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Guest Blog: Everyone’s A Winner—NOT!!!!

Posted by Mary Yost on August 22, 2014

(Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of columns by family business leaders and advisors with information and ideas about topics unique to family businesses, developed in conjunction with the Conway Center for Family Business.)


By Beatrice E. Wolper

We are raising a generation of winners. They win at everything they do. They win trophies for playing, for showing up, for “trying,” for listening and for being. No one loses. Ever.

But, in the long run, we are not doing them any favors. Unless they learn how to lose, how to face adversity and how to face defeat, they may not be able to face failure. And everyone fails, sometime.

But it is natural for a parent try to avoid exposing a child to failure—something that would make his or her child sad. And yet, as reported in Psychology Today, February 2013, failure gives a child a “solid foundation and a springboard for the trials and tribulations of life.”

For family businesses, the inability to face failure is a huge stumbling block to the successful transition from one generation to another. The more resilient a person is, the more he or she is able to create alternatives to roadblocks. The more confident a person is, the more he or she can face a defeat, learn from it and move on.

When family business founders make it so that the next generation never has to create alternatives to failure, the next generation is stumped when a situation arises that they can’t fix. And since they have no skills built in to cope with such a loss, they lack the confidence to figure out a solution on their own.

Consequently, a disastrous domino effect takes place: the next gen can’t figure out what to do; they panic; the founders step in to quickly fix the situation, and the next gen hears: “you are incapable of success.” The result may be that they feel inadequate, and then next gen begins to think about leaving.

So what can the family business do to correct years of…everyone wins!!!  One of the first things is to start being realistic—no matter the age of the next gen. Children are not always on a winning team (especially if the team loses).  Children are not ALWAYS wonderful, fabulous, marvelous, or outstanding!!!!  Sometimes they need to hear, “that may not have been your hardest try” or “oh, that’s too bad you didn’t have a good score, but you tried and next time you may do better.”

Another extremely important corrective action is to have a conversation about confidence and resilience at a family business council meeting. Since it may be difficult for a founder to talk about failures, a facilitator may help guide the discussions and can use illustrations to emphasize the importance of accepting some failures along the path to success. Have the founders give examples of failures that they have overcome or discuss  a list of disappointments. Let them share their worst failures, their greatest risks, and their greatest achievements—all under an umbrella of overcoming defeat. 

Many times the next gen hears only about the achievements, rather than sharing the dumb ideas, the total loss and the embarrassing “great idea” that failed. It is helpful to know even founders made mistakes.

As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Bea Wolper is a co-founder of the Conway Center for Family Business and serves as an Advisory Board member. She facilitates the Center’s Women in Family Business and Succession Planning Peer Groups. She is a partner in the law firm of Emens & Wolper LLP, in Columbus, Ohio. Her practice focuses on succession planning, estate planning, general corporate law, contracts and the buying and selling of businesses, with an emphasis on family-owned businesses. Wolper and her husband, Dick Emens, the Center’s Executive Director, co-authored Family Business Basics: The Guide to Family Business Financial Success.

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