Family Ties

How your relationships at home can help (or hurt) your business.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the April 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

If you're having trouble relating to your colleagues, some objective self-analysis may reveal that you have a similar problem in your relationships with your spouse or children. In particular, says Annmarie Neal, a senior consultant in the office of consulting firm RHR International, how you control your children may mirror how you exert control over your employees. Because tends to be consistent across settings, Neal says paying attention to how you function both at and away from work can help you uncover problems and even help you become a better boss.

"The closer the dynamics are to the business, the more important it is to pay attention to those issues," Neal says. "In a large company, the boundaries are a lot clearer because the processes and structures of the business keep those boundaries intact. In smaller organizations, family dynamics inevitably emerge because we're not clear on our business boundaries."

Neal suggests using the following questions to identify your strengths and potential problem areas. In addition to answering the questions yourself, solicit feedback from your family members and co-workers.

  • How is your similar to and different from your parenting style?
  • How are your work relationships similar to and different from your sibling relationships?
  • How is the role you play in your family similar to and different from roles you play in peer groups at work?
  • Do your bad habits play themselves out at work as well as at home?
  • Do you react toward people at work in ways you don't understand? If so, do these people remind you of any family members?

Often, the process of identifying and articulating a problem will also provide the solution. If it doesn't, you may want to consider seeing a counselor with expertise in workplace issues. If your actions don't seem to be doing much good in either environment, start practicing new behaviors at home, where you likely feel safer; when you're ready, you can transfer them to your workplace.

Wanted: CEO

It may be your company, but that doesn't mean you have to run it.

The title on Phyllis Jordan's business card reads "Director of Marketing"--and that's just the way the founder of PJ's Coffee & Tea Co. in New Orleans wants it.

Twenty years after she opened her first store, Jordan decided to hire a CEO, a position she'd held from the beginning. "The most immediate impetus was my former director of marketing leaving. At that point, I realized that was the job I really wanted," she explains. "But there was no way I could do it and maintain my role as CEO."

She also realized her rapidly growing company needed a level of executive ability she didn't have. "I have lots of ambition for the company. I want it to grow and grow well," she says. "Given the competitive environment we're in, I'm probably not the right person [for the job of CEO]."

Now she has someone else running the company on a daily basis, doing the tasks she doesn't particularly like, while she's free to focus on what she enjoys and does well. She's retained her position as chairman of the board and taken over the marketing position. She meets formally with the CEO once a month, but they communicate on a casual basis several times a day. Sales are up, systems are being streamlined, and Jordan has never been happier.

Jordan says the key to successfully hiring a CEO is to find someone you trust. "You have to be able to give them the authority to do their jobs," she says, "then you have to hold them accountable for their success or failure."

Smart Cookies Still Crumble

The five mistakes CEOs make.

You must be a pretty good leader--after all, you're the founder and owner of a successful business. But that doesn't mean you're not susceptible to temptations that can affect your ability to run your company. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Temptations of a CEO (Jossey-Bass) and president of The Table Group, an Emeryville, California, consulting firm, explains the temptations CEOs face and how to deal with them:

1. Making status more important than results. Sometimes it's easier to be content with where you are than to focus on the future. Lencioni advises, "Explicitly and publicly state the results necessary for you to call yourself successful. Once you put them out there, it will be hard to slip back into a subjective, status-oriented attitude."

2.Valuing your popularity with employees more than their accountability. In many organizations, especially small companies, the staff becomes the owner's primary social outlet. "You're the CEO, and you hire people you like. You work all the time, so you don't really have a chance to meet people, and your employees become your default friends," Lencioni says. Then when it comes time to hold them accountable, you hesitate." The solution, he says, is to develop strong relationships outside of work, so you don't depend too heavily on the friendships you develop at work.

3. Putting off timely decisions to wait for more information. "Analytical executives do this," Lencioni says. "Every time they're faced with a tough choice, they say `Let's get more data.'" The results of putting off decisions can often be more damaging than making decisions with less-than-complete information. Lencioni suggests giving yourself clear, public deadlines for making key decisions--and then forcing yourself to meet those deadlines.

4. Preserving harmony rather than welcoming productive conflict. "A lot of executives don't like to watch their people argue and get passionate about things," Lencioni notes. "But you want people to care about the business like it's their own, so [if it's constructive], don't stifle them when they start to feel passionate and have discord."

5. Avoiding vulnerability rather than earning trust. CEOs often believe they'll lose credibility if employees feel too comfortable challenging them, but Lencioni says just the opposite is true. "The greatest leaders in the world are trusted by their people because they've seen them at their weakest," he says. "Expose yourself to situations where you're clearly not the expert or power broker. Attend meetings or take part in organizations where you're not the leader."

To Err Is Human...

But to try something new is seldom a mistake.

When testing new products or entering new markets, mistakes are inevitable. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, says Jeff Raim, a business coach and president of Empowered Inc. in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. "Mistakes are an absolutely necessary part of being successful," he contends. "What you want to do, if you're going to try something new, is to make sure you can cover the downside risk. The upside will take care of itself."

Raim offers this example: Say you want to invest in a new piece of equipment. You calculate the cost of buying and operating it, and estimate the additional profits you expect it to generate. If the profits are more than the costs, making the purchase seems like a wise move. But what happens if you're wrong and for whatever reason--changes in the market, problems with manufacturing and distribution, or any of a number of other situations--the anticipated revenue is not as great as you thought it would be? "You have to know in advance what you're going to do if your expectations aren't realized," says Raims. "If you can still handle the cost of the equipment, then you'll be able to move forward with your plans without being distracted by fear."

And what if you can't handle the downside of whatever it is you want to try? Raim suggests looking for alternatives. "Try it on a [smaller] scale, one where you can handle the consequences. Instead of buying the piece of equipment, consider leasing it or finding a subcontractor that will actually perform the service for you. You may pay a higher per-unit cost, giving you less gross profit, but you don't have the downside risk if it doesn't work."

The key is not to let fear of mistakes hold you back from being innovative, Raim says. "If you can't cover the downside with your initial plan," he says, "then find another way to do it. There's always another way."

Contact Sources

Empowered Management Inc., (800) 437-0764,

PJ's Coffee & Tea Co., (504) 486-2827,

RHR International, 1700 Broadway, #1110, , CO 80290, (303) 839-1130


More from Entrepreneur

Get heaping discounts to books you love delivered straight to your inbox. We’ll feature a different book each week and share exclusive deals you won’t find anywhere else.
Jumpstart Your Business. Entrepreneur Insider is your all-access pass to the skills, experts, and network you need to get your business off the ground—or take it to the next level.
Are you paying too much for business insurance? Do you have critical gaps in your coverage? Trust Entrepreneur to help you find out.

Latest on Entrepreneur