When the Family Business Owner Needs a Psychologist. (Or his kids, partners, attorney think he does)…

As a psychologist working in this space for over 25 years, I’ve learned how difficult it often is for a family advisor – attorney, banker, accountant – to introduce a psychologist into a family business. It’s a delicate matter, one requiring tact, diplomacy, impeccable timing, a real understanding of the business’ needs and a strong belief that the understanding of oneself and one’s relationships with others is central to success in business.

Part of the problem is the commonly held assumption that behavioral consulting requires the family business owner to admit he has a problem, something that’s tough for anyone to do, let alone the person who’s been leading – and has often created – a successful business enterprise. So I don’t even go there: the business owner need not “admit” emotional weakness, nor be forced to face what he prefers to avoid. Because even if one could overcome such resistance, it sets up an initial relationship based on taking sides: right/wrong, argue/defend, consultant/business owner.

Far better, in my experience, to engage a psychologist who understands business in general, the business in question in particular. One who is able to admit what s/he doesn’t understand, to ask questions, to learn. Far better to focus not on fixing emotional problems but on helping the business owner increase organizational effectiveness, by utilizing state of the art behavioral psychology research and methods. Far better to focus on problem solving, ridding the organization of obstacles to profitability, considering new approaches and ways of looking at longstanding unresolved concerns the owner brings to the attention of the advisor. When the focus is on the business problem, rather than the business owner’s problem, when the psychologist views herself as a resource rather than the expert, and when she can translate psychological insight into real business terms,  well, then you’ve got a fighting chance of helping a family firm transition profitably into the next generation – and still want to see one another at the Thanksgiving table!


Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.


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