Perspectives from ISB

In a 2007 article published in the New York Times, author Nora Klaver of May Day! Asking for Help in Times of Need says that asking for help “makes business sense.” Yet, it is rare that small-business owners — especially family owned businesses — will admit that they need help, much less become proactive in asking for it.

Fear. Embarrassment. Pride. That’s why people don’t ask for help.

What these owners don’t realize is that if they really need help and don’t ask for it, they create conflicts within their family and business relationships.

Here are three “perfect storms” brewing and ready for conflict resolution — if only someone would ask:

  • Four siblings own a marketing agency. The eldest has been through alcohol rehab twice but continues to work and drink at the office. The younger brother never talks to his brother, and ignores his decisions. The CFO sister has “checked out” to avoid her brothers’ animosity. The sister who doesn’t work there has options on how to assert herself in the situation.
  • A dad and daughter co-own a niche company, although he spends most of his time in warmer climates while she runs the business. While she is having an affair with her sales manager, employees have lost respect for the owners and all too readily see the thorny, sex harassment issues that can negatively impact the culture. Many will decide it’s time to leave.
  • Siblings who work in their dad’s business need to face up to the dominating woman who has run the company for 30 years. She tends to “protect” the dad from stress by deciding what information he needs to know. While the dad would like to be advised on a succession plan, this woman does not want change until she’s ready to retire, thus she puts off the advisors.

In any one of these situations, one would think someone would reach out and ask for help. But all of them have been approached and none of them want it. They are afraid to face the truth. They don’t want to open the proverbial “can of worms” because, deep down, they really do know just how bad things are, and it’s easier to avoid it than it is to face the truth. Once the can is opened, it can’t be sealed up again.

They are embarrassed to admit the truth. They don’t see themselves as being unable to have a happy family and a healthy business without outside assistance, so if others were to find out about their problems, it would pose an immense embarrassment for them.

They are too proud to ask for help. Their attempts at perseverance usually do little more than enable the problems to continue, but persevering under hellish conditions feeds their personal pride that they can muscle through it all and keep a smile on their face. Is this what they really want?

They don’t see the connection between resolving conflict in the business and having better family relationships. Fear. Embarrassment. Pride. This is why people don’t ask for help. This is why family-run businesses fail, too.


Source: English, Bill., Apr 20, 2017,

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