Family can be tough. Wonderful, but tough.

For many of you, the statement may end there: yep, family is family. It's a joy and a challenge. There you have it. But for others, there may be an additional phrase to add:

Especially when you work with them.

If you are lucky enough to operate a family-owned business, are navigating a business partnership with a relative, or are considering the process of transitioning a business to a family member when the time comes, you know that family relationships can take on an additional dimension when they mingle with the business world. It's a dimension that adds room for both more of the beauty and more of the difficulty.

Faith Driven Entrepreneur recently published a blog post by Jerry Meek, who shared his core values for working with a family business partner to transition the business to his son. For Meek, he credits four main components for his successful partnership with his son so far: a foundation of trust, communication (including an openness to the hard conversations!), a mutual desire to see the business thrive, and attitudes of humility and service.

We were also recently lucky to hear from Case Dorman, Chairman of Jack Stack Barbecue, who shared some additional pieces of wisdom based on his experiences with both sides of the family business succession process:

  • Be courageous in speaking the truth in love.
  • Hold regular, business-focused family meetings with rules of engagement and pre-defined family core values at the forefront.
  • Acknowledge that, when it comes to succession, it might not be possible for everyone involved to get what they want – but you can fight to make sure everyone gets what they need.

Keeping the experiences of these two business leaders in mind, we'd like to add a few suggestions to the mix. When navigating a relationship that straddles the family and business worlds, these additional steps can shift the succession process from a minefield into a meaningful, celebratory experience.

Cultivate a non-anxious presence.

This may seem easier said than done, especially when navigating challenges and high-stakes conversations with people you care for dearly. Cultivating a non-anxious presence is a discipline to work at throughout your time as a leader for the benefit of everyone involved, and it really can be done! In a world where stress is contagious, leaders who can project calm under pressure empower those around them to relax, focus, and keep moving forward. Choose to trust that all will be well – focus on listening to those around you – inject a little humor into the conversation – and watch those around you unclench and exhale. (For more tips and reflections on holding fast to a non-anxious presence, check out this blog by our CEO, Dan Cooper!)

Prioritize the souls involved over the roles involved every time.

To borrow some language from our friend Brent Hines, soul comes before role. If you ever find yourself in a heated conversation with a family member over a business issue or doing mechanical calculations regarding business decisions that involve your family – stop. Pause. What are you doing?

What matters more, this project or this person?

In the long run – in the broad scheme of eternity – what is the significance of the soul in front of me vs the issue we're discussing? What's the significance of my soul and our relationship compared to the issue that has us at each other's throats?

Your business is important and deserves to be treated with care, taken seriously, and prioritized. But if you find yourself putting your role as owner or CEO ahead of your soul and your relationship with your family, something is out of balance and needs to be addressed.

If things get tense, use FETCH!

For some, navigating family relationships within a business setting is fairly stress-free – communication is smooth, challenges are rare, and relationships remain unchanged. For others, despite their best intentions, deep-rooted tension bubbles up, and addressing issues can become complicated with both the business and the family's well-being at stake.

FETCH CardHere at Acumen, we have a time-tested tool for tackling tough conversations. Check out our free resource and learn how to address challenging issues collaboratively and with grace and truth at the forefront.

If you are the predecessor in a succession process, let yourself grieve, rest, and look to what's next.

Of course, the end goal of all these hard conversations is a successful and joyful business succession. You will, eventually, hand your family business on to the next generation. And even if you are watching a close family member take the helm, transitioning out of your company's leadership is an ending that needs to be honored. In Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud recommends grieving and metabolizing the experience by deeply breaking down the good and the bad, reflecting and sifting through the whole experience. Given the family link, it may be more of a partial goodbye than a complete severing of the connection, and you can take joy in watching your family member lead the company into a new era but let yourself acknowledge your own loss as well. We'd even recommend writing a eulogy to the business as it was during your time as leader!

You'll only be able to let yourself take a break once the change has been processed. And maybe, for you, that time of rest will be where it stops – perhaps you're done, and that's great! Or, if you're like many on the Acumen team, you'll find yourself thinking: What's next? How will God continue to use me to impact this world? (Sound like you? Consider becoming a Growth Catalyst).

Navigating the tensions and gifts of a family business is just one of the many unique challenges so many business owners and CEOs face today. What challenges are you currently engaged with? Looking for a group of peers who've been there? That's what we're all about. Take a look at what others are saying about our impactful Council Experience, and begin your journey with Acumen today!