A View from Blue Grotto

Friday, December 19, 2014

Glass half empty, or glass half full?

I had to laugh when John Davis used the words ‘coping strategies’ in the very first sentence of his article about management styles in family businesses for the November 14 Harvard Business School Working Knowledge newsletter. How appropriate, I thought – because coping strategy is a term often used in dysfunctional families.

What he went on to say in this installment of a series of articles on Managing the Family Business was that the traits of optimism and pessimism are both important to the success of a business. But in a family business, how members of the team react to and respond to these leadership styles is what is important.

It was especially interesting to me, an admitted optimist, to read his thinking on the how the two traits conversely affect everything from operations to strategic planning to investment. Not every family illustrates dysfunction. Many family businesses run smoothly because of their innate ability to balance perceptions and personalities.

In response to a slow economic recovery, Davis writes: “When the news is bad and likely to get worse, a pessimist is your best ally because pessimists thrive on fixing errors.”  There is the need to balance these two traits, too. Davis found, “When testing strategic plans, deploy defensive pessimism, imagining all the things that can go wrong in the future. But when the task requires flexibility and had work toward uncertain goals, build teams with optimists.”

The Working Knowledge series by Davis includes topics of Firing the CEO, Entrepreneurs Needed for Long-Run Success, and designing Leadership Roles for success in your family’s business.

Even though it should not be, leading, managing, and governing a family business is arguably different. Personality traits aside, glass half full or half empty, the operations of family businesses – mom and pops or multinationals – are different from other business structures.

Davis’ articles give reflection to the strengths and capacity of family businesses. The Blue Grotto team has been lucky enough to work with several family-owned and operated businesses. One of the things that fascinates me most about family businesses is that even though, generationally, family members’ perspective – on the business, their industry, innovation, and the changes in things like social media – may be radically different, they share in a commitment to the success of their company and the personal responsibility for the health and livelihoods of their employees, their customers, their vendors, and even the communities in which they operate.

Thank you, to HBS and John Davis for continuing to highlight those strengths and opportunities of family business leaders.

A link to the Pessimism versus Optimism article: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7513.html

I, myself, am a product of family businesses.

My grandfather, George Hammond,

founded St. Paul-based Awards By Hammond

more than 60 years ago.
Email me with your perspectives on the nuanced styles of family business leaders.

As a matter of disclosure, I, myself, am the product of family business leadership. Many generations of my family have served as sole proprietors, opened new businesses, and turned struggling businesses around. And optimism is met with pessimism in any family J.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.