My daughter told me about Daughters in Charge, so I decided to ask you a question myself. She has many leadership strengths, and I want to do a good job of developing opportunities so that she can take over. So here’s my question: How can dads help their daughters become leaders in the family business?
-An interested dad
I love your question! You didn’t give me many specifics, so here’s a general summary of ideas that I hope you’ll find helpful:
- Recognize that she will be viewed as a leader, no matter what her role is. Your children will be a source of curiosity for your employees, and their actions will be scrutinized. Your employees will likely assume that one of them will eventually take over. It is still difficult for women to gain respect for their leadership skills. You can set a great example by respecting her point of view, challenging her when needed, and giving her responsibilities that directly impact business results.
- Decide how you would like her to refer to you at work. Some fathers instruct their daughters to call them by their first name at work, and “dad” outside of work. Figure out what’s best for the two of you. There’s no real right or wrong here, but many father/daughter pairs find it easier to use first names at work. It can help to set a boundary between work and home.
- Encourage her to learn all aspects of the business, from equipment to finances. This can be a great credibility builder for your daughter. Make sure she spends time learning from your employees and interviewing them about their roles, their careers, and their ideas about the company. Ask her for her impressions, and listen to them. It’s likely that she’s heard some things that are worth your attention.
- If possible, have her report to someone else, preferably a non-family leader. It can be very difficult to give feedback to your daughter, and for her to receive it from you. Respect that she and her manager will develop a working relationship without your interference.
- Invest in objective assessments of her personality and skills. You may have no idea about your daughter’s strengths in work setting and/or areas where development is needed. Consider encouraging her to talk with an organizational psychologist or an executive coach. If your daughter is going to be a leader in the business, the more she understands about herself and others, the better.
- Include her in as many meetings as possible, but give her a role to play. Daughters like to be included, but they also like to feel they are making a contribution. Encourage her to ask questions if she needs to, and also to assert her own ideas. Talk together about how you will handle disagreements. Make sure she understands that developing the ability to influence requires respect for alternate viewpoints.
- Check your assumptions about your daughter at the business door. The daughter you raised is no longer a child or an adolescent. Just because she didn’t handle her allowance well doesn’t mean that she can’t develop and manage a budget. Like many people, her behavior at a workplace may be quite different from her behavior at home. Resist the temptation to tell stories about her as a child. Allow her to be an adult at work.
- Give her increasing responsibility…only when she earns it. You do not want your daughter to be viewed as “daddy’s girl”, with special privileges. On the other hand, don’t go overboard in the other direction and limit her opportunities for growth because you’re afraid of showing favoritism.
- Pay attention when she suggests opportunities for innovation. Family businesses can be insular and so tied to the past that they ignore or deny the need for change. Your daughter is likely to have friends working in other settings and to understand new ways of doing business. Be open to her influence.
- Begin discussions of succession planning as early as possible. There’s a phrase emerging now about “sticky batons”, which refers to the difficulty parents have in letting go of leadership. You may not be close to retirement, but it’s important to prepare your daughters and sons for succession. You don’t have to make any commitments, but succession involves a set of strategic decisions about the business and about your family. It’s important to start early.
Again, thanks for the great question!