How “Baggage Mis-handling” wastes time in Founder/Successor relationships

by IdeaTransfer on May 22, 2011

Baggage Mishandling might appear to be mainly a family succession issue, but we’ve seen it in founder/protégé relationships as well.  There are two phrases that signal the problem.

Things start as a dialogue but suddenly a lot of emotional baggage spills out.  W we hear is, “You always…!” or “You never…!”  With the accusations come denials and a lot of heat.

In our experience most of the baggage has accumulated because of false assumptions or habitual behaviors that have taken on a life of their own over the years.  They are essentially innocent mistakes, but they grind on the succession plan like a cement saw.

Whatever the sources, there will be no resolution until founder and successor start talking.  At the very least they have to acknowledge the discord and stop the denial reactions.  Maybe from there they can learn accept and even tolerate what they only reacted emotionally to.  With time and talk there is hope that they will eventually see themselves from the other’s perspective.

The chances of achieving any of those goals are greatly enhanced by including a neutral but sensitive third party with skills to facilitate.  In our experience, moving from mutual rigidity to a solid working relationship is not as hard as it sounds.  There is always a breakthrough moment to come.  But without the outside eyes and ears it is easy to pass it by.

The fallback position can be workable but never as satisfying.  It’s the Godfather maxim.  “It’s not personal, it’s business.”  No matter what the Corleones claimed, their solutions were very personal.  However, consider how many successful business partnerships you know that have made it through decades.  Yet the partners are totally different and aren’t even friends outside the business.  What they do have is mutual respect.  And that can be enough.

The keystone for both approaches is to establish shared goals for the future of the business.  With shared goals neither party can win if the other party loses.  And from that principle mutual respect grows and a lot of that baggage can be put in permanent storage.

If you—all founders and successors reading this—have an experience the rest of us can learn from, please submit a reply.  We need to learn the lessons you’ve learned and the sooner the better.

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