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?


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!


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!



The Next Generation of Yuengling Beer

This week, instead of my usual Ask Amy column, I’m sharing a video with you recently produced by the New York Times. It features the family responsible for the Yuengling Beer business. It caught my eye because when I was writing my book a few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Baker Yeungling and Jennifer Yuengling, two sisters who work in the business. I remember talking with them about their dad, about his commitment to working every day, and their growing awareness that succession planning was becoming an important issue.

The video not only features Wendy and Jennifer and other members of their family, but it also portrays how important a family business can be to a family, and how challenging it can be to manage the transition to the next generation of leadership.

Wendy and Jennifer are committed to the business, yet, unlike their dad, they want to spend time with their families and set clearer boundaries between home and work.

I hope you enjoy the video, and appreciate the candor of the Yuengling family, and the thoughtful way that Wendy and Jennifer are approaching their dad about the business that has shaped his life for so many years. They respect him tremendously, yet they will likely make different choices as their lives and the business evolve.

The Next Generation of Yuengling Beer via @nytvideo

Ask Amy: When Moving On From the Family Business, How Do I Handle References?

Dear Amy,

I’ve decided to leave my family’s business–an engineering firm. I’ve been there for 5 years, and I’m ready for a change.  I love my dad, who’s my boss, but to be honest, I’m just bored. It’s a small firm, and I’d like to meet new people as well as take on new projects.  Fortunately, my dad understands this and supports my decision.

I worked for another organization for 3 years before I joined the business, and I feel confident about my skills. But I’m stuck on the idea of references. I’m really not comfortable giving my dad’s name as my boss. It seems so juvenile. But I do need to list a few people. I will contact my manager from my old job, but I need a more recent reference.

Any suggestions?


Dear Anne,

Thanks for your very practical question.  It does sound like you’re ready to leave, and that you have skills and expertise that other organizations will value.  Finding references may take a little work, but I’m pretty confident that there are ways you can deal with it.

Here are some of my suggestions:

1) Don’t underestimate the value of having worked in your family’s business.  Undoubtedly you grew up learning about business, which not every engineer does.  So as you present yourself to other firms, I think you emphasize the depth of your experience in both engineering and in business.  The fact that you have prior experience in a non -family firm is also certainly as asset.

2) The reality is that your dad HAS been your boss.  Assuming he understands that you are ready for a new experience, you might coach him about how to handle a conversation with a potential employer.  Your dad can discuss why he hired you, what your responsibilities have been and how you’ve handled them, what he considers your strengths, and what he considers some of the challenges you need to work on.  I’d coach him to be prepared, and to answer questions in a straightforward manner.  If you’ve achieved certain goals or added value in unique ways, you can encourage him to discuss them.  Your dad may be reluctant to talk about your talents-may not want to brag-but he can say something like “speaking as her manager, and not her father”, or something like that.

3) If there are other engineers in the firm who know you’re planning to leave and can serve as an additional reference that might be helpful.

4).  Have you been involved in any volunteer experiences?  Perhaps someone in the community can serve as a reference in addition to a professional reference.

Amy Katz

You are probably your best reference.  Your reasons for seeking a new opportunity are clear and unambiguous, and you have a strong record of work experience.  I have no doubt that you’ll present yourself well, and that your dad and others you’ve worked with give any employer a very positive report.

Good luck!