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!



Ask Amy: When Confidence Can Seem Like Arrogance

Dear Amy,

The thing I have been struggling with the most has been the misinterpretation of my intentions.  I am not in a position of authority within my family business at this time, however, it is known and recognized that that is my father’s plan. Our family business is in its 102nd year of business with 3 current partners. I am a potential successor along with my eldest cousin who became a partner as of last year and his brother who will begin the buy-in process as of the first of the year.  We will make up the 4th generation of owning the family business/farm.  As the youngest member of the 4th generation and only girl born after 10 boys, I will be the youngest partner and first woman to ever have had a stake in the company.

My parents raised me in a way to never doubt my capabilities. They pushed me to be strong, physically and mentally and I was never granted an excuse because I was “just a girl.” This mentality helped develop my confident and assertive nature. My spirited attitude, to put it nicely, and small stature often surprises people when we meet.

While some find me amusing, I struggle with certain family members or long standing employees confusing my ambition and confidence for wanting authority or power over them. I also know that my talent lies in office operations.  New ways to improve accuracy, increase effectiveness, and solving complications are always racing through my thoughts.  I am sometimes unable to shut my mind off to it and find myself researching solutions late into the night.

I know that my confidence can seem like arrogance, and that is what I’m trying to work on.  I am not always able to put into words the “racing” thoughts I have. I’m hoping for a new communication method that will help me present myself and my ideas more effectively. I know that I have a lot to learn about our industry yet and am certainly not perfect.

I apologize for the lengthy response!  And I thank you in advance for your guidance – I am excited to get started on this journey!


Dear Chloe,

What a thoughtful and insightful description of the challenges and opportunities ahead of you! And how wonderful that your parents have instilled such confidence in you and your abilities.

You are truly a pioneer. It will take some time for your male partners to appreciate your skills and to treat you as the competent and thoughtful leader you are prepared to be. The risk, as you know, is that you will be seen as “cute” or, to use your word, “amusing”.

I’ve written before about the importance of “executive presence”, and that will be something for you to work on, as it is for so many daughters.  But developing it requires a unique solution for each woman. Since you’ve mentioned your “racing thoughts” and your eagerness to “research solutions-in the middle of the night! -I’d start there.

Perhaps the best thing I can suggest to you right now is to slow down, way down.  Sometimes in their eagerness to prove their worth, daughters feel that they have to move quickly to demonstrate their value to the business.  As a result, they can come across as “always correcting” everything and/or as “out of touch” with the systems and processes that have helped the business achieve success over time.  So take the time to learn, to ask questions of long-term employees, and to show your respect for their work.

Another thing I’d suggest is to carefully and clearly let your partners know that you would like to focus on operations.  It’s great that you know where your interests are.  That will help you define your role, at least for awhile.  And in a partnership, that role definition is crucial.

So…slow down.  I find that sometimes even when I’m excited about something, my excitement can become a source of stress to me and to others.  You may find that

Amy Katz

meditation or deep breathing exercises a helpful way for you to slow down, take your time, and develop a bit more “gravitas”.  That will be an asset as you learn to convey your authority, calmly and confidently.

The good news is that you’re already aware of the impact of your behavior and your “presence”.  Now all you have to do is make that awareness work for you.  You’ll have lots of time to make a difference…”go slow to go fast”.



Ask Amy – Dealing with difficult decisions

As a leader in a family business, you will undoubtedly struggle with difficult decisions that affect you, your family, and the business. Here are a few that I hear about:

Do I have a right to take a longer maternity leave than other employees?

Would I hire a family member who doesn’t have the skills and experience to do the job?

How do I balance the needs of the business with my obligation to my parents if they ask me for money?

Will I destroy my family’s legacy if I decide to sell our business?

How should I handle requests for days off for religious observances if the business really needs people on the job?

Can I fire someone who is the sole support of his/her family?

Will I be abandoning those who depend upon me if I decide that I can’t continue in a leadership role?

These are challenging questions for many women as they take on significant responsibilities in their family’s business. In most cases, these questions do not easily lend themselves to quick yes or no answers. They require deep thinking and deep feeling, the capacity to consider a range of possible scenarios, the ability to empathize with many points of view, and, perhaps most important, the belief that you can live with whatever decision you make.

This “wrestling” with oneself is one of the toughest parts of leadership. I’d like to suggest that one of the most important leadership skills you can cultivate right now, is your capacity to tolerate uncertainty. We handle uncertainty in different ways. Some women talk to their spouses, friends or trusted advisors; others meditate and allow their own answers to emerge through the process. Some have hobbies that tap their creativity and provide distraction; others develop project plans with milestones and timeframes as a way to think things through. There is no one way to tolerate the uncertainty that comes with the responsibility to make a difficult decision.  

What works for you? You might want to think about tough decisions you’ve had to make in the past, how you approached them, what was helpful, and what wasn’t. Or, you may find rehearsing helpful. Consider the kinds of issues that might arise over the next few years that will force you to confront your values, your ethics, and your moral standards. While you can’t predict the future, you can certainly start to envision the situations that you know will require some kind of “wrestling”.

Amy Katz

The important thing is to be prepared…to develop your ability to handle uncertainty–so your coping methods are available to you when you need them.

All the best,