5 Elements of a Healthy Family Business Leader

5 Elements of a Healthy Family Business Leader
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Image source: Keegan Everitt

In his book “Grounded – How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World”, leadership expert Robert Rosen likens a healthy leader to a tree that stays grounded in a storm. According to Rosen, who you are as a person and as a leader is determined by your roots, which also determines the kind of team and organisation that you build. He goes on to describe the five “roots” of healthy characteristics that leaders should possess:

Physical Health: Being self aware and having the resilience to bounce back from setbacks.

Intellectual Health: Being able to ask the hard questions, having a curious mindset, being ready to learn and adapt to change.

Social Health: Being authentic and building mutually nourishing relationships.

Vocational Health: Having a passion for success and a meaningful calling in life.

Spiritual Health: Having a higher purpose and a sense of being part of something bigger than oneself.

These roots not only cause the leader to weather storms and trials, but they collectively help fascilitate the best in both the leader and his organisation and ultimately unleash human energy. Human energy is driven by curiosity, constant learning, and a drive to endlessly improve oneself, and is key in allowing the business to seize opportunities and to grow.

Often, leaders in publically owned companies evolve very naturally into healthy leaders because the roots of leadership are nurtured over time. The synergy created by the strengthening of the roots and a general desire of the leaders to prove their worth frequently mean that great achievements are accomplished.

In contrast, leaders in family managed business often find this evolution more difficult to achieve. This is because as a member of the business, they are frequently protected by the family and the company environment, which does not test their resolve during the storms and prevent the roots from taking firm hold. Because of this, they are prone to be lacking in emotional health.

There is also the danger of family business leaders lacking in social health, because they are fed a constant diet of admiration and flattery from the company employees, all sometimes to a ridiculous extent, especially if they are heirs to what the previous generation has built. This can prevent them from building authentic and mutually nourishing relationships, which can endanger their effectiveness as leaders. All of this can also affect the leader’s spiritual health, where the self can become the higher purpose, above that of the company and others.

However, family business leaders who carefully nurture the roots of leadership can be wonderfully effective and beneficial not only to the company, but to society at large. Many years ago, I asked the legendary family business leader Aditya Birla about a very large and ambitious upcoming project, “Why do you want to get into this project? Is there not more than enough to look after as it is?” His response was inspiring. “Of course there is more than enough to worry about,” he replied. “But we have been blessed with success. It is our duty to expand, look at new horizons, generate more development and jobs, for the benefit of our people.”

“For me, my wealth has more than served its purpose already; I cannot drink more, eat more, or drive more cars than I have already. But as a trustee of wealth, I must use it for the common good.” This is what healthy leadership looks like.