Leadership within a family business

Strong leadership is vital for any company to succeed - and even more so within a family business, explains Mishal Kanoo

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By  Mishal Kanoo Published  July 2, 2006

|~||~||~|Strong leadership is vital for any company to succeed - and even more so within a family business, explains Mishal Kanoo Everyone talks about leadership, but no one can really pinpoint what it is. What family businesses need is a certain leadership style — that of an open, charismatic, benevolent autocrat who empathises with the family but is fair and just with all. One might argue that education is also needed. I would counter that by saying ‘not necessarily’, if the leader is willing to allow those with the knowledge to share it and benefit everyone. Openness is key, as secrecy is the enemy of a leader. Any leader who is not willing to empower others and be candid with his or her subordinates is bound to fail. Not to inform other family members about spending and budgetary issues can only have a negative effect on them, because they won’t know what is expected of them. The family needs to know that nothing is secret from one another. Otherwise, the bond of trust can be broken and chaos will eventually ensue. Charisma is important because the leader must gather people around him/her rather than frighten them off. It makes the rest of the family trust him or her to lead them forward. This bond of trust is important for a leader to have because it allows the rest to move with confidence, and with the knowledge that the person at the helm is someone who knows or at least appears to know what he or she is doing. For a family business, both the family and the business need this. Benevolence is important because the family can rely on getting a fair share of the true benefits of what the family business is reaping. Generosity is always admired. This generosity is not just in the financial sense, but even in the care, consideration and encouragement that the leader bestows on the led. Sometimes a few words could influence people to do more than any financial reward could. There is an Arabic saying, that the stingy are not serviced. This is self-explanatory. Also, I would like to remind family business leaders that they can’t take the money with them. A leader must be a decision maker. Anyone who wants to lead or be in a position of responsibility must be willing to take decisions. I have come across too many business leaders who seem to make decisions by not making a decision. This is extremely adverse and detrimental for any business, because the subordinator looks at the leader to make decisions they can’t make. A sense of decisiveness is important for a leader, and no one is more inclined to decisiveness than an autocrat. To be able to empathise is so important for a leader in a family business, because it is not only a financial issue but also a blood issue. These people that he or she is leading are his or her kin. He or she must feel for them and understand why the issue matters to them. Family relations should weigh as much as financial ones because they are dealing with the human aspect here. If you want to know why family businesses fail, it is usually because of succession planning, or should I say a lack of it, and conflicts between members of the family. Usually succession planning is not discussed because justice and fairness are not meted out properly within the family, causing rifts. A good leader needs to be aware of this and be vigilant. He or she must also be the first to remedy the situation, not along the lines of emotional attachment but rather along the lines of fairness. This might not be well liked by all, but all will respect this and all will tow the family line. Leadership is what binds a family together in a family business. The leader will often be remembered, whether he or she is successful or unsuccessful, not by his or her intentions but his or her actions. Leaders are expected to lead. This can be done from the forefront such as leaders like Sam Walton who grabbed an opportunity when no one else did. Or it can be done in the background, such as within my family where my Uncle Mohamed gave his cousin, my Uncle Ahmed the freedom to accomplish all that he did. Leadership comes in many styles but it needs to be done. Mishal Kanoo is the deputy chairman of the Kanoo Group.||**||

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