THE “Fredo” behavior manifests as early as when a child confronts a major dilemma: the crossing over from a healthy family where unconditional love, inspiration, encouragement, equality and full support are ingrained during the child’s growth years.
Instinctively, parents tend to further extend care and nourishment on the more fragile child expending and nurturing him or her until the child bounces back and intermingles with the other siblings. While the parents demonstrate the hand-holding process, the family is also expected to care for one another especially on someone who needs it the most.
The danger is unmasked when this “culture of love and equality” is carried over to the business. Here lies the inconsistency. Let me articulate why.
Business represents a huge contrast to the norms and culture embedded in the family. While family nurtures love, feelings and equality regardless of behavior, business singularly focus on key metrics like meritocracy, profits, results and accountability.
On one hand, family encourages the family to compensate for the weaknesses and failings of family members and to forgive indiscretions but on the other hand, business in its truest form can be unforgiving on matters related to under performance and mediocrity. Aggravating this paradox is the natural tension between two or three generations working together. You don’t just have a sandwich generation but the gaps between a baby boomer and the millennial generation is far and wide.
Allow me to list down a number of contradictions and divergent values that have created a confused mindset among family members as they cross over to the two other circles (as managers and or owners).
The weakest family member will inevitably end as a likely “Fredo” candidate.
If the family breeds feelings, emotion, entitlement and equality plus a slew of varying C’s like confidentiality, culture, career, control and conflict, the business on its own pursues a totally different approach bereft of any emotion. As the family member moves on to the more difficult and measurable metric like profits, policies and plans, you can almost conclude the makings of a full blown conflict.
In an article penned by Kimberly Eddleston, she highlights a critical part in the transition of the child.
“When a child joins a family business expecting the same treatment he or she experiences in the family, where resources are allocated based on equality and need, trouble can result. Patriarchs that treat family employees as children encourage immaturity and dependence, and lead family employees to see them as responsible for their well-being. Moreover, well-meaning family patriarchs often feel they must reward their children equally in the business realm, without regard to their contributions. Their altruism ends up hurting them and costing the business.” In a very recent family governance engagement assigned to me by our family business advisory firm, Wong+Berstein, a son (sibling A) actively working in the family business was given a house by his parents right after he got married. On hearing the news, his only sibling (B), known to be lazy and underperforming, demanded a house of his own with the same number of bedrooms. Sibling B felt it was not “fair” that sibling A received a house and he did not.
Situations like this, as Eddelston opined, “are very common in family businesses and demonstrate how family members often expect resources and rewards to be allocated based on the family norm of equality rather than the business norm of merit.”