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Woodbury:Farm Family Business 07/15 14:53

   Success by Different Measures

   These three traits help gauge your family business achievements.

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

   How do you measure family business success? Some highlight the growth in 
their financial net worth. Others count the number of family members currently 
involved in the operation. Still others pull out the history books to show 
they're still in business together after several generations. But in the thick 
of family business conflict and uncertainty -- as only family members know -- 
you might sometimes feel Winston Churchill's definition is more apt: "Success 
consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

   Two decades of consulting work, and a growing body of literature, has shown 
me there are certain identifiable hallmarks among members of successful family 
businesses. Among these traits are honesty in assessing strengths and 
weaknesses, humility in dealing with others and frequent and sincere 
expressions of gratitude. Let's consider each briefly.


   Humans have a nearly limitless capacity for self-deception. This attitude is 
also present in family businesses, where you can be lulled into thinking that 
your timing, business smarts, negotiating skills or other strengths are the 
sole reasons for success, and these outweigh your weaker points. 

   Great family businesses aren't deceived by their own success. While 
admitting they have many strong business skills, they recognize they also have 
numerous improvements to make. Some of the areas identified recently in 
facilitated family business conversations include family communication, staff 
training and performance evaluations, financial reporting, business 
partnerships and decision-making skills. Great family businesses know they have 
things to do in order to be better, and they get to work.


   If honest self-assessment is mostly an internal virtue, then humility best 
describes a combined inward and outward expression of successful family 
business members. Great family enterprises, instead of proclaiming how 
successful they are to the world, approach their future by improving on their 
own internal benchmarks. They may still celebrate their progress, but that 
recognition happens more quietly, largely out of sight.

   The external dimension of humility, or how you present yourself to the 
world, can be especially difficult in the age of social media and food 
politics, where we are encouraged to tell our story and tweet our every thought 
or observation. Humility, as New York Times columnist David Brooks notes in his 
recent book "The Road to Character," is "an awareness that your individual 
talents alone are inadequate to the tasks that have been assigned to you." 
Acting with humility means admitting this inadequacy to others, and believing 
that others contribute to your success.


   If honest self-assessment has an internal focus, and acting with humility 
implicates both internal and external processes, then practicing gratitude is 
primarily directed outward. Thankfulness in the family business takes many 
forms. Family members express thanks to one another for care and good work. 
Leaders demonstrate gratitude to their employees, going beyond human resource 
policies and gifts to sincerely communicate their appreciation. Managers 
express thanks to their suppliers, demonstrate their appreciation toward 
landowners and help their customers feel esteemed. 

   Some families hold the philosophy that demonstrating appreciation or giving 
to their community or industry comes back to them in multiple ways. Others see 
it as a responsibility. Whatever the reason for expressing their gratitude, 
families that exhibit thankfulness are generally seen in a more successful 

   Honest self-assessment, humility and gratitude aren't isolated or 
independent characteristics of success for a family business. They relate to, 
and build on, one another, forming a general recognition of greatness by those 
who deal with them. As you ponder what success means to your family, do these 
criteria have a place in your definition?

   EDITOR'S NOTE: Lance Woodbury writes columns for both DTN and our sister 
publication, "The Progressive Farmer." He is a Garden City, Kansas, author, 
consultant and professional mediator with more than 20 years of experience 
specializing in agriculture and closely-held businesses. Subscribers can access 
all of his archived columns under News search. Email ideas for this column to



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