Ask Amy: When You Feel a Little Bit Used

Dear Amy,

I’m working in a large and successful family business in the financial services area.  My last name is the name of the business, and it’s well known in our community.  I’m proud of my name, and just as proud of the many philanthropic contributions and sponsorships our company is known for.  In fact, every employee in our business is encouraged to serve on a board, or to volunteer for a particular cause they find meaningful.

And that’s where my question lies.  I am well trained for my position, but I’m hardly a senior leader.  My focus now is on learning my job, doing it well, and thinking about the role I might take in the future.  But I’m getting too many calls now about influencing my mother and father  (who own the business) to make charitable contributions to a variety to organizations.  I’m finding this very frustrating…and also distracting.  I don’t get calls from the organizations we already support–they know who to call.   The calls to me are from organizations we haven’t sponsored before.  And some of the callers sound around my age-so I think I’m viewed as the millennial who can get them “in the door.”  I guess I’m feeling a bit used.  

Do you have any suggestions about how to handle this?


Dear Celia,

Your question is similar to one I answered a few weeks ago, when another daughter described getting calls from frustrated customers because of her last name.  It’s wonderful that you are part of a successful business and that you are proud of your family’s contributions to your community.  But I can certainly understand your frustration.

Here are some ideas to consider:

1).  I know you know this, but keep in mind that it’s not easy to ask for money.  Whether you’re a development professional, a staff member, or a board member at a not-for-profit agency or organization, asking for money makes people uncomfortable.  If you serve on a board one day, you’ll probably be in that role yourself.  So as you respond, you can be very gracious and warm and respectful-but also clear and straightforward as you suggest that the caller contact the person responsible for handling donations and sponsorships in your business (you probably have that person’s phone number handy already!).

2) Are you fully aware of your company’s strategic goals and interests in philanthropy?  Many organizations focus on certain issues and make their investments there consistently.  This is a good time to understand the choices that your parents have made thus far-and why-simply as part of deepening your learning about the business and your community.

3) I think it’s highly likely that you will continue to get these calls.  It’s also likely that you will be viewed as someone with “donor potential”.  Perhaps these calls can also be an opportunity for you to develop your own interests in philanthropy and community service.  So (within reason) you may want to take the time to listen to the caller’s request, to ask good questions so you understand their organization or agency, and then to consider whether that organization might be a good fit for your talents and interests.  Perhaps you’d like to be on a task force, or attend an event, or serve on a board there.  I’m suggesting that you “reframe your annoyance”…and view each call as a chance to consider ways you might develop your own skills and interests.

Amy Katz

4) One of my first podcasts was with Penny Friedman, an expert on philanthropy who has considerable experience with family businesses.  You might enjoy listening to her ideas, too.

Good luck!


2016 Book Recommendations

This week I’ve decided to answer a question I hear a lot from my clients, particularly at the beginning of each new year:  “What books do you recommend?”

So, here are few books that I think women (and men) in family businesses will find thought-provoking and inspiring:

Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges:  In a book that builds on the ideas she powerfully expressed in her TED talk, Dr. Amy Cuddy gives practical, theory-based advice on how to develop and convey confidence.  You will be touched (and maybe, comforted) by the many stories she recounts of people who have written to her about their own struggles with confidence.  Dr. Cuddy’s insights are inspiring and the illustrations help you put them into practice almost immediately.

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, by Laszlo Bock, Chief People Officer at Google, describes the practices and policies that have made Google a place where recruiting and developing and retaining talented employees is a top priority.  Don’t assume that because your family business is not a large enterprise or a tech company in Silicon Valley, this book is not worth your time.  Trust me, it is.

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). This is another book written by someone at Google, but it’s quite different from Work Rules. Written by Chade Meng-Tan, an engineer at Google, this book builds a fun, thoughtful case for the personal and professional benefits of meditation and mindfulness.  You may not achieve world peace after reading it…but you will feel more peaceful after trying some of the exercises.  And, according to Meng-Tan, your inner peace is a step in the direction of creating peace around you.

Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others. I recently interviewed Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI, a global talent management firm. Tacy and her co-author, Rich Wellins, are both industrial/organizational psychologists with a deep knowledge of how leaders develop and succeed.  The book is like a bible for leaders-first timers and experienced leaders as well.

Amy Katz

Whether you listen to audiobooks, use a Kindle, or actually hold a book with real pages, I am confident that these books will make you think differently about your role, your business, and yourself.

