“Ambassadors” Fill Downton Abbey Void (and teach about leadership)

Have you become as addicted to British TV as I have?  With the end of Downton Abbey I’ve been in a slump, eager to replace my fascination with its characters (particularly the women) with a suitable and equally engaging British program.

I found it.  It’s called “Ambassador.”  It was filmed in 1998 and it’s just two seasons long.  It doesn’t feature beautiful clothes, or breathtaking settings, or upstairs/downstairs intrigue, but it does portray a smart, compassionate, and strong female leader who navigates a wide range of complicated situations with dignity and grace.  Her name is Harriet Smith, but people refer to her simply as “Ambassador”, because she is the British ambassador to Ireland in the late 1990’s.

Harriet is truly a woman in charge.  She has the capacity to view each challenge she faces with a wide-angle lens, somehow able to take in and tackle the emotional and political complexities of every situation and make things right.  She is unafraid to question, to break a few rules, and to admit mistakes-with her children, world leaders, or ordinary citizens of the two countries she serves.

I have no doubt that Madam Secretary, the very popular US show featuring Tia Leoni, has its roots in the character of Harriet.  Both women are portrayed as thoughtful, real human beings at home and at work, and both lead a team of people who know that they are supported and who support them in return. It’s leadership at its best.

Take the time to get to know Harriet and Elizabeth, not because they’re women, not just because they’re leaders, and not because they manage work/life balance reasonably well.  They’re worth watching because they’re both thoughtful and committed ambassadors. Their roles require them to manage relationships, negotiate skillfully, intervene in crises, and to be “on stage” wherever they go.

Diplomatic skills may come in handy for daughters in charge, too.

Ask Amy – Facilitation Skills

Dear Amy,

I work for my dad in our family’s marketing firm.  I have a marketing background, but I am really more interested in the management side of the business than in the creative side. It’s pretty clear that one day I will run the business, but of course, there are no guarantees.  It’s certainly something I’d like to do.

My dad has given me a lot of responsibility for managing client accounts and leading a lot of our meetings.  Here’s my problem.  I get frustrated when I’m leading a meeting and he’s in the group.  Not only do people look at him all the time, but they also nod their heads at whatever he says-even when he goes on tangents that take us way off of our agenda.  I get stressed and then I end up in a power struggle with him.  I start getting more forceful, interrupt him, and everyone sees how frustrated I am. He has the real power in the group so my efforts to take back control never really succeed. I end up feeling undermined, and our meetings often end up being a waste of time.

~ Kathy

Amy KatzDear Kathy,

It sounds like you do have authority at work, and that your dad sees you as someone who is capable of taking on a leadership role.  Many leaders are unaware of the power they have-and I don’t mean simply the power to hire and fire.  Leaders influence groups in ways they rarely intend.  I’ve observed employees almost unconsciously start to use the same phrases their managers use, tell similar jokes, adopt similar gestures…while the manager is completely unaware of his/her impact.  While some of this is benign, in some cases people literally stop thinking for themselves and the group or organization loses the opportunity to listen to and respond to new ideas. This can be a particular challenge in small businesses, where employees have frequent access to the leader.

I am quite certain that your dad is unaware of the extent of his influence.   While he may of course be acutely aware that he is the boss, and that what he says is important, he probably does not quite see that voicing his opinions too often may actually shut people down and limit the group’s capacity for creativity and for making good, well-reasoned decisions.

Since he has put you in a position of authority, I am also quite certain that he is not trying to undermine you.  Keep in mind that he may be a bit scattered and go on tangents in EVERY meeting he’s in, whether at work or in other settings.  In other words, that’s just his style.  So the challenge for you is to become a great facilitator.

I suggest you learn as much as you can about how to manage a meeting.  That means learning how to set a meaningful and reasonable agenda, to use a flipchart or whiteboard effectively, to understand group dynamics, and to keep a group on track.  I’ve seen strong facilitators leading their very senior leaders in highly productive meetings that leave people feeling proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Focus on the facilitation skills you need to learn. Google topics like “how to run a meeting” or look for books about facilitation, such as The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz.  The more you learn about and practice facilitation skills, the more you will feel empowered to assert and maintain control of the meetings you lead.  And I promise you, your dad will be grateful, and the group will respect you.

Facilitation skills are leadership skills.  Invest in yourself by developing them…they will serve you well.

Take care,

amy-sig

Thank your dad for giving you a job this Father’s Day

DiC-FathersDay

I am going to make the assumption that a dad started your family’s business, no matter how old it is.  Of course, there was probably a mother involved–after all there’s a reason the phrase “mom and pop operation” is so familiar.  But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the owner and primary businessperson in most family businesses started even just a few years ago was a man–and a father.

He was probably a father who understood his role as a primary breadwinner.  He was an entrepreneur who did everything he could to make a sale, or a farmer who got up early and worked all day–and made sure you did, too.  He came home tired, and didn’t feel like talking very much.  As the business grew, he continued to be “hands-on,” and somewhat reluctant to change.  Retirement was not on his mind.

