In the mid-90’s I was working with a small group of fellow family business consultants on a case with a large family in the midwest. Since there were about 35 family members involved in ownership and some of them in management of the enterprise, we needed a larger staff to do all that was necessary to gather, analyze and format all the data and conduct the meetings.
There was a good bit of contention in the family because some of them felt marginalized and excluded from the decision making process. A lawsuit was threatened by one branch of the family which could have broken up the family wealth, the operating company and eventually the relationships for generations to come. The lead attorney for the family called on us to help head this off.
One of the staff we used was a young psychologist from Cleveland named John. Over dinner on our first night I expressed my reservations about handling all the moving pieces and my concern that if we failed the consequences would most likely be severe. My projection was that John didn’t have these same fears. However, he looked at me and said, “In order to do this work you need two things in about equal measure: self-confidence and self-questioning.”
A light went off for me. Since I was fairly new to this type of work and was then in the M.A. program working toward my master’s degree, I felt a little shaky. I thought all the other consultants with advanced degrees and more experience were immune from these feelings. What I learned that night was a lesson that has stayed with me ever since, we all feel lacking from time to time whenever we’re in challenging situations.
I realized I was leading, way too often, with my self-questioning. This was not serving me well, nor was it serving our clients. I learned during that consultation to lead with my confidence. I had studied mediation, intervention strategies and theory but my main qualification was my 15 years of practical experience of working with my father in an industry dominated by family owned companies.
Since that time, John’s advice has served me well and I’ve learned to apply it to other situations and circumstances in my life. For instance, when I’m teaching or doing a presentation for a trade association, I try to remember that I am the expert in this subject, I know what I’m talking about and others are there because they want to know more about it in order to help their clients or their own situations.
Think about times when you feel shaky in a situation. Are you leading with your confidence or your questioning? It’s imperative to have both, but if you are always questioning yourself and everything you do, you are handicapped and less than useless to those you wish to help.