What are you planning to read in 2016?


What It Takes to Prepare a CEO | Tacy Byham | Episode 046


Theme: The Best Preparation for Becoming CEO

Summary: Tacy Byham, an industrial/organizational psychologist like her dad, is now CEO of DDI, a global talent management organization. She describes her thorough preparation for the role of CEO.

Featured Guest: Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI and co-author of “Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 8.36.59 PM

Key Quotes:

  • “Authenticity as a trait is a behavior that we can display to others. People see that and know whether they can trust you.”
  • “Research tells us that more stress comes from getting promoted. That challenge is absolutely real.”
  • “If you’d like your children to become part of the family business …be careful about what behaviors they’re observing!”

Ask Amy: What’s in a name?

Dear Amy,

My family owns a trucking organization and we cover several regions across the United States. I’m learning the business through my role in logistics in our national office, and I’m enjoying it a great deal and plan to make my career with the company.

So here’s my question: My last name is the name of the company, and while it’s a source of pride for me, it’s also a problem. Customers and vendors call our offices and ask for the directory of employees, and once they hear my last name, they inevitably connect to my extension. So I end up hearing customers’ complaints, and feel obligated to respond to them and direct them to the right person. I also feel that I should let my dad and uncles know what I’m hearing, but some of the complaints are about specific employees. My supervisor is aware of the issue, and thankfully understands it, but I still feel caught in the middle.


Dear Kate,

I’m not sure that I have a lot to add, since it sounds like you are very much aware of the sensitivities and you handling them quite well. You’re respecting your supervisor, you’re responding to customer concerns appropriately, and you’re trying hard not to let your name get in the way of your learning.

I do think that the issue you’re raising about letting your dad know about the complaints is important. I’ll give you my opinion on that, though I know others may disagree. I believe that when an organization is strong and its employees are committed to excellence, customer complaints or concerns can be handled and resolved quickly. I don’t think CEOs or high-level managers need to be involved in every problem. You’ve involved your supervisor, which is great; let your supervisor decide what needs to be shared more broadly. Actually, I consider your current “front line” experience with customers and vendors a significant part of your learning now; in fact, it may be the most important thing you can learn in addition to the technical information you’re learning about the logistics field.

Amy Katz

Your name is important, but your commitment and competence and “emotional intelligence” will prove to be most important over time, and these qualities are particularly important now as you form relationships with other employees and earn their trust. You wouldn’t want to jeopardize that, and it doesn’t sound like you are. I think you’re handling your role in the best possible way!

Good luck!


How working for your Mom can be a great career move | Sadie Ferguson | Episode 045


Theme: Deciding to Work for Your Mom

Summary: Sadie Ferguson, a social worker now working in her mother’s successful flower shop, describes how working with her mother is allowing her to develop her interests and passions and nurturing her entrepreneurial spirit as well.

Featured Guest: Sadie Ferguson, Robin Wood Flowers
Key Quotes:

  • “The challenge for me was determining if I was ready to change my work identity, from social work to entrepreneurship.”
  • “My mom and I are good friends; I worried that some of that would be threatened when I joined. It’s interesting getting to know her as a professional, not just as my mom.”
  • “I’m satisfied, and I have an entrepreneurial spirit that is growing…and I didn’t know that that would happen.”

A banker-and an image consultant-discusses how your professional image affects your business-and you | Kristie Sheanshang| Episode 044


Theme: How your image affects your business

Summary: Kristie Sheanshang, a private banker-and an image consultant-discusses how your professional image can make a difference in how you feel at work, and how others do, too.

Featured Guest: Kristie Sheanshang, stylist, speaker, and private banker
Key Quotes:

  • “You might be tempted to fit in with your team, but as a leader, you might be better off dressing to a higher standard-not business casual.”
  • “Boundaries are a big part of my life. I try to be present when I’m home. I outsource tasks I don’t like.”
  • “So many times in bank meetings, daughters don’t speak up. Prepare some questions, be involved, get on the agenda. Advisors are a resource. They would love to help you-but often don’t know how.”

Ask Amy: New manager needs help giving constructive feedback

Dear Amy,

I work for my dad in his accounting business and I am now managing two people (not accountants-I’m not one either). So this is my first time as a manager. I’m getting frustrated a lot because I see problems with the people who work for me and I am not good at giving negative feedback. I’m concerned that I may not be cut out for managing people. Any suggestions?



