I have never been shy about stating that “families can be messy.” Learning about the need for boundaries is a launch into a messy category, messy because it doesn’t cleanly fit in a simple category yet seems to permeate everything. Family business relationships are messy largely because boundaries are not known or are not clearly established and respected. Boundaries are my second Pillar that supports the family business platform.

The boundaries I reference are:

  • Personal – your personal space
  • Emotional – your emotional space
  • Mental – your mental well-being
  • Material – use of your property
  • Physical – violation of your physical person
  • Spiritual – your freedom to believe as you wish

When it comes to family, a refusal to honor boundaries may be symptomatic of classic co-dependence. Look at the two sides of that dynamic like this:

  • When someone else is pinched and you say “Ouch!”, you may be co-dependent.
  • When you take responsibility for another person’s happiness, and you can’t be happy until you do everything in your power to assure that the other person is happy, you may be co-dependent.  When you allow others to step on your boundaries and allow them to manipulate you with their destructive behavior patterns, you may be co-dependent. 
  • When you allow someone else to tell you who you are or who you “should” be, you may be co-dependent.

My advice to family members on this:

“Don’t let anyone ‘Should’ on You.” 

As you go through Re-Imagining Relationships For Families In Business, my self-study course based on all my years of experience, you’ll see how certain truths about working together to sustain a family business set this particular kind of enterprise apart from other types of jobs.

The single most important issue in family business, above all the other important ones, is boundaries. Failure to establish and adhere to proper boundaries is the cause of more disruption than any other issue.

What To Do About This?

It is easy to draw an organizational chart of who reports to whom, who is accountable for what, and how each person will be evaluated. However, it’s a mistake to make the chart and think that it will work because it is on paper. What needs to happen is an educational process within the family, so the various roles and boundaries between those roles are well understood, respected, and honored.

Once you have all agreed to the importance of boundaries, and after all are content to respect and honor them, then you will need to be ready when someone crosses those lines. This situation will require some serious and masterful communications, and Communications is my third Pillar for sustaining a successful family business. I’ll give you some insight in my next blog.

David Bork is an internationally-acclaimed family business consultant, author, and speaker with five decades of experience providing guidance to over 500 family business enterprises. A pioneer in the industry, David brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the many challenges of running a successful family business and has assisted families in charting their way through every imaginable family business issue. He is the author of The Little Red Book of Family Business and just published the online course, Re-Imagining Relationships for Families in Business. For more information about David Bork, visit FamilyBusinessMatters.Consulting.