Successful Dual Leadership Teams in Family Businesses

Successful Dual Leadership Teams in Family Businesses
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Nobody likes to be alone, especially at the head of an enterprise. Due to increased management demands and increasing complexity in tasks, teamwork is becoming more and more popular at the management level and dual leadership in family enterprises is no longer a new phenomenon. The reasons: top duos can be more effective and more innovative than a solitary manager. Two siblings or cousins at the top of the hierarchy provide a more balanced view on business issues and can be a stronger driving force for achieving the businesses’ goals.

Top family duos are coming

In order for a top duo to reach their full potential, it is helpful to keep in mind a few considerations. Take for example, the experience of two brothers in a large financial service provider. Their father had made them conscious of the fact that they can only succeed if they worked together. The reasoning: as a team, they have the complementary capabilities to lead the company successfully. Together they had to work themselves up the corporate ladder for more than 30 years. The two are now active in the enterprise and lead the business as equal managers and partners.

Understanding and maximizing the strengths of each leader is also important. For example, there is a retail chain with worldwide operations that is led by two cousins. They grew up together and attended the same school, both studying business administration. However, one characterizes himself as an extroverted manager – he is responsible for sales and communication. The other characterizes himself as introverted, responsible for the financials running the internal operations of the company. Interestingly, they never argue publicly: and when they disagree, they do so behind closed doors to subsequently speak with one voice and in consensus.

Learning from successful top duos

Here is an obvious fact: two people who complement each other have more strength as a team, able to weigh the pros and cons until they have reached consensus. Some friction can be productive. However, if the personalities are too diverse and the relationship is not strong, leadership duos quickly wear out. Therefore, the following points should be considered:

  • Successful duos see themselves as a unit, as a team with a common set of values and goals.
  • They have mutual expectations and an attitude that they will win or lose together.
  • They have set rules for the succession process to the next generation.
  • They have installed an advisory board or a formal board of directors with non-family members that help them to rationalize discussions and decide in a deadlock.
  • They value their complementary skills. They understand themselves as Yin and Yang.
  • As a team, they have a clear division of responsibilities to address the risk of rivalry. This can be done by competencies, skills, experience, education or passion.
  • They see that they grow together and not in isolation. They also have the understanding that if one is currently more successful than the other, they should not fight against the success.
  • Both make time for regular communication with one another. Sometimes, they share an office; their desks are side by side. They may even have one assistant.
  • They have an open culture of resolving conflicts. This means, that they have the understanding that they come to one consensus. Having a clear understanding of unanimity is an important part of family peace and business success.

A family that is entering into dual leadership should have a clear understanding about how the family is organized; either as one large family unit or in branches. The questions here are: is it good to have one member from each branch on the top-management-team? Or is it better to choose those two out of the whole family who are the most competent and that fit together? The answers to these questions will differ depending on each family.

Tips for keeping the peace in the family in double helm leadership:

  1. Install an early warning system: If a weak spot is identified in the relationship there should be open communication and an external mediator or adviser should be appointed.
  2. Family as an anchor: With the constant struggle around the right decisions, top duos need a common value base, fed from the traditions of the founders of the business.
  3. Set clear rules: It is helpful to define responsibilities and when one of the duo can make independent decisions and when the advisory board must be consulted.
  4. Succession and thinking ahead: Those who are well prepared for future duties are most often better leaders. Agreements on succession and retirement plans provide security in the process of transferring the business from senior generations to younger generations.
  5. Strategies for dropouts: For a scenario where a member of the family drops out of the business, pre-defined conditions are helpful to avoid conflicts.
  6. Time for exchange: A regular meeting of the leadership duo on business, but also personal matters, facilitates internal cohesion and a unified outside appearance.

These points are typically part of a family constitution. The constitution helps to reach family peace, especially for leadership duos and the successive generations.