Recognizing grief as the glue that binds us to the past
I’m stuck and I know it! It could be a great new space…take out the bunkbeds and the dresser painted the once-perfect yellow…bring in a bigger guest bed, add some new pics…and voila! A new guest room and place for my sewing machine and yoga gear. Over the last year, I’ve composed the Craigslist ad a dozen times…in my head. But I’m stuck. I have hundreds of memories of bending into the bottom bunk to give good night kisses on the forehead. And that yellow dresser reminds me of an even earlier toddler bed—designed by me and built and painted by dad to look just like a John Deere tractor—with the dresser painted to match. I miss those days of toddler and then teen. Sigh! Grief…keeping me stuck.
Maybe you find your clients are stuck, too. They talk about someday figuring out who will take over the business they founded…someday. And someday has yet to come. Or they even went so far as to hire you to help them create a succession plan and, yet, they’re resisting the process. At first glance, this is puzzling behavior. However, seen through the lens of some research by Matthew Kerzner, GFBAI member, adjunct professor at the University of New Haven, and a PhD candidate in Business Psychology through the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and some compassion, we can get a new understanding for these presenting behaviors. (Remember from the FBAC Training– presenting behaviors are those we see; driving behaviors are the invisible and underlying why.)
In his webinar, Unsticking Succession Planning, Matt explained, “47% of family business owners who are retiring don’t have a successor. They don’t have a succession plan in place or have identified either a family member or a non-family member to take over the family business. There are reasons behind that and we need to understand those reasons.”
One of the reasons? Matt’s research shows that business owners and leaders contemplating “handing over the keys” experience a sense of grief that is much like parents experience when their children leave the nest. This makes sense because family business owners have, in essence, birthed and raised their business. Even for leaders of legacy businesses (2nd generation and beyond), the leaders have nurtured and raised the business to its present state. This grief can be even stronger for the 1.2 million family-owned businesses that, according to Matt, are operated by both husband and wife.
Matt’s research shows that one of the causal reasons for this grief are that business owners fear losing their identity if they retire. Additionally, they can struggle with how to separate their responsibilities as the head of the household and as the owner of the business. Their need for efficacy is also at stake. Retiring owners may not want to give up the influence or power they have in the company and they haven’t yet found other outlets for their creativity and influence. Finally, some business owners are very skilled at running their business but may struggle with how to mentor a successor and build the bench strength of the organization.
Taking this research into account, what can we do to help business owners experiencing grief move through this invisible barrier to succession planning? Graduates of GFBAI’s Family Business Advisor Core (FBAC) Training will remember that, as part of The Galliard Way, we can use our “coach approach” to begin where the client is right now—addressing their issues rather than trying to “sell” or overlay our own ideas about what they should be doing. In other words, meet them where they’re at. We can also gently “hold up the mirror,” helping our clients to see aspects of their own behavior that they may not be aware of so they can evaluate if those behaviors are serving them well at this point in their life stage. It may be that simply by naming the grief, acknowledging it, and honoring those feelings as valid and “normal”, the sticky glue of grief will start to dissolve.
If not, and you’re stuck needing more resource to help them:
- watch Unsticking Succession Planning webinar for tools and solutions
- reach out to one of the Certified Advisors in our network for help
- build or refresh your skills at our next FBAC
- search our Resource Library for articles and tools related to Succession Planning
Powerful tools to help you and your clients take powerful actions!
Me? I think I’m going to use the tool of procrastination a bit longer. Someday…I’ll be ready to purge those memory-laden bunkbeds and John Deere Yellow dresser to make room for a guest bed…just not today!