The family business bosshole ratio

Family businesses have a low threshhold for bossholes

With each conversation I have with family business leaders, I learn something new on my journey to family business enlightenment. Values are important to you. Values are the underpinnings to your success. You revisit them every so often. You do the right thing by your employees and you all give back to your communities with gusto. You lead your teams with inspiration and clarity and you are transparent about challenges. Innovation is key to your goals. You listen and encourage new ideas.

I mostly agree with this, since I not only cover the world of family business but have always worked for family businesses (except for a stint at a kludged-together PE-backed media company, which eventually imploded, as PE-backed media companies frequently do).

I like working for family businesses. I really do. There’s a built-in trust that you don’t find at other types of companies. At least that’s been my experience, but I’ve always had good bosses. I’ve only had one bosshole at a family business over the course of my career in media, which is a good ratio of boss-to-bosshole.

Every once in a while, when I interview a non-family employee or a key manager at a family business, I hear a different perspective than I get from a family CEO or shareholder. It’s not always rainbows and bunny rabbits. Employees often have a different take on stuff that goes on at a company, which is to be expected. But overall, most employees of family business are content because their goals are clear and they believe in the mission.

A high-level marketing person once told me during a job interview at a family business, “Let me be honest. It’s a great brand. It will be around a long time after we’re gone. But, it’s a family business, so it’s weird.” That quote stuck with me throughout my tenure at the company. She was right, it was weird. It was an insular and incurious culture. I’ve spent a lot of time since then trying to figure out why, and I’ve landed on the fact that the organization did not have a board of directors or a board of advisers. There was no accountability and no innovation. No values to anchor the place. Bossholes roamed the halls freely doing bosshole things.

This happens in a lot in startups, too.  Founders get too big for their britches (Elizabeth Holmes, I’m talking to you), have no accountability and are launched into the badlands of bossholedom. It’s not a good place to be, and it seems pretty lonely.

The thing that sets family businesses apart from the rest of the business world has a lot to do with the clear establishment of values and the effectiveness of a good board of directors and advisers. It’s a key differentiator. These softer sciences are what make the ratio of bossholes to bosses relatively low in this community. My experience is 1:5. Good math.

That is something we should all celebrate. Good leaders, good companies make.




Amy C. Cosper

What's your bosshole policy? Let me know

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