Family Businesses

Are you struggling with the complications of working in a family business? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Ted Clark, who runs the Center for Family Business at Northeastern University. They talk through advancing when you’re not a member of the family, managing up when your parents are your bosses, and whether it’s better to work for a family enterprise or a big corporation.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: Surviving in a Family Business When You’re Not Part of the Family by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer — “Successful non-family leaders stick to the ‘management

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To Overcome Your Insecurity, Recognize Where It Really Comes From

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Raymond closed down. Sandra snapped. They both had solid records and promising career prospects, and yet they felt that something was not working. Their bosses, colleagues, friends could tell too, but they were equally puzzled. How could someone so talented get so lost, or lose it, in seemingly trivial discussions, for no obvious reason?

The answer is deceptively simple and widespread: insecurity at work. The nagging worry that we are not quite as smart, informed, or competent as we ought to be, or as others might think. The fear that we are not good enough, or simply not enough. The second thoughts about our ideas, observations, and even about our feelings. The constant concern about being judged.

Feelings of insecurity leave us overdependent on external factors — admiration, praise, promotions. But even then, the feeling of achievement is generally temporary. Soon after, we turn inward, digging inside

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Why Is Crying at Work Such a Big Deal?

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I couldn’t stop crying. Months of late evenings and demanding travel had cracked my professional exterior. I tried to present my quarterly numbers while my colleagues squirmed in their seats, offered me a box of tissues, or just stared. My boss abruptly ended the meeting. My colleagues quickly evacuated the room. I was left alone in the conference room, crumpled tissues in hand.

For women, crying in a professional setting is often seen as the kiss of death:

“Stop crying! Someone will see you.”

“Quick, run to the ladies’ room!”

These are just two versions of similar warnings I’ve heard throughout my career. But it’s not just me. Female friends and colleagues have told me they too have been told to shut down the waterworks. It’s a familiar narrative for women who cry at work: Escape to bathroom. Grab toilet paper. Wipe eyes. Blow nose. Take deep breath

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How to Become More Self-Aware

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and executive coach, talks about why we all should be working on self-awareness. Few people are truly self-aware, she says, and those who are don’t get there through introspection. She explains how to develop self-awareness through the feedback of loving critics and how to mentor someone who isn’t self-aware. Eurich is the author of the book Insight.

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Become a More Productive Learner

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Today we consume five times more information every day than we did in 1986, an incredible amount that’s equivalent to a 174 newspapers…a day. That probably includes a lot of Instagram posts, but it’s not only social media. The corporate e-learning space has grown by nine times over the last 16 years, such that almost 80% of U.S. companies offer online training for their employees, making more information accessible to them than ever before.

One would think that this would translate into increased knowledge. Yet, unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Scores of average American adults on tests of general civic knowledge — the type of information you’d assume people would pick up from scanning through all this information — has remained almost constant for the last 80 years. On the corporate side, working professionals apply only about 15% of what they learn in many

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Should You Join the Family Business?

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Richard (not his real name) graduated from college on a Friday. Three days later he would start his first day on the job in his family business. The choice was not one that he gave much thought to. He’d grown up in the family wine business, which his grandfather had founded, and his father had wooed him to join. This was the family’s legacy, his father had said, and someday Richard would be CEO. Or at least that’s what Richard heard.

Twenty years later, things have gone horribly wrong. Though they work side by side, the men are barely speaking after a boardroom blow-up. In his darkest moments, Richard is even contemplating whether to sue his father for breach of fiduciary duty. By all accounts, catapulting Richard into the business straight out of college was a mistake. Richard and his father both had high hopes for a generational

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In Praise of Extreme Moderation

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Why does it seem like you can’t throw a paper airplane in some offices without hitting a person who is training for a marathon, planning a 10-day silent meditation retreat, or intending on scaling Kilimanjaro? On top of working 24/7 for a company that doesn’t pay overtime? Extremism is becoming the norm not only in our professional lives but increasingly in our personal lives as well, from politics and parenting to food and fitness.

Extreme parents overinvest in building competitive kids, spending more hectic hours helicoptering than their own parents ever did (and still feel guilty). They take up a sport to find some balance in their lives — and get caught up becoming marathoners. Extreme foodies start the day with complex green drinks made from the latest expensive seeds and vegan plants from a distant country. Young Millennials, driven to distraction and depression by nonstop, constantly comparative

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How to Actually Start the Task You’ve Been Avoiding

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Think about something you’re having a hard time getting started on, something important to you.

Maybe it’s a particular kind of work — like writing a proposal or crafting a particularly delicate email. Maybe it’s an important conversation you know you need to have with someone that you haven’t had. Or, when you’ve had similar conversations in the past, you spent 10 minutes talking around what you wanted to say instead of just saying it. Maybe it’s speaking up in a meeting to say something you’re a little scared to say.

Perhaps you never get to that important but hard thing, accomplishing all sorts of smaller tasks but avoiding this one. Or perhaps you’re simply sluggish getting to it, wasting valuable time in the process.

The most productive people I know move right through these moments, wasting little time and getting to their most important work and

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Research: Watching an Expert Do Something Makes You Think You Can Do It Too

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You can find just about any skill you want to learn on the internet. Steve Jobs’s captivating presentation style, Steph Curry’s jumper, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk — all of these are easily accessible. Clearly, instructional videos, how-to guides, and online tutorials have changed the way we learn.

Or have they? Watching expert performances might make you feel that you could perform similar skills. But new evidence suggests that learning by observation may, at times, be illusory. Observers come away feeling confident that they’re well prepared to try the task out themselves, but when they do, often they’re not better than they were before.

