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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

12 MAY 2015

Leaders in the family business

Leaders in the family business
David Emanuel
Managing Partner (London office), Veale Wasbrough Vizards

In a family business, the founder is by definition a leader responsible for starting the business and taking it to whatever level is achieved in their lifetime.

The generations that follow may have very different skills and attributes from the founder, and may need to adopt a different style of leadership as the business develops.

Some family business leaders 'just do it', but others like to find the time to reflect on their leadership approach, and how they might do it differently. It's even more complicated in a family business of course, where personal ties and family hierarchy might conflict with choosing the best leader.

Much has been written about leadership - in business, war, politics, sport - indeed in every sphere of human life.

Those of us in leadership positions who read about the theory, or attend courses, often feel a sense of energy and purpose immediately afterwards, and resolve to go back to our businesses and apply what we have learnt. But in truth we mostly slip back into the ways we have always followed, and our resolve to be more like Eisenhower, Steve Jobs, Angela Merkel (or name any admired leader of your choice) slips away as we revert to type - our type.

In 'The Three Levels of Leadership - How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Knowhow and Skill' (published by Management Books 2000 Ltd), the author, James Scouller, seeks to explain why this happens, and what you can do if you want to become a better leader of your business.

The rest of this article is really a view of Scouller's book, which I share with you because I found it very interesting and useful both as a concise summary of a lot of leadership theory, and as a way of thinking about what can be done to address the psychological 'blockers' that prevent us from putting into practice what we see or read about.

The three levels of leadership

The three levels of leadership Scouller refers to are

  1. Public leadership - what leaders do in group situations or when trying to influence the whole organisation
  2. Private leadership - how leaders deal with individuals in their team
  3. Personal leadership - leaders' psychological, moral and technical development and how it affects their presence and behaviour. Personal leadership development is the key to effective public and private leadership.
The book does contain useful summaries in relation to public and private leadership and helpful pointers on improving skills in those areas, but the central argument is that these theories ignore the psychology of the leader and the unconscious limiting beliefs that prevent the adoption of new behaviours.

Limits to leadership

According to Scouller, leaders can be hampered by:

  • Vague beliefs about what leadership entails, which make it harder to do the job.
  • Subconscious fears about abilities, which cause defensive behaviours that reduce effectiveness
  • Gaps in knowledge and behavioural skills
Leadership presence

Leadership 'skills' is an interesting theme of the book, and a key element of personal leadership.

Presence is difficult to describe, but it is about the intangible and unique qualities an individual has which inspire others to trust them, and, in a leadership context, be led by them. In your family business you will be able to think of those who you regard as having presence, and you might wonder if you have enough of it yourself.

The encouraging message is that everyone can improve their presence, by paying attention to personal leadership, and in particular 'Self Mastery'. This may all sound too much like an old Kung Fu film for some. However, I would encourage you to stick with it if you read the book and are (like me) not used to this kind of language. It is a very interesting introduction to our psychological make up and the things we can do to break through our limiting beliefs.

Scouller says 'Being an effective leader is, ultimately, about you being "you" as you create, express and enjoy your own unique way of leading.'

I find that a concise and refreshing summary of what leadership should be about, and a reminder that it should also be enjoyable.

Family business leaders, and the generations that follow, can hopefully take heart from that message as they face the challenges ahead.
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