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Family Business Lessons from the Skywalker Family

The Star Wars and Skywalker family legacy continues as we look upon another Jedi-generation wrestling with the question of who they are and how their future will be defined. In the Skywalker family, each generation wrestles with the expectations that others have for them. Each generation has to confront and forgive those who have come before them. They have to accept their own strengths, abilities, weaknesses, fears, and past. They have to learn to listen and heed the advice of others.

Every generation must surround themselves with the right advisors, leaders and allies who will help define their path, potential and legacy. Star Wars is all about the characters defining and deciding what their legacy will be and acting upon it.  To do this every character, family and non-family, must acknowledge their past and own their future.

If you are a family member of a family business, this struggle may hit very close to home.

How will you allow your parents and grandparents choices and expectations define you? 

“I am your father.” – Darth Vadar in Episode V: Empire Strikes Back.

Luke Skywalker had a decision to make. He’d had his world rocked when his arch enemy proclaimed he was Luke’s father.  Luke now had to decide how his family’s past behaviors would define his own future behaviors. In a family business the history, successes, decisions and failures of our mothers, fathers, grandparents and great grandparents precedes us but doesn’t have to define us.

Your life is your responsibility. The best way to deal with the past is to create your best future.

“Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor…or suffer your father’s fate you will. Luke, When gone am I, the last of the Jedi will be you. Luke, the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned. Luke…there is another Skywalker” – Yoda in Episode VI: Return on the Jedi

Just as each Skywalker generation needs to decide for themselves the direction they will go, so too, will our generation and the generation that succeeds us. As family business leaders we have to discover why we were placed on this earth – our purpose. We are each given unique gifts, emotions, style and vision.

So many family business leaders never accept their own beliefs and dreams but lead the life they feel others want them to lead. Unfortunately, the next generation forgets to be who they are. We try to fill the shoes and ‘the office’ of those before us. Many family business executives are not living their legacy but the legacy and expectations they have cast over them.  Over time this mindset and belief will lead to regret and unhappiness. You were created to be the best version of yourself, not someone else.

Discover who YOU are

Too many next generation family members running family businesses are trying to live up to expectations of others. This holds us back. Let this be an encouragement to live your journey. Establish your vision, see your future, build your team and surround yourself with the advisors you need to be successful. Have no regrets.

Do not allow your past to define your future. Do not let unnecessary stress control your approach to life and to business. It is never too late to structure, dream and believe in your abilities.

Evaluate your strengths.  What gives you energy? What steals your energy? What you are best at? What keeps you up at night? Also, think about the team you have today, the advisors you surround yourself with and consider if this should look different if you free yourself from others expectations.

Appreciate, respect and accept the past but create your best future.

 “You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I am fortunate to have a father who has worked with generations of family businesses and has taken the advice of great advisors to support the future but not feel as though he has to define the future of our family business. In fact, I remember one of the most freeing and challenging moments was when he told me, “You should not lead our business like I did. You need to make your own decisions based on what you want for the future. I do not want to define your future.”

To hand over the family business torch one has to hand over the full responsibility. A successor’s greatest success is when the next generation achieves success. I have seen next generation family business leaders acquire, divest legacy divisions, sell the enterprise as well as grow the enterprise in ways no one ever thought was possible.  The only way to be able to feel free enough to do this is to receive the full responsibility for the future.

“Let the past die. Kill, it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” – Kylo Ren in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I have experienced, firsthand, the frustrations of executives who are living a life in their father’s, mother’s, uncle’s, grandfather’s shadows. It is true that in each of us is a lot of our parents. Emotions and experiences play a big role in our own design and behaviors. Have you ever completed a genogram to help identify and acknowledge the past? If not, let’s talk.

I have also experienced next generation family executives fully accepting their past and fully living out their own future. This includes growing, innovating, selling, acquiring and designing the future they want. I encourage you to think about your best future and begin designing it today.

“Show me again, the power of the darkness… and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish, what you started.” – Kylo Ren in Episode VII: The Force Awakens

You have witnessed your mom or dad’s leadership style, but find out who you are. Although many of your God-given tendencies and abilities come from your parents, ultimately, your actions, style and approach should be yours. Own it. As the leader you are called to lead to the best of your abilities not the best of others abilities.

“Fear is the path of the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.” – Yoda in Episode I: The Phantom Menace

An outside perspective can set you free

We love working with leaders, family and non-family, who are having difficulty breaking out of what they perceive is the family’s expectations – said and unsaid. We enjoy helping executives define what is holding them back and what will allow them to find freedom for the future. It may be time to break through this barrier and take control of your leadership. Together let’s define what and how you see the future. Let’s recognize the strengths, fears, gifts, weaknesses and team (your internal and external allies) to build the best future state. Your legacy.

You also see a great need for the right advisors. The wise ones – Yoda-like even. The ones who say exactly what needs to be said. Those who know the most important things in life must be acknowledged and dealt with. The ones who are honest and can help you untangle and redesign the path forward.

Honor your past you must. Define your best future today.  

“Hope.” – Leia Organa in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

If you are a family member of a family business and the struggle hits close to home give me a call at 513-366-3765.

Now go out and enjoy seeing Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker!