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Raising Your Daughter, the Next CEO

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Support her childhood dreams of greatness. Then watch her grow into a leader who can take your firm to new heights.

By Ellen Frankenberg

FAMILY COMPANIES may be the best possible laboratories for developing a new generation of female CEOs. Families in business together have to work harder at teamwork, especially in the sibling and cousin generations, and your daughter may, by temperament and genes, be best suited to lead the company in the new, collaborative workplace. Having invested at least $50,000 per daughter in college educations, why not reap some of the dividends in your own shop by grooming female successors?

A 1995 survey of over 1,000 family business owners by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. indicated that men still carry more clout than women in family firms. Nevertheless, the survey also showed that women hold proportionately more positions in the top management of family companies than they do in nonfamily businesses. Moreover, women who currently lead family firms are twice as likely as men to envision that their daughters will one day assume control (14 percent vs. 7 percent).

To take charge of your company, your daughter will need more than a good education. She will need a supportive family, good mentors, and a motivating dream. I don't believe there is any right way to develop leadership potential in the next generation, because industries, business requirements, and personalities vary so widely. But I do believe that it will happen only when parents learn to identify and nurture the strengths and talents of daughters from an early age.

A growing body of research literature suggests some of the ways this can be done. In their 1992 study, Women in Power: The Secrets of Leadership (Houghton Mifflin), Dorothy Cantor and Toni Bernay examined family influences during the childhoods of 25 women who were later elected to high political office in the United States during the 1980s. The women interviewed were the first females in either party to assume roles as senators, governors, or members of Congress in their states or districts. The two psychologists cited five powerful messages that these successful female political leaders received in their formative years that may have accounted for their success:

  1. You are loved and special.
  2. You can do anything you want.
  3. It is okay to take risks.
  4. You can use and enjoy your creative aggression.
  5. You are entitled to dream of greatness.

These women had crashed through the glass ceiling. When asked how they had overcame all the obstacles that women face in the rough game of politics, a common response was, "What obstacles?" They saw formidable obstacles as an ordinary part of getting the job done. In selecting a successor for your family company, why not give the job to someone who doesn't focus on obstacles but on "getting the job done?"

The messages that little girls hear have a profound impact on the success they will attain as women. Daniel Levinson, the late Yale psychologist, traced the psychological development of career women in a new book, The Seasons of a Woman's Life (Alfred A. Knopf). Published posthumously, the book followed an earlier work on males, The Seasons of a Man's Life. The new work finds remarkable similarities in the agelinked maturation process of men and women. As both sexes age, they go through psychological transitions in which the "structures" they have developed to give meaning to their adult lives — typically, based on work and family — are reassessed and may be significantly modified.

These structures of adult life are often shaped by childhood dreams, which become a powerful driver of career aspirations. Women's dreams are more vulnerable than men's in a culture that has until recently done little to sustain those dreams. A young girl's deepest aspirations to lead can die if someone isn't there to listen to her dream, encourage it, sharpen its focus, and give her the space she needs to build vital structures for her work life as well as her family life.

Though society has much to do with defining the differences between men and women, women doubtless enter the marketplace with different biological wiring. Carol Gilligan, the Harvard psychologist, argued in A Different Voice (Harvard University Press) that when faced with life-altering decisions, women typically think first of the impact on the significant persons in their lives, and second of the impact on themselves. Males in our culture are socialized to develop independent, autonomous identities and to make decisions according to their own goals and preferences.

These observations have enormous implications for family structure, leadership, and succession planning in family businesses. Gilligan's work suggests that males may be more independent decision-makers, while women maybe more collaborative, inclusive, and process-oriented leaders. Most likely, however, a combination of both sets of qualities are essential in the corporation of the future. The crucial question is: How can both be nurtured in your daughter, the next CEO, through positive parenting? I would recommend the following based on the research literature and my own experience advising families in business:

1. Support development of all her talents

"You can do anything," the successful women political leaders were told. That message is not about foolhardy attempts to fly a plane across the country at age 7, but about testing your daughter's wings in age-appropriate skill-matched challenges, from soccer to surfing the Internet.

"You can take horseback riding lessons when you're as old as your brother was when he started — six years old."

2. Offer specific compliments to reinforce real accomplishments

In some cultures, notably the German, one is expected to do the job right the first time. An adult will comment only when a child makes mistakes, so it is better not to depend upon compliments. Some families I have known in the Midwestern United States are perhaps still influenced by the kindergarten movement which originated in Germany and stresses discipline and self-reliance in early classroom activities. But while false flattery is useless, children need clear, positive reinforcement for their efforts. We need to catch them being good more than than being bad.

"I like the way you picked up your toys, without my telling you..."

3. Allow her to take risks appropriate to her age and skills

The breadth of risk-taking is defined within a family. One family I know in the logging business did not consider it risky for an 11-year-old to climb to the top of a 100-foot hemlock tree and "ride it down" while his father cut through the final wedge in the trunk. In other families, girls and boys aren't allowed to talk with children of other faiths or races because of fear of differences. Parents who know their children well can calibrate the risks they let them take according to their age, skill, and maturity. They encourage their daughters as well as their sons to accept a challenge and "take the next step."

"If your instructor says you're ready, why don't you ski Black Diamond slope in the afternoon when it's sunny?"

4. Help her define realistic goals

No matter how great a swimmer she is, she will probably never be able to join the Navy Seals,, because there are real differences between men and women in large muscle power and stamina. Women are built for fine muscle movements, useful in fields from needlepoint to brain surgery to computer-aided design. Though large-muscle power may be necessary in the Navy Seals, however, it isn't particularly necessary in managing a family business. A young woman of intelligence and confidence can set realistic goals for herself that probably her grandmother — the one from Eastern Europe who couldn't write English but who nevertheless founded a successful dry cleaning chain — never would have fathomed.

