During the past few weeks of Olympic fever you probably saw that very sweet ad for P&G-the one showing adorable babies and little kids on skates and skis, jumping and falling and getting up again….with their mothers picking them up and cheering them on.
Often mothers do cheer us on. But when you’re working with or for your mom, adult to adult, it may not be as easy for her or for you to support each other. At least that’s what several of you have told me in the past few weeks.
There’s a fairly well known stereotype about mothers in family business that family business advisors often describe. They call mothers or wives “the CEOs of a family business”-meaning, the “Chief Emotional Officers”. It’s probably true that mothers often spend a lot of time attending to the feelings of their kids and employees working in the business. And you may play that role as well…it’s an important one.
But I’m hearing a different theme from some of you…that your mothers are controlling, unwilling to let go, and reluctant to let you (or your siblings) take over leadership roles. On the one hand, the concerns you’re sharing indicate that women have more influence as leaders in family businesses than ever before. And that they are showing some of the behaviors that are typically attributed to male owners who are reluctant to think about succession planning. On the other hand, there’s a degree of tension and conflict at work that is difficult for some of you to handle.
There is not one answer to this challenge, for your mothers are unique individuals and so are you. Perhaps what I can offer right now is the suggestion that you consider having a new and different conversation with your mom. In other words, that you think carefully about the key messages you want her to hear. Put yourself in her shoes and try to understand what she might be feeling at this stage of her life and her career. It may surprise you, but any transition for you means a transition for her, and managing changes in our lives is rarely simple.
Frame that conversation in some way. Find a nice place, outside of work, where both of you feel comfortable. Let her know that you want to have a “serious and important” conversation with her. Let her know how you much you appreciate her, and how much you value her contributions to the business. And then, gently and firmly, tell her how important it is for both of you to change the way you work together….for her sake, for your sake, and for the ongoing success of your family’s legacy.
It may help to keep the image of your mom picking you up and taking care of you when you were a child in your mind. And remembering the times she cheered you on. She may need some cheering, too.