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,


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