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Capitalizing on All the DNA in Your Gene Pool

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Capitalizing on All the DNA in Your Gene Pool:
Preparing Your Daughter to Lead Your Company

Ellen Frankenberg, Ph.D.

Entrepreneurial genes are scattered across genders. Your sons will continue to inherit more large muscle power (football) than your daughters, and your daughters will develop more delicate, fine muscles movement (brain surgery) than your sons. But the personal characteristics required to build a business pop up with equivalent frequency in both the sons and daughters of entrepreneurial families. Business brains are bathed in both estrogen and testosterone.

Family businesses are still male dominated, but 37% of U.S. businesses are now headed by women. A new cadre of women business leaders - Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, the online auction power house; Abby Joseph Cohen, the stock market wizard; and Martha Stewart, who created her own entertaining and decorating industry - now command frequent airtime on the Today Show and the Nightly Business Report. I wonder how many family business leaders are listening.

How many major family firms seriously consider a daughter as a succession candidate -especially if she really is more competent in construction management or financial analysis than her brothers? How many family firms pay their daughters and sisters and spouses a fair wage, better than the 76.3 cents that women in the rest of corporate America still earn for every dollar earned by men? (cf., Bureau of Labor Statistics Report, released May 26, 2000)

As a new, feisty generation of women business leaders emerges (leading your competitor's firms, if not your own) your daughter may provide the competitive edge your company needs, especially if you have encouraged her to take her business aptitude seriously. Successful women leaders report that the messages they received (especially from parents) while growing up had a significant impact on the goals they set for themselves and the talents they chose to develop, according to Dr. Sylvia Rimm, author of See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women. Here are some tips for developing all the entrepreneurial DNA in your family's gene pool.

1. Expect her to do the math.
The next time you fill up the SUV at the gas pump, let your daughter calculate how many miles you are getting to the gallon, or how many gallons you'll need to get to her cousin's house. On your next trip to the grocery store, tell your daughter you have only $50 to spend, and ask her to add up your purchases as you go - estimating in round numbers without a calculator. (While playing this game, she may also have to demonstrate her skills in subtraction.) Most importantly, she'll learn that you have confidence that she can figure things out right, and that doing the math first can make a big difference in the check-out lane.

2. Give her equal air time.
Educational reports indicate that boys in classrooms still command more teacher time and attention than girls. The same thing can happen at your supper table, especially if your sons are a tad more aggressive and louder (testosterone does make a difference) than your daughters. What questions can you ask that draw out her thinking skills as well as her feelings about what is happening within the family? the neighborhood? the city? the nation? What can you do together that is reasonably enjoyable for both of you, even after she turns 13?

3. Teach her how to sail.
Long before she turns 16 and gets her license, she can learn how to captain her own ship. Sailing (my personal favorite) is one example of a family-oriented sport that combines the illusion of speed and a safe, sunny kind of risk. Girls who sail learn to solve mechanical problems, as well as some rudimentary physics - such as how much wind force against how much sail it takes before swimming suits get wet. If your family boats, and you don't scream too much when things go wrong, she can learn how to be a part of a crew and also how to take her own turn at the helm. If you live more than 100 miles from the nearest body of water, you'll need to discover other ways to encourage your daughter to solve problems, take risks and have fun at the same time.

4. Encourage her artistic expression.
Learning to play the cello in the school orchestra also builds persistent discipline, the capacity to work together with a group, and brain cells (especially the links between memory, imagination and skill). Sometimes she will even get to hear your applause.

When she is angry or frustrated, or has a bad dream, listen to her words first, give her a hug, but then offer her some paper and crayons, so she can learn to visualize her feelings, to draw "the dragon" that troubles her. By getting her feelings outside her head onto paper, she can take control of her own disturbing emotions by tearing up "the dragon", throwing it in the garbage, hanging it on a bulletin board where she can throw darts at it, laughing at it in the light of day, or sharing her feelings more clearly with you.

5. Let her goof off.
Keep a log for a week of how much time your family spends on organized sports, slogging through rush hour traffic with a carload of cranky kids. If you told each of your children that they can choose to participate in only one sport per season, would your whole family have time for more than one meal a week together? How much time does your daughter have for unscheduled dreaming now, for creating her unique perspective on the world, for imagining possibilities that don't yet exist? She will live by a palm pilot soon enough.

6. Ask her to do favors for you.
Child-centered families can produce narcissistic adults. Parents who jump to provide
whatever their children want are telling their sons and daughters that their wishes are more important than anyone else's. Especially in business families that are generating substantial wealth, children mature through learning that giving to others is a gift too. When was the last time you asked your daughter to make you a glass of iced tea, or bring in the mail (with the junk pre-sorted), or plant the geraniums? Waiting until her trust fund matures is too late to realize that you have taught her to be fundamentally selfish.

7. Read together.
Even if she is too big to fall asleep in your arms as you read "Goodnight, Moon" for the 24th time, can you still take trips to the library or book store together, and discuss why you picked the books you did? The next time she rides along with you on a sales trip, ask her to choose an audio book she thinks you would both enjoy, or better, ask her to read to you as the miles go by. Lovely though she is, you are communicating to her that her beauty is not her most important asset - her ability to think, to learn, to share ideas with others, to grow intellectually will last much longer than her size 4 figure.

Family firms looking for future leaders may well consider The Female Advantage, described in a study by Sally Helgesen in which she tracked the day to day work of women executives by analyzing their daily diaries. Significant differences in their management styles, compared to their male counterparts, included an emphasis on co-operative teams with lots of give and take, flexible solutions, intuitive decision-making and the capacity to integrate work with the rest of life.

Peter Drucker, the management guru, holds up Frances Hesselbein, the former executive head of the Girl Scouts, to illustrate one woman's unique management style. Hesselbein's leadership works from the center of the organization out, not from the top down. Titles and rigid structure are down-played. Information is shared in collaborative, rather than competitive groups, often formed spontaneously to meet a need or cross-fertilize ideas. Conflict is resolved face to face at the lowest possible level. The organizational chart looks more like a web than a ladder.

This feminine approach to management embodies the work of Carol Gilligan, the Harvard psychologist who described in A Different Voice how little girls grow by identification with their mothers, and little boys grow by differentiating from their mothers. The consequence of both biology and socialization is that, when faced with life altering decisions, women typically think first of the impact on the other, the significant persons in their lives, and second, of the impact on themselves. Males in our culture are given much more permission to develop independent, autonomous agendas and to make decisions based, first of all, on their own goals and preferences. Who remembers to throw the kids' soccer uniforms in the laundry at midnight in your household? Who maintains a Saturday tee time most faithfully?

The average life span of women doubled during the 20th century, from 42 to 80 something, leaving time enough for a parent to raise a family, and still choose to lead a family firm. She will function differently than her male counterparts, and perhaps her focus on the other, the customer, the employee, will become "the female advantage" for your company. If your company's future CEO can build strong business relationships, adapt intuitively to the changing marketplace, create collaborative teams, recognize opportunities that don't yet exist - and can do the math too - your family firm will beat the odds. It will benefit from the leadership style that has already been built into your daughters naturally - "the female advantage".

In cyberspace it doesn't matter how tall you are. Business management today doesn't require much heavy lifting. The crucial business tool of our times - the computer - is sexless. What does matter is the intelligence and creativity of the company's leadership and the ability of your family to support her as she pursues your company's mission. Using all the talent in your family's gene pool will be an advantage for everyone.

 
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