Leadership Careers Apr 4, 2016

Why Lead­ers Should Nur­ture Their Social – Emo­tion­al Intelligence”

These four skills can dif­fuse con­flict, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in fam­i­ly businesses.

Yevgenia Nayberg

Based on insights from

Brooke Vuckovic

Fam­i­ly firms that span gen­er­a­tions have at least one built-in advan­tage: peo­ple who grow up liv­ing and breath­ing a busi­ness may one day step into man­age­ment roles with a depth of knowl­edge, com­mit­ment, and per­spec­tive that is tough to come by any oth­er way.

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But this does not mean lead­ing a fam­i­ly busi­ness is con­flict-free. In fact, accord­ing to Brooke Vuck­ovic, an adjunct lec­tur­er of lead­er­ship coach­ing and co-aca­d­e­m­ic direc­tor of the Lead­ing Fam­i­ly Enter­pris­es exec­u­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram at the Kel­logg School, the poten­tial for stress and dra­ma can be magnified.

All lead­ers deal with con­flict, but it’s a dif­fer­ent order of con­flict when it’s between you and your moth­er, father, or broth­er-in-law,” Vuck­ovic says. Giv­en the his­to­ry, com­plex­i­ty, and inti­ma­cy of fam­i­ly ties, typ­i­cal busi­ness con­flict becomes more fraught.”

With this in mind, it is espe­cial­ly impor­tant — for both cur­rent lead­ers and their suc­ces­sors — to fos­ter social and emo­tion­al intel­li­gence in them­selves and across their orga­ni­za­tions. Social – emo­tion­al intel­li­gence usu­al­ly refers to four key com­pe­ten­cies: self-aware­ness, self-man­age­ment, social aware­ness, and rela­tion­ship management.

Because they can­not com­part­men­tal­ize work, fam­i­ly, and per­son­al rela­tion­ships, there’s a unique and height­ened emo­tion­al agili­ty that’s required of fam­i­ly-enter­prise lead­ers,” Vuck­ovic says. Focus­ing on these com­pe­ten­cies can help lead­ers build the emo­tion­al agili­ty their roles demand.”

Learn more about Kellogg’s Lead­ing Fam­i­ly Enter­pris­es exec­u­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram here.

Self-Aware­ness: Get Beyond the Plaque on the Wall

One of the advan­tages of a fam­i­ly busi­ness is that suc­ces­sors have a lived expe­ri­ence of the busi­ness well before they play a sig­nif­i­cant role,” Vuck­ovic says. It’s been incul­cat­ed in them, and they pick up a nuanced understanding.”

But suc­ces­sors also face the pres­sure of liv­ing up to expec­ta­tions or being com­pared with pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tions. In a fam­i­ly busi­ness, when you look around, that’s not just a plaque on the wall — that’s your grand­fa­ther,” Vuck­ovic says. And it isn’t always easy liv­ing with the sense that a fam­i­ly lega­cy is at stake.”

The key to nav­i­gat­ing these pres­sures is self-aware­ness. New fam­i­ly lead­ers must first iden­ti­fy their strengths and inter­ests and fig­ure out how to use these assets to con­tribute to the enter­prise. Whether or not their lead­er­ship style dif­fers from that of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion — in terms of charis­ma, for exam­ple — it is impor­tant for them to empha­size that the company’s core val­ues — and its cul­ture — will remain sta­ble. For instance, a fam­i­ly leader might call on a long, ven­er­a­ble his­to­ry of inno­va­tion” as she push­es for expan­sion into new ter­ri­to­ry. This makes room for her vision, while link­ing her plans firm­ly to the com­pa­ny — and fam­i­ly — history.

Fam­i­ly lead­ers must also build self-aware­ness based on the per­cep­tions of oth­ers. This means hav­ing open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions about per­for­mance. Fam­i­ly mem­bers are noto­ri­ous­ly not giv­en the feed­back they need,” Vuck­ovic says. Some­times, even if there are robust per­for­mance appraisal sys­tems in place, fam­i­ly mem­bers are exempt­ed from them, which can lead to neg­a­tive perceptions.

In this case, using a sim­ple 360-assess­ment instru­ment can be very effective.

The trick with feed­back is not just to seek it, but to receive it gra­cious­ly and respond to it,” Vuck­ovic says. Fam­i­ly lead­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, must make it safe for oth­ers to give them feed­back. Receiv­ing feed­back with a neu­tral par­ty in an envi­ron­ment where they feel safe, is crit­i­cal.” This allows fam­i­ly lead­ers to take per­spec­tive and decide how best to adapt.

Self-Man­age­ment: Map Out the Landmines

In a fam­i­ly busi­ness, there are more emo­tion­al land­mines,” Vuck­ovic says. It helps to cre­ate a map of sit­u­a­tions where your roles as fam­i­ly mem­ber, share­hold­er, and oper­at­ing leader may col­lide — one that alerts you of the areas to tread care­ful­ly and to set your inten­tions in advance.”

The poten­tial for con­flict with­in a fam­i­ly busi­ness makes it impor­tant for lead­ers to learn to rec­og­nize, plan for, and deesca­late their own neg­a­tive emo­tions. Specif­i­cal­ly, lead­ers should mas­ter their own trig­gers” and signs.”

Trig­gers” are the peo­ple, sce­nar­ios, and top­ics that have the poten­tial to set us off. Trig­gers can range from the aunt who pub­li­cal­ly sec­ond guess­es you at fam­i­ly gath­er­ings to the cousin who rarely shows up for work, to the hand­ful of top­ics such as div­i­dends, fam­i­ly employ­ment pol­i­cy, or board com­po­si­tion, that reli­ably get a rise out of you in dis­cus­sions with oth­er man­agers or fam­i­ly members.

Signs” are the phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of neg­a­tive emo­tions, such as anger, frus­tra­tion, or disappointment.

Does your jaw clench? Your face flush? Do you col­lapse into a defeat­ed pos­ture? The more aware you are of these signs, the more like­ly you are to catch your­self before you react in a way that you won’t be proud of,” says Vuck­ovic. Rec­og­niz­ing these signs in your­self allows you to take the time and space need­ed to respond — rather than react — to the sit­u­a­tion at hand.

It isn’t always easy liv­ing with the sense that a fam­i­ly lega­cy is at stake.”

Of course, this is sound advice for a leader of any busi­ness. But there is a ten­den­cy in fam­i­ly busi­ness­es to for­get about the impor­tance of non­ver­bal cues. While we may be cau­tious about rais­ing our voice when deal­ing with non­fam­i­ly mem­bers, some­times, those guards are low­ered and peo­ple get slop­py when it comes to deal­ing with rel­a­tives,” Vuck­ovic says. She advis­es fam­i­ly busi­ness lead­ers to remem­ber the impor­tance of a pro­duc­tive tone, pos­i­tive body lan­guage, and basic process­es, like hav­ing an agenda.

You want to be on your game, espe­cial­ly if you are tread­ing on dif­fi­cult ter­ri­to­ry,” she says. Peo­ple face stress­ful sit­u­a­tions with much more grace when they have stat­ed the goals of the meet­ing clear­ly and can rely on a set agen­da to guide them. It is so sim­ple, and yet so fre­quent­ly over­looked when you are sit­ting down with your sis­ters and brothers.”

Social Aware­ness and Rela­tion­ship Man­age­ment: The Impor­tance of Empathy

A big part of social and emo­tion­al intel­li­gence is being able to man­age rela­tion­ships based on an under­stand­ing of oth­ers’ emo­tions,” Vuck­ovic says. For lead­ers of fam­i­ly enter­pris­es, empa­thy is cru­cial — yet it is often underrated.”

In a fam­i­ly enter­prise, where the stake­hold­ers fall into three inter­con­nect­ed cir­cles — the own­er­ship, the oper­at­ing busi­ness, and the fam­i­ly itself — under­stand­ing the per­spec­tive of each stake­hold­er is espe­cial­ly chal­leng­ing. For exam­ple, a high­ly expe­ri­enced in-law might be upset that he was over­looked for the CEO posi­tion. Or a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers might be at odds with the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, who are invest­ed in cer­tain tra­di­tions or ways of con­duct­ing business.

You need to be able to step back and assess these issues objec­tive­ly,” Vuck­ovic says. Rather than being locked in the dance, you take a view from the bal­cony to see what the steps and pat­terns are — and how you may be con­tribut­ing to missteps.”

There are oth­er very straight­for­ward habits fam­i­ly lead­ers can form to strength­en their empa­thy. They can use open-end­ed probes (for exam­ple, Tell me more about that” or Help me under­stand”) to ensure that they under­stand the person’s point of view completely.

Per­haps most impor­tant, Vuck­ovic says, is tak­ing time to con­sid­er the oth­er person’s moti­va­tions and to assume pos­i­tive intent. Ask your­self: Why might a ratio­nal, decent, rea­son­able per­son behave in this way? What sto­ry might they be telling about me? How might their inten­tion be dif­fer­ent than their impact?”

Though it may be a chal­lenge, fos­ter­ing social-emo­tion­al intel­li­gence pays off in the long run for the fam­i­ly and for the busi­ness. The good news is this: fam­i­ly lead­ers have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shape the emo­tion­al and social envi­ron­ment of their chil­dren,” Vuck­ovic says. In these cas­es, you’re not just rais­ing your kids; you have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to impact the poten­tial lead­ers or own­ers of your com­pa­ny. Once you know emo­tion­al intel­li­gence is impor­tant, you can encour­age it all along.”

About the Writer

Drew Calvert is a freelance writer based in Iowa City, Iowa.

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