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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Dickinson


Updated: Apr 28, 2021

The pace of business is so fast today that a new kind of leader is needed for family businesses. Typically, a family business CEO leads a company for 20 or 30 years or more. In the most common pattern, an entrepreneur, often after much trial and error, hits upon an idea that clicks with a market opportunity. The entrepreneur builds that idea into a success, and runs with that success until it peaks out. The business then goes into a long period of stagnation.

If the business is fortunate, the next-generation leader comes along and creates a success all over again. In other words, the classic pattern of the family business that is able to grow from generation to generation is that each leader creates and grows one strategic success, and then it stagnates; the next-generation leader comes along and does the same thing. Each generation, then, brings about its own strategic renewal.

However, this pattern no longer represents a viable model. A family business cannot endure in an environment where competition is changing and intensifying at a tremendous pace unless it is led in a way that it can renew its strategy more often than it changes leaders. The head of a family business today must be able to lead an organisation through two, three or four waves of strategic renewal.

In organisations with the power to persist through turbulent eras, one finds leaders who live as if they were stewards of a legacy — the culture, mission, and founding spirit of the organisation. These legacy leaders have the ability to weave a thread of constancy through times of peril. Five attributes characterize legacy leaders: Their work is a vocation, they possess a moral code, they are committed to stewardship, they have a bias for building, and they instil hope.

Their Work Is a Vocation

Legacy leaders often unconsciously develop a central theme in their lives for many years before they recognize it. As a leader becomes aware of a purpose that resonates for themselves, this deepening conviction will make their leadership have increasing impact. But having a defining purpose in one's life is not sufficient in itself. A leader's purpose must be transcendent; it must elevate others to become more than they are and inspire them to sacrifice for the common good. That defining purpose must also be accompanied by constancy of purpose. A leader who is mercurial, or who embraces the fleeting over the enduring, will have a utilitarian value for an organisation at certain moments in its history. However, such a leader is not likely to leave a legacy.

They Possess a Moral Code

A legacy leader possesses a personal moral code which, over time, will dominate the organisation's moral behaviour. The leader's moral code will be reflected throughout the organisation, from thoughtful and informed decision making, to the development of reliable, respectful relationships throughout the organisation, to an obsessive attention to quality and service to customers. The leader's moral code breathes life into the institutional mission, and if it is inconsistent with the stated business purpose, the latter will erode. Eventually, the organisation will become morally bankrupt. A legacy leader's behaviour is rightly centred on correct decision making. However, his or her personal behaviour, and the work of making decisions with and through others, are centred in respect for the individual. Ultimately, the moral purpose of the organisation is embodied in the daily behaviour of the leader. The leader who leaves a legacy derives personal and professional satisfaction from relationships with individuals, in balance with satisfaction with results.

They Are Committed to Stewardship

Legacy leaders see themselves as stewards of the business. Even though they may have absolute control of the company, they are not possessive of it. They depersonalize themselves from the business and regard it as an institution worth preserving in its own right. They adopt the philosophy as described in the book, Borrowed from Your Grandchildren: The Evolution of the 100-Year Family Enterprises, by Dennis Jaffe. They understand that status is not so much a business proposition as it is a legacy from past citizens, who founded the mission. Therefore, the leader is the current steward of a concept crafted by individuals who were dedicated to community well-being. The legacy leader uses this stewardship to inspire stakeholders with a sense of unchanging purpose. Legacy leaders reach for inspiration, articulate the purpose and meaning of the work of the organisation, and, in doing so, elevate the values and behaviours of others.

They Have a Bias for Building

Legacy leaders are generally builders, and their building may manifest itself in physical facilities or in defining a new system that improves on the old. It may show itself as a new capacity in the organisation that will enable it to survive - perhaps a new core competency. Because the work of transforming institutions is long and arduous, legacy leaders adopt a long-term approach, patiently removing obstacles to worthy accomplishments.

They Instil Hope

Legacy leaders instil hope and optimism. Hope is always a transcendent element of hard-won victories. Leaders with hope refuse to give up on solving apparently unsolvable conflicts and refuse to settle for short-term success. It is more than vision, which, while necessary, is not quite the language of motivation. It is vision with a "why," or purpose, attached. Those who nurture hope nurture dreams, and these leaders nurture the development of individuals to uncommon accomplishments.

Legacy is not only defined by the accomplishments and vision you leave behind, but also by the way in which you conduct yourself as a leader and the decisions you make every day.


Family Legacies is a multidisciplinary family business consulting company. Our consultants are leaders in their respective fields including; Family Business Consulting, Strategic Planning, Financial Planning, Wealth & Risk Management, Corporate Finance, Business Transitions & Exit Planning - Buy, Improve, Grow & Sell Businesses, Commercial & Family Law, Executive Coaching, Leadership Development & Facilitation, providing our clients with a professional and integrated multi-disciplinary service.



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