Here Is An Sample Exercise To Identify Concerns In The Second Generation Family Stage Of The Business-Family Life Cycle

Self-Diagnostic Tool For Tackling Silent Barriers

Step 1: Identify Which Family Life Cycle Stage You Are In

Check the stage that applies to you below. For example:

Stage: First Generation Second Generation Third Generation
and Beyond
  • Business founder(s) or senior generation with one or more children
  • Stage typically lasts 20–35 years
  • Begins when adult children of founder(s) start to assume family and/or business leadership roles
  • Stage could last 45 years or more to second-generation members’ retirement or beyond
  • Begins when adult grandchildren of business founder(s) start to assume family and/or business leadership roles
  • Stage lasts as long as family business continues
My Stage Check which
stage applies to you


Step 2: Determine Which Of The Silent Barrier Self-Diagnosis Questions Are Applicable To You:

Second-Generation Stage Example: Check below if you answer “yes” to one or more of the diagnosis questions.

Does the senior generation treat adult offspring as children or attempt to exert excess control over their lives?
Does the senior generation show a lack of trust in adult children’s decisions or capabilities?
Does the senior generation patronize or undermine initiatives of adult children?
Do controlling behaviours create tension and frustrated communication between the generations?
Are next-generation family members distancing themselves from the family and the business?


An Answer Of “Yes” To Any Of These Questions Reveals The Root Cause:

Excessive First-Generation Control Of Adult Children


Why This Is A Root Cause Of Silent Barriers

Business-founding parents may wield influence over their adult children’s lives and family business operations for much of the second-generation stage. However, the same entrepreneurialism and drive that contributed to the first generation’s success when they founded the business may now interfere with their ability to hand control over to their children in the second-generation stage.

The second generation often desires to assume greater family and business leadership before parents are ready to share or give up these roles. Often working as a team, members of the second generation tend to initiate the succession process before their parents do and are more likely to seek outside advice about effective transitions.

Over time, the senior generation’s controlling behaviours will shape the culture of the family and the business. Tension, anxiety, and fears that result from these behaviours eventually take their toll, with the result often being less and less enthusiasm by the second generation for the business and for personal family relationships.

Step 3: Remedies

Second-Generation Stage Example:

Remedy To Tackle The Root Cause Of Excessive First-Generation Control Of Adult Children

Second-generation siblings/cousins need to join together to plan ways to communicate their concerns to the senior generation. Here are ways to begin:

  • Draft a letter to the first generation, detailing concerns. The tone of the letter should be respectful and free of blame. Note appreciation for being associated with the family and the business, but also note that the future of the second generation’s relationship to the business and the family is being jeopardized by certain behaviours of the senior generation. Close the letter with a request for an in-person meeting in which family members can reasonably and respectfully identify concerns, strive to understand the reasons for these behaviours, and find ways to change for the better.
  • Controlling behaviours are often the result of a fear about change and/or not being able to let go and trust the successor generation. One way to address this belief is to invite the meeting participants to partake in an interactive exercise:
    • Working individually, divide a sheet of paper into three columns labeled as shown in the table below, and list out fears, anticipated results, and what is needed to address the fears.
    • Once everyone is finished, have each person share their list of fears (the first column) without interruption.
    • As a group, acknowledge common themes.
      Fear The Result What’s Needed?
      Being left out of decisions Something terrible will happen Actually name what could happen
      No influence anymore Become invisible Discuss ways to address shifting roles and responsibilities
      Poor decisions being made Business and/or family conflict Identify meaningful ways in which the senior generation can remain appropriately
      involved and informed about key business and family decisions

      This exercise takes the personality out of this root cause and its associated silent barriers. It clears the air and sets the stage for managing the feelings that result from the controlling behaviours, and in doing so makes it easier to recommend actions that don’t place blame.

Another way to create a safe environment for this process to unfold is to hire a family business advisor to facilitate and manage this meeting. A skilled facilitator can manage the communication process in a non-emotional way so that the second generation can safely air concerns about parental control and the parents can air their concerns about relinquishing control.