They are there to learn how to work, not how to regurgitate information.

  • Do have them work toward a goal, not just observe.
  • Do keep discussions professional, and avoid personal references.
  • Do have them work with non-family member interns when possible
  • Do give them age-appropriate assignments
  • Don’t assume they know company jargon or culture

While interns need to discover the joy of accomplishment, they also need to experience the reality that some parts of the work aren’t as fun as others. At the end of the day, they benefit from a review of what they accomplished.

Also remember not to hide economic realities from the next generation. To build their resilience, expose them to financial situations that require significant amount of creative problem solving.  Showing trust in a youngster’s ability to handle exceptional situations in your family owned business is a great confidence booster for both parties.

Copyright © 2017 Kathy Kolbe. All Rights Reserved.

KATHY KOLBE is the global leader in discovering and accessing the power of human instincts. She has done the brain research to prove the relevance of her Kolbe Theory of Conation to individual and organizational success. Kathy was the first person to connect conative behavior to instinctive drives, which she postulated as the source of the patterns of mental energy commonly known as a person’s MO.

AMY BRUSKE is the president of Kolbe Corp and leads seminars for business leaders throughout the world. She was recently named Business Owner of the Year by the Phoenix chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

Kathy and Amy are both award-winning consultants and advisors to over 3,000 family-owned businesses, as well as to Fortune 500 companies, and both are also sought-after speakers. As mother and daughter, working together for more than two decades, Kathy and Amy have personally experienced every situation discussed in Business is Business. Neither recalls a time when she wished she were working anywhere else.


Cynthia Tait

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