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Edition 115 – Respect

Two weeks ago, the Australian cricketing world changed forever following the proof of ball tampering by the Australians in the 4 match test series against South Africa, in Cape Town.

The Australian captain, Steve Smith, vice captain, David Warner and key protaganist, Cameron Bancroft, have all paid a dear price for their actions. 12 months bans from the sport they love for Smith and Warner for the roles they played (active and passive) in allowing it to take place, and 9 months for Bancroft, who you can’t help but feel was the bunny in all of this, was the least of the penalties. These are elite athletes whose futures will change forever. My guess is that at least one of those three will never, ever recover in a career sense simply out of their own stupidity.

However, it’s more than that. They weren’t just stupid, they were disrespectful.

They lacked respect for the game, it’s traditions and its rules.

They lacked respect for their opposition, who were proving worthy combatants.

They lacked respect for the fans of the game, particularly the junior fans that looked up to them, often.

They lacked respect for common decency by continuing to engage in sledging on the field – presumably a tactical ploy to put off the other team, but surely a low ball act in terms of playing the sport they each loved.

In my opinion, they lacked respect for so much, simply out of hubris. They were good at their sport, knew they were and flaunted their sporting expertise right in the face of the sport they loved. They believed they were invincible and adopted a “win at all costs” mentality. Except, win at all costs means being disrespectful to the game, the rules and the fans in order to achieve success.

I’ve seen this occur in family business as well. Whether it is being disrespectful towards your customers, your staff, your bankers, your advisors or your business colleagues, I’ve seen it all in my 30 years of working with family businesses. And, like our cricketers, the same level of disrespect is often borne out of hubris.

In my opinion, the root cause of that hubris is three-fold:

  1. The business has been successful beyond the initial, realistic imagination of the owners – hence an over-heightened sense of self confidence on the part of those owners.
  2. The lack of questioning by others inside the business of the decisions and strategy of the owners of the business. For some family business owners, they see this as dissent or of a recalcitrant attitude at play – rather than an alternative viewpoint that is worth investigating.
  3. The lack of accountability on the owners of the business. They are at the top of the tree. They report to no one. No one is checking up on them. The less the accountability in a family business, the more the owners get away with their unfiltered, unchallenged actions.

Which is where I come in.

When I work with family business, I put myself in the canopy of the aforementioned tree. In my role as a mentor, I:

  1. Question.
  2. Prod.
  3. Challenge.
  4. Alternative think.
  5. Push back.

I’m fearless. I’m not going to lose my job as an employee might by questioning their decisions or their actions. Sure, I might be dismissed from my role as their key advisor, but my guess is that when that happens, they’ve decided they don’t like being held accountable and actually quite like immersing themselves in their own hubris. It doesn’t stop me from doing what I believe is right for the business, the family or ultimately, for them as the owners.

In a world where there appears to be less respect than there was in the past, hubris appears to be streaking away untapped. Ultimately, as was exhibited in South Africa, the fall is fast and far. The lesson for family business owners is to consider hubris and respect in holding up the mirror and passing judgement.

This Week’s Tip

“As the owner or manager of a family business, who is keeping you accountable, how often, by what means and how successfully?