"If you want to go to MIT, your mother and I will pay half your tuition and your room and board. If we do that, we expect your grades to be above a 3.00."

5. Give daughters "equal time" at the dinner table

Studies of teachers' behavior in classrooms repeatedly indicate that boys are called on more frequently than girls, which means the boys elicit more attention and, it seems, grow in confidence and leadership abilities, Parents can make the same mistake. Try a little experiment in your household: Keep track for a few nights of how much each of your children talks during dinner. If your daughters participate about as much as your sons- and are listened to without interruption you are raising potential leaders of both sexes. If they don't, find ways to encourage the girls to offer their opinions.

"Jennifer, who would you vote for if the Presidential election were held tomorrow?"

6. Ask her about her dreams of greatness

Little girls used to be limited to four dreams: They could be teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and after they worked at one or the other of those for a time, they could be homemakers and mommies. Now, even after three soccer practices a week, violin lessons, and Advanced Placement Chemistry, girls still need time to dream. As Carol Gilligan tells us, girls, dreams often change. Multitalentcd young women will hide brains with charm and defer to the boys around them for the sake of maintaining relationships. At age 8, Jennifer organized the play of all the kids on the block. Will she continue to follow her natural talent for leadership if she keeps getting the message it is a turnoff to those around her? Will her dreams then die?

The recent practice of participating in the annual "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" is an example of one way to help bright young women focus on the promise of the adult world beyond her teenage clique. Taking your daughter to Spain on your next business trip will stimulate her dreams even more. Or you can simply ask her to share her dreams with you (preferably when there's no TV, phone, or other distractions around). Just as important, perhaps you'll be able to share with your daughter some of your dreams for her.

"Where would you like to be in the year 2005? Where don't you want to be?"

7. Let her know that her capacity for empathy and consensus building are valued assets

The 1995 MassMutual survey affirmed that family businesses tend to reach decisions by consensus. It's no wonder: Whatever their disagreements at the office, the family still wants to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Women seem to have innate antennae for relationships and have been socialized for centuries in collaborative and consensus-building skills. The organizational ability needed to get the kids off to the school bus just in time can be mobilized to get orders delivered to customers "just in time." The feminine capacity for empathy can also be an enormous asset in sales and employee relations, especially if it is wedded to some healthy, creative aggression. The challenge for top management is to figure out how these complementary strengths of daughters can be most effectively utilized in the family business.

"Let Jennifer make the arrangements for our vacation trip because she knows what everyone wants and what to tell the travel agent."

THE AVERAGE LIFESPAN of women has doubled since the turn of the century, from 42 to 80 something. That remarkable development suggests, as Gloria Steinem has said, that women have become virtually a "new species." Whoever first said that women's primary role was to bear and raise children probably had it right. But once her adolescent children no longer want to hang out with Mom, what will she do with the other 35 to 40 years of her adult life?

Surely, that's time enough to become CEO of a major corporation. With all their hard-earned experience as moms, in managing human resources, in time and budget-monitoring, and in team-building, many women will be able to make the jump from tot lot to boardroom. That kind of leap is still as scary as bungee-jumping unless daughters have been brought up to accept risks, unless they have learned they are capable of doing almost anything, unless their parents have devoted considerable time and effort to mentoring them with great expectations.

The daughters who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s expected equal opportunity in sports as well as in competing for scholarships and stock options. They have emerged from the Saturday morning mud, as well as from the Harvard Law School, with a perception of themselves that is quite different from that of women in previous generations. The family business is ideally suited to making the best use of their substantial talents and remarkable dreams. The factory and the executive suite will probablybe a much different place when your daughter takes charge. The payoff for you is the thrill of watching her dream unfold, and seeing the family business grow more profitable under her steady,confident hand.

Ellen Frankenberg is a psychologist who advises families in business. She is president of The Frankenberg Group in Cincinnati, OH.

The Mommy CEO Track

During the 21st century, the ranks of women-owned businesses will expand exponentially. Consider:

  • The number of women-owned businesses has grown 43 percent since 1990, according to research by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that at least one-third of businesses in the country are owned by women.
  • The Bureau of the Census reports that women-owned businesses generated a total of $1.6 trillion in sales in 1992 (last figures available).

Most businesses created by women are still younger and smaller companies, but women have also been assuming control of older and larger organizations and managing them effectively for many years.

Ellen Gordon, president and COO of Tootsie Roll industries, joined her husband in managing her father's business after her children were grown. A dollar invested in her company in 1989 had doubled in value by 1994, surpassing the industry average.

Martha Ingram now heads the largest woman-owned business, Ingram Industries in Nashville, Tennessee. Ingram was public relations director of the $11 billion company, which she inherited after her husband's death last year.

Loida Lewis is now in charge of the largest black-owned business, TLC Beatrice International Holdings. She has brought a steady hand to the helm of the $2.1 billion conglomerate, which she took over after her husband's premature cleath.

For all their accomplishments in business and public life, however, most of the women I know are still the primary caregivers in their households. So long as it is women who bear children, biology will be destiny to a great extent. The "mommy track" may be a reality in some parts of corporate America, but perhaps the family business can develop some creative alternatives, so that daughters as well as sons can be enriched by careers as well as families.

The family business can support practical — and not just rhetorical — family values by providing flexible, part-time work schedules for daughters (or sons) who want to focus on raising the next generation. It may be the best investment of all in the future of the family business.

— ;E.F.

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