Mentoring the Next Generation

Gates had Buffett, Oprah had Maya, and Dylan had Guthrie.  In your world, who do the next generation of leaders look up to? Many family-owned companies say they expect to transfer leadership to the next generation, yet only a small percentage have a plan in place to develop them. If that’s true for you, take a look at these six ideas for mentoring the rising leaders in your family business – through formal programs, and in everyday life. 

  1. Assess Successors’ Capabilities. At the heart of a sound mentoring plan is an assessment of emerging leaders’ capabilities – education, personality, skills, interests, strengths and growth areas. Once that assessment is made and discussed with successors, senior leaders can develop a plan to capitalize on strengths and bridge developmental gaps. 
  1. Require Outside Work Experience. Most experts recommend that family members establish a solid outside work history before being eligible to join the family business. Doing so allows them to experience different business philosophies and management styles. Outside work experience also enhances credibility with non-family employees. 
  1. Work Up Through the Ranks. Some family businesses require new members to “start in the mailroom” and work their way up. Some do this even if a family member has already had other successful work experiences outside the business. In this way, young leaders can learn about the business from the ground up and have a well-rounded understanding of what each function and other employees contribute. 
  1. Plan a Family Retreat. How about taking some time away from the business to talk about where you’ve been and where you’re going? Often, the next generation comes into the family business when it’s already a success, so they may not fully appreciate the ups and downs of growing a business. Newer leaders can learn from hearing the senior generation talk about the various stages the company has gone through to get to where it is today. 
  1. Tap into Non-Family Executives. “Father knows best” doesn’t always work well when it comes to mentoring the next generation. Sometimes the relationship between parents and children is too close, or the relationship too volatile for objective mentoring. One alternative is to engage non-family executives as mentors to younger leaders. Non-family members may be able to be more businesslike and objective in working with rising leaders. 
  1. Encourage Them to Get Outside the Comfort Zone. It has been said that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Give younger leaders the freedom and space to make mistakes. Ask them to handle a difficult situation on their own. Give them projects or responsibilities that they’re not quite ready for. Being in a tough situation is a great learning and confidence-boosting experience. Mentors can provide a safety net. 

 Listen and learn from the next generation and create opportunities for them to listen and learn from you. That’s the best way to keep your family business in good hands. 



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