Many Skills Are Easier Seen Than Done

In six experiments, recently published in Psychological Science, we tested the hypothesis that people overestimate how much their abilities improve after extensively watching others perform. In one experiment, 193 University of Chicago students visited our lab for a dart-throwing

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The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead

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I looked at my watch. It was 3:20pm. I had been on the phone for over an hour, almost all of that time listening to Frank*, a senior manager at Jambo, a technology company, complain about his boss, Brandon. Jambo is a company I know well — I have many ongoing relationships there from when I used to work with their CEO — but they are not, currently, a client. In other words, I wasn’t soliciting complaints or asking for feedback.

“He’s so scattered,” Frank griped about Brandon, “He’ll waltz into a meeting — late, mind you — and share his most recent idea, which is often a complete distraction from our current plan. Totally ignoring our agenda. And then he’ll micromanage everything we do, reorganizing our work — though we’re still accountable for the stuff he’s ignoring. And that’s not the worst. The worst is he’s completely

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5 Questions New Working Parents Should Ask Themselves

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The demands of both work and parenting are rising. While working hours globally are falling (partially due to aging populations), those employed full-time are often working more. In the U.S., for example, full-time employees are working 47 hours per week, and four in 10 people work more than 50. And the bifurcation of those working both more and less is growing — with marked increases in those working “extreme” hours, particularly in high-skill professions. In addition, according to the World Bank, women now constitute 40%–50% of the workforce in many countries around the world, meaning work outside the home is impacting men and women more equally.

But we are also parenting more. Researchers at UC Irvine found that parents in 11 countries spend nearly twice as much time with their kids as they did 50 years ago, with moms spending almost an hour more

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Assessment: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

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Compassion has become increasingly recognized as a foundational aspect of leadership. One study from 2012 found that compassionate leaders appear stronger and have more engaged followers. Other studies have found that organizations with more compassionate leaders have better collaboration, lower turnover, and employees who are more trusting, more connected to each other, and more committed to the company. When we surveyed more than 1,000 leaders from 800 organizations, 91% of them said compassion is very important for their leadership and 80% said they would like to enhance their compassion but do not know how.

What do we mean by compassion? It is the intent to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. A compassionate leader has a genuine interest in seeing their people not just perform and increase profits but thrive. But this doesn’t mean “being soft” or trying to please people by giving them

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Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

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In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say
“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work. “You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.

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How VC John Doerr Sets (and Achieves) Goals

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Since joining Kleiner Perkins in 1980, venture capitalist John Doerr has helped fund Intuit, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and a host of other well-known tech companies. Many of them utilize a goal-setting system Doerr calls “OKR,” for “objectives” and “key results.” His new book, Measure What Matters, contains his explanation for how and why the system works, as well as case studies by leaders who’ve adopted it — including Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Bono. Doerr stopped by HBR to talk about his passion for setting and reaching goals. Edited excerpts of that conversation follow:

HBR: Why did you write this book?

DOERR: I came to Silicon Valley in the mid-1970s and got a job at Intel. It was a very vibrant time in the company’s life.  They had just invented the microchip, which became the basis of the personal computer. I

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What Data on Formula One Crashes Suggests About Workplace Rivalries

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Do you have a work twin? Is there a colleague whose name is constantly mentioned in the same breath as yours? This colleague’s responsibilities may differ from yours; he or she may even work in an entirely different department. Yet because his or her position in the organizational hierarchy is roughly equivalent to yours, the two of you are seen as almost interchangeable.

When people call you by the wrong name or send you an email meant for your “twin,” how do you feel? Your polite smile notwithstanding, probably not good. Chances are, you resent the implied threat to your uniqueness and feel, however fleetingly, a competitive urge to outshine your organizational double.

Let’s be honest: We like to feel we have things in common with our colleagues, but we get very uncomfortable when there are too many points of similarity. This is especially true at work,

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How to Recover from a Cultural Faux Pas

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We’ve all been there: You’re talking to someone from another culture — perhaps while on a business trip or working with a colleague on a project — when you get a sinking feeling that you’ve made a mistake. Maybe it was a joke that misfired, an unintentional violation of personal space, or a misreading of the context and cues that resulted in someone losing face.

If the mistake happened in your own culture, you could quickly recover, because you’d have a grasp of the etiquette for apologizing. However, when gaffes happen across cultures, they can leave you at a loss for what to do and how to respond.

Here is our five-step process for not only recovering from cultural faux pas but turning them into learning opportunities.

1. Ditch your obsession with performance. To start, reframe how you approach making mistakes, and accept them as inevitable side effects of working across

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Becoming More Conscientious

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Your boss sits you down for some tough feedback: You are not conscientious enough. She points out that you have missed several deadlines and show a pattern of failing to remember important details. At first, you feel defensive — it is just your personality that she’s describing. Hey, I can’t get bogged down in details! I’m a vision guy! Or maybe you blame external factors. I missed that deadline because there was a big snowstorm and the power went out! However, ultimately you realize that the future of your job, and of your career, may depend on responding to your boss’s feedback and appearing more conscientious.

If you have ever gotten feedback like this, and wanted to do something about it, you are not alone. Many people want to change at least some aspect of their personality, and conscientiousness is high on that list. So what does

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When You Need to Take Time Off Work for Mental Health Reasons

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Personal health should be a private matter. But when you need to take time off work due to a mental health condition, often it isn’t possible to maintain that privacy. As a board member at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and a former managing director at two global banks (UBS and Deutsche Bank), I’ve been approached by hundreds of colleagues and clients over the past 30 years seeking advice for themselves or a colleague, friend, or family member on how best to manage professional life while dealing with a mental health condition themselves or caring for a loved one who is. Here is what I usually tell them.

First off, this is a common situation. Just because you don’t know of anyone else at your company who has taken time off for mental health reasons doesn’t mean there isn’t precedent. Diagnosable mental health conditions impact one in five

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