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The Secret of the Family Business

When I’m with a group of leaders and managers, there’s often one from a family business.

They are the ones who throw me a curveball. Their culture questions are very different from the rest of the group. The conversation ends pretty quickly once I give them the answer they are not expecting. I say:

“Family businesses are less like corporations and more like the mafia.”

It gets a ton of laughs but I’m serious.

The mafia plays by different rules, or perhaps different values. While corporations tend to be based in performance, results, and service. Family business usually means the values are loyalty and trust, before anything else.

So while that leader in the company (usually a son, brother or cousin) is trying to shift the culture, they have to play the game. They want to do things differently but what they really have to do is build up so much trust and loyalty by staying in-line.

In no other circumstance do I say this, but I say – Be a Yes Man, or a Yes Woman.  Do it to the point that they get sick of it.  Then they’ll either build up a ton of credit to use later, or the leaders will simply hand over more responsibility.

Whether you’re in a family business or not, it’s key to determine the real game that’s being played.

And the next question is – Do you want to play that game?

Because you always have a choice. You can leave and find a place that’s more in line with your values. Or if you stay, play the game and help improve it by working from within.

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