The deadly Covid virus stopped so much momentum in business, and those of us in the family consulting business had to become highly creative. I think that the necessary hustle is a positive and in some ways—a reset. Recovery from this life-altering challenge has many faces. I just had occasion to see some familiar behavior traits I’ve witnessed many times over the years. I’d like to share what I have seen as the four most prevalent character situations that can cause successful executives to self-destruct after great achievements. Here are four “A” words to be “a”ware of.
Keeping body and soul together for the family business was hard, but the legacy enterprise made it through and is back on track. The family matriarch/patriarch is grateful and proud. Sometimes that gratitude turns into “I navigated us through these hard times. I am such a god!” Bad sign. This attitude makes it hard for the leader to listen to others, to be called to account for any reason, and to approach with suggestions. Family business consultants may be called in for such a situation, and often the other family business participants can’t/won’t describe the nature of the issue. It will be up to us to diagnose the problem than to offer solutions. Often we are the ones, as outsiders, paid to try to “talk this person down” from his or her lofty self-opinion. Time and progress can be lost if the family leader decides to take time to preen on a pedestal of their own making. Nor does it help in outside business relations.
IT is a story old as time. A family business leader experiences strong success. Good decisions and bold actions have proved lucrative. Put on the shades: the future looks bright! Perhaps a dalliance is a fitting reward. I think of Army General David Petreus. Jack Welch. Jeff Bezos. Members of royal families for centuries. Foolish politicians and television personalities, outed by today’s social media magnifying glass. It still happens and it can endanger the stability of a family business while things get sorted out. Affairs can come with the arrogance born of success. Be aware.
I hope that the word itself strikes fear in all our hearts. Anyone can fall prey to addiction. It can be an addiction to power, food, drugs, speed, acquiring things, alcohol, thrills, athletic feats. Addiction can be physical or mental. If having or doing or feeling a certain way becomes an obsession, other facets of normal life will fall away. Addiction is the ultimate self-indulgence, even though any recovered addict will say self-indulgence was never their original intention. Addiction can follow in the slow-down after great heights have been reached. The achiever is not willing to give up the distractions that are a part of striving to overcome obstacles. They often look for continued excitement to the point of self-destruction through addictions.
For today’s highly driven leaders, adventure in its most challenging form has become an “A” word to watch out for. After the usual accolades that come with innovative and financial success, what is the next frontier? “I know! I will train some and then climb Mt. Everest. I can pay a small army of people to go with me. Then I will be back in the limelight and everyone can see that I am exceptional all around. What could go wrong?” I can think of several real-life examples of self-destructive adventures that successful family business leaders have tried in the wake of remarkable industry achievement. It seems that after the conquest of enterprise, the need to conquer natural phenomena can follow. That last one often can’t end well, but it can be a lesson in humility.
Achievement is a worthy goal with a rich reward. But this positive “A” word can also have another side to the coin. Now that countries are moving toward whatever our new normal will be, I am also giddy with relief and grateful to have made it. We should all want to continue to overcome adversity and then thrive in its aftermath. As we rise, though, let’s continue to understand that there will be other challenges. We have lived to fight another day, so be mindful of the “A” words that can hinder our advancement.
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 navigating their way through every imaginable family business issue. He is the author of The Little Red Book of Family Business and the online course, Re-Imagining Relationships for Families in Business. For more information about David Bork, visit FamilyBusinessMatters.Consulting.