Is the Boss of Your Family Business a Dictator?

Elaine King

Is the boss in your multigenerational family business a dictator?

Perhaps they have just gotten used to being in charge. After all, in a family business, the boss is not only in charge of the business but is also often the family patriarch or matriarch. Or maybe the CEO has always had a controlling personality and it shows in the work environment as well. What are the signs your boss has gone off the deep end and become a toxic dictator?

Answer these questions to find out if your boss is a dictator:

1. Your boss made a mistake. When confronted:

a. Your boss admits their mistake and apologizes.

b. Your boss never admits they were wrong. Instead, they ignore the issue.

c. Your boss blames an employee for the mistake. The boss is never wrong!

2. In a meeting, a team member suggests an idea that’s different from the boss’s plan. Your boss:

a. Discusses the new idea openly with the team.

b. Suggests that the idea should be considered another time and moves on.

c. Ridicules the idea and the team member who made the suggestion.

3. You made a great pitch to a client and got a contract. Your boss:

a. Congratulates you on a job well done.

b. Doesn’t make any comment.

c. Takes credit for the pitch and your work.

Your Results: If you got more than one c., your boss is very dictator-like. If you got b.’s and c.’s, they’re on the road to becoming a dictator. If you got mostly a.’s, you’re in the clear! Your boss isn’t a dictator.

If your family businesses’ boss has become a dictator or exhibits some dictator-like traits, it can be difficult to deal with them. They are controlling, self-centered, and lead by instilling fear in others. So, what can you do? Here are four strategies for dealing with a dictator boss:

1. See the Positive Sides

Even a dictatorship can achieve positive outcomes. For example, decisions can be made more quickly. Also, dictatorships can be positive in companies with inexperienced workers who need to be told exactly what to do. Recognize when these benefits are at play to keep things in context.

You can also see the positive sides of a dictator’s actions or words by inferring their true meaning. For example, at a recent event, I talked to some second-generation members of a family business. They were siblings and their business was related to construction. For some time, the siblings had pressed their father to offer environmentally friendly buildings to clients. He always scoffed at the idea, until one day, the siblings signed a big client on this premise. Later, when the father met with the new client, he claimed the idea for the green building as his own. The good-natured kids confided in me saying, “It’s the biggest compliment he’ll ever give us!” In this example, the kids knew that their father would never come out and say “good job!” By inferring that he was proud of them when he took credit, the kids saw the positive side of his dictatorial behavior.

2. Don’t Take it Personally

If your boss berates you and others or always seems negative, it’s probably not a reflection on you or your work. It’s just the way the boss communicates, however awful it may be. Try not to take the comments personally. Instead, stay positive and focus on doing your best. Remember, you want to keep your job and make a good impression on other people in the company. So, you should also avoid retaliating by working slower or taking off as many personal days as possible. 

3. Identify Triggers

Try to notice what really ticks off the boss. For example, if they flip out any time you arrive 2 minutes late to a meeting, set yourself a reminder to be in the meeting room 5 minutes before starting time. If you can avoid triggers, you can help keep your boss from spinning into a negative spiral.

4. Seek Help

If you’re struggling to communicate with another family member in the business, don’t be afraid to look for help! Use the services of a professional family mediator with a specialization in family businesses. 

A dictatorship can create a toxic environment that makes employee attrition skyrocket. In fact, 1 in 2 employees has quit a job to escape a bad boss. That’s not good news for the business. To minimize the negative effects of a dictatorial boss, hire a consultant (like me) who is an expert in family business. With the right expertise, you can make sure you address issues within the family and business and move forward in a positive way for everyone involved.

Working with a dictatorial boss is never easy. But, with the right strategies and approach, you can survive their rule and even help them move towards healthier management styles. 

Elaine King is a Certified Financial PlannerTM and registered mediator with extensive experience working with family businesses. Connect with her on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and Twitter.

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Elaine King - Family and Money Matters™ 2021