Managing a family-owned company or organization is an experience rich in nuance.
“If you’ve seen one family business, you’ve seen one family business,” says Nikè Anani, YPO Board member, Lagos Chapter.
She would know. What started out as a three-month, self-discovery sabbatical from her accounting job in early adulthood led to her joining her entrepreneurial father in Lagos. There, she rolled up her sleeves as the company’s second-generation executive, where she spent over a decade leading the family office.
For Anani, this experience sparked an interest in multigenerational businesses. She co-founded a nonprofit dedicated to family businesses in Africa – where no more than 2% of family businesses successfully transition power to the second generation. She also opened her own consulting practice, wrote a book on the subject, and now serves as Director of Next Gen Advisory for Northern Trust Wealth Management.
But while Anani believes each family business is unique, there are a few things family members – from all generations – should consider if they want more positive professional and personal outcomes. She shared some of her story and advice on Mike Boyd’s podcast, The Business of Family, and wrote Lifetime to Legacy: A New Vision for Multigenerational Family Businesses, to help more families bridge the gap between generations in business.
Sharing from her own experience as a millennial family business successor, Anani explains, “There’s nothing like the depth and richness of a lived experience. I can literally put myself in the shoes of my clients; I’ve lived and seen many of the dynamics that the rising gen are dealing with.”
She adds that she prefers the term rising gen as opposed to next gen because next is chronological, whereas rising is a choice. It connotes self-determination, possibility and growth.
She shared advice for all generations who are finding a place and making room at the table to carry on their family’s business legacy.
Confidence is key
Parents and grandparents may have a tendency to write off the rising generation’s behavior as disengaged, disinterested or incapable. In reality, the rising generation’s behavior may be masking insecurities, and they might struggle to find their place and voice as they compare themselves to the elder generation.
“It can feel like, ‘Oh, I can never compare to them, they are a giant, a success story, and I am nothing,’” says Anani.
Instead, it’s important that the Rising Gen develop their confidence in environments that are psychologically safe to learn, make mistakes and grow. Anani suggests one-on-one mentorships or peer groups as effective ways to do so.
“You can discover and own your character strengths and lean into those, and find your voice and forge your path while honoring the family’s legacy,” says Anani. “It’s not easy. There is this constant tension between the ‘we’ and the ‘me.’ But you can’t let ‘you’ die in the process because your perspective is so valid and needed for success.”
Respect the differences
Family members of all ages must come to an understanding that with each generation comes a different set of lived experiences and a belief system that is at least slightly changed, says Anani. These beliefs and experiences shape the perspectives that come to the table for each meeting, decision and challenge and conversation.
While these differences can cause frustrations, they can also serve as strengths as they provide diversity of thought, critical for success in this age of increasing complexity: Founders can offer institutional knowledge and experience and the Rising Gen can provide ideas in areas where they can add value, such as technology, impact and sustainability.
“The Rising Gen can get disheartened if their ideas are overlooked,” Anani says. “But everyone can learn how to communicate ideas in a way that will be well received by other family members, by having understanding of their priorities, perspectives and preferences,” says Anani. She adds that exercises such as conducting an empathy map, which identifies attitudes and behaviors, can give all parties the opportunity to get deeper insight into their pains and gains before moving on to seeking solutions.
Learn communication styles
Similar to the Five Love Languages, Anani believes we all have unique communication styles. If a family is prioritizing strong communication — and they should be — all generations should learn how their counterparts best receive information.
“Really observe and really truly understand different stakeholders in your family to understand how they receive and give communication,” she says. “Reflect on what their three main priorities are. These may differ from yours. Tie your ideas back to their three priorities.”
In addition, Rising Gens want to be a part of a two-way dialogue, with opportunities to ask questions and offer feedback.
She suggests speaking “with” the younger generation so that they can better understand your perspectives, and the “why” behind your decisions, as opposed to speaking “at” them.
“At the end of the day, the best way to achieve success is to build communication skills that allow all family members to make their contributions, while supporting the overall family goals,” Anani said.