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Family Business—Stepping Out of Your Predecessor’s Shadow

| July 06, 2018
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At one time or another, many small businesses experience a transition in leadership. Typically, a family member or other close associate takes over after years of apprenticeship. This transition is usually the culmination of a succession plan that outlines the original, or previous, owner’s intent for the future leadership of the company. 

However, even with a conscious and deliberate succession plan, a successor may find it difficult to assert his or her vision for the company’s future to employees. Suddenly, the successor, who has an understanding of the products and services offered by the business, must delve into new territory—sole responsibility for the operations and management of the business. 

If you have recently found yourself assuming control of a closely held business, or if you anticipate taking the reins in the future, here are some suggestions that may help you to “hit the ground running”: 

Gain support of other owners. If you expect your predecessor or other owners to continue to exercise authority after you take control, get their support for your business plan from the start. Agreeing on goals now will help provide a solid basis for your future operating decisions. 

Hire for the future. Let the business’s long-term interests guide your hiring decisions. Once you have determined your vision for the company, as well as your business strategy, hire employees that best fit your future plans. 

Develop your own management style. Assemble a compatible team that supports your management style and can help you move toward your goals more effectively. Choose managers who will challenge you and voice their own opinions. They may prompt you to come up with new ideas and innovative strategies that could benefit the company. 

Act now with confidence. Even if you have a controlling interest in the company, you may feel like a junior partner when surrounded by veteran employees. However, try to be proactive instead of reactive. Once you know the action you need to take, move forward. The sooner you assume a leadership role, the sooner your confidence (and that of those around you) will grow. 

Treat past contributors with respect. Be careful about making drastic moves such as replacing the entire management team at once. Experienced members can be valuable resources as you chart your future course. But you may come to realize that some managers no longer have the necessary qualities and skills to propel the company in a new direction. If this is the case, treat them with dignity and respect. Appreciate their energy and wisdom by relying on them as mentors. If you must replace some managers, consider generous severance packages to allow them to leave the company with recognition for their past contributions. 

Mentor your staff. If you were mentored by your predecessor or company managers, continue the tradition. In addition to creating a qualified peer group, mentoring can also help you develop new talent you are confident about and who may become candidates for your management team. 

Accept your mistakes. Running a company means making multiple decisions; this may lead to making a few mistakes. Remember, it is better to take action to remedy a situation than to procrastinate out of fear. The trick is to learn from your mistakes and move on. 

Stepping out of your predecessor’s shadow may be a challenging experience. While he or she may have shown great confidence in you, you may still have a lot to learn. Following these tips will help you earn respect as you take on the responsibilities of new leadership.

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