Perhaps that description fits your dad, too.

Women are becoming entrepreneurs, and starting family businesses of their own in record numbers.  But the real “founders” of family businesses of long ago were men, and typically, men with children.  And just as typically, men who expected their sons to take over the business.

So here we are in 2014.  You may be the CEO of your family business, and your dad may be the president.  Or, the majority owner.  Or, he may have transferred ownership to you and your siblings.  And even if he is officially or unofficially “retired,” he may still come to the business, offer some words of advice, and hopefully, feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Father’s Day is a holiday for a reason.  Whether you are a “Daddy’s Girl” or your relationship with your dad is more challenging now than it has ever been before, it’s a good day to take the time to appreciate the path he set for you and for your family.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

1.  A simple, heart-felt “thank you” goes a long way. Compared to most people, you have an uncommon reason to celebrate your dad (and possibly his dad, and down the line) on Father’s Day–thank him for the legacy, for serving as a strong model…and, of course, for your job!

2.  Look for a funny card about the workplace…and add a note with something like, “at least OUR business isn’t like that!”..and then write something more personal.

3.  If your dad is no longer living, start a conversation with your family about what  he meant to you.  That may open the door to some meaningful conversations about your family’s values.

4.  Invite your dad to dinner.  And let him talk about the business–if he wants to–even if you don’t!

 

Would You Put YOUR Family’s Business on Reality TV?

DiC-Family-Business-Reality-TV

As you know, I’m interested in all things related to daughters like you.  And I’m glad that the media is starting to pay attention to you and the contribution you can make to your family’s business.

However, I was a bit surprised when I saw this:

Are you running a family business with your mother, daughter or sister? Is your business partner both your best friend and the person who drives you the craziest? 

Are you both loud, dynamic personalities who are not afraid to tell it like it is, especially to each other.

The quote is from a casting website for reality TV.  You, too, can be on a reality TV show…as long as you are comfortable being “loud and dynamic” about your family and your business. Some of you may be, but others may not.

Of course I’m glad that women are being recognized on TV.  As I’ve blogged about before, the theme of daughters working in the family’s business has been portrayed recently on Downton Abbey, Blue Bloods, and Modern Family.  And while the show The Crazy Ones has Robin Williams playing a dad working with his daughter, she is professional and smart and no crazier than the rest of us.

Just because I prefer Downton Abbey to The Real Housewives doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the entertainment value of reality TV. But to be honest, I am a bit concerned that a reality show featuring daughters in family businesses may make fun of what so many of you are trying to accomplish and jeopardize your credibility. I prefer to collect and share the stories of daughters – probably like you – who are working hard to assure the success of their business, while creating and sustaining positive relationships with their family members.

That’s the reality I’m interested in. I hope you are, too.  But if that show ends up on the air, you may find that watching it makes you feel a lot better about your business — and your family!

Amy

PS. I hope you’ll share YOUR story with me. I’ll be starting podcasts soon, so let me know if you’re interested in joining me for a conversation.

You May Not Realize How Important Your Family Business is to Your Community

Breitbach's Country Dining owner Cindy Breitbach

Breitbach’s Country Dining owner Cindy Breitbach

With Easter and Passover this month, many of us have enjoyed family celebrations along with some very good meals.  Perhaps that’s why I watched Spinning Plates, a documentary about three restaurants and the families behind them.

I found the story about Breitbach’s Country Dining restaurant in Iowa particularly interesting. Mike and Cindy Breitbach run Breitbach’s, Iowa’s oldest food and drinking establishment. For the residents of Balltown, Iowa, Breitbach’s is-and always has been-the gathering place.  As Cindy puts it, Breitbach’s is a true community center.

Breitbach’s is now in its sixth generation of family ownership. Mike Breitbach, the current owner, is committed to sustaining his family’s legacy.  Along with his wife Cindy and their daughter and son, Mike runs a restaurant which offers home-style food that brings people together… so much so that when Breitbach’s was leveled by fire-twice -the entire community donated their skills, talents, and time to help.  By helping Breitbach’s, they rebuilt their own community as well.

You may not realize how important your family business is to your community.  Of course, a good restaurant usually draws in more people than a factory or a farm.  But no matter what products or services your business offers, it’s having an impact, creating a community among the people who work there, supporting their families, and strengthening the economy of your town, city, and region.

If you watch “Spinning Plates”, you’ll realize that Breitbach’s is popular not only because of its fried chicken, fruit pies, and unique history in Iowa. The stories Mike, Cindy, and their family tell reveal their true “secret sauce”: A family that works well together, creating a spirit of caring and connection that brings people in to share much more than a meal.

Think about your family’s business and what it’s known for in your community.  You can represent the best of what your family has to offer, within and outside the company walls. And that may just have an impact on who walks in your door.