Dear Rebecca,

Your discomfort with giving difficult feedback is something that almost everyone who takes on a management role struggles with, whether they’re a first time manager or a very experienced one.  Giving critical feedback definitely takes practice-and diplomacy.

Keep in mind that a lot depends upon the context.  Are these employees who’ve worked for your dad a long time…and maybe knew you when you were a child?  Or, are they just about your age, and new to the business?  Are you seeing the same problems in both of them?  Are you micro managing them? Sometimes people make more mistakes when they constantly feel “monitored”.  Are you aware of their unique strengths and learning needs?

My point in raising these questions is simply to emphasize that it’s important-right now-to begin to practice the kind of personal reflection that allows you to view your employees in context.  I once worked with a great consultant who said that when he’s evaluating an employee he considers their experience, their orientation to the business, their training needs, the work conditions-in other words, he considers just about everything before he concludes that the person is really the problem.  This analysis, he told me, gives him the confidence that he is not blaming someone for problems well beyond their control.  And if the person really is the problem, then he goes ahead and asks the person to give their view of what’s interfering with his/her work performance.

One other thing to keep in mind is that most of us want to do a great job, and to learn and grow in whatever position we take on.  Feedback can be a wonderful source of learning.

Amy Katz

Rebecca, you are already “processing” your experience as a manager.  You’re paying attention to how you’re handling a role that I think requires a great deal of skill, patience, empathy, and self-awareness.  It’s challenging, but don’t throw in the towel yet!

Coincidentally, I’ll soon be doing a podcast with Dr. Tacy Byham, who wrote a book about first-time managers called Your First Leadership Job.  I hope you’ll listen to it-I’m sure she’ll have some great tips for you.

Good luck!



How a Daughter Became a President | Kristy Knichel | Episode 043


Theme: How a Daughter Became a President

Summary: Kristy Knichel, President of Knichel Logistics, discusses what she learned from her dad, and what led her to make the choices that have helped the company adapt and thrive.

Featured Guest: Kristy Knichel
Contact:  724-449-3300, ext. 222 or
Key Quotes:

  • “I felt like I always had something to prove to my dad; there were times when even customers and vendors didn’t want to work with me because I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry.” 

  • “There’s a way to get the job done and be respectful about it.  I tell people we’re successful because of our employees. They’re more valuable than anything. I consider our employees and our vendors our customers.” 

  • “My husband was a stay-at-home father for two years; now he has his own business. We take turns.  We have a 50/50 agreement-it was our agreement before we had our son. 

How a Family Champion Can Benefit Your Family Enterprise | Dr. Joshua Nacht| Episode 042


Theme: The Emerging Role of the Family Champion

Summary: Dr. Joshua Nacht discusses his research on what he calls “the family champion”, and the impact of this role on supporting the family relationships and connections that help to perpetuate and sustain business families.

Featured Guest: Dr. Joshua Nacht, steward, scholar, and family business consultant
Contact:  Ph: 303-868-5517 email:
Key Quotes:

  • “The family champion is not a leader of the business; it’s a family member who says ‘we can do better’ and takes a more active and engaged role as an owner. That aspect of taking initiative is key.”
  • “In my research, the gender of the family champion didn’t matter; the right person emerged for their family.”
  • “Family systems evolve over time. They’re not static. We have to appreciate where the family is now.”

How a Father is Encouraging his Daughter to Lead the Family Business | Sarah & Tony Dunser| Episode 041


Theme: Grooming a Daughter to Take Over

Summary: A father and daughter discuss the experiences and choices that led them to work together and to prepare her to take over the family business.

Featured Guest: Sarah Dunser and Tony Dunser
Organization: True Grit Inc.
Photo: Photo by: Luisa Porter/Columbus Dispatch Staff
Key Quotes:

  • Sarah: “I asked my dad, what would it take for me to run the business, and he said ‘get a degree, any degree’. So I got my degree in chemical engineering.”
  • Tony: “We tried to groom her from day 1 to take on to take over my job. She’s always had an interest…she’s not a girly girl; getting her hands dirty is not a problem.”
  • Sarah: “I hope I can grow the business, I hope we can hire more people, take in more work, and provide better customer service.
    I pay attention to detail now-are we doing the job right, are we making money or losing money-I see a lot more now.”
  • Tony: “I hope Sarah gets us into a different field of work. With Sarah’s background and effort that she can get us into new areas. She has brought an intellect into this company that we’ve never had.”