Nothing can happen without keeping the lines of communication open.
Q: I’ve worked for my father’s company for a decade. Though he always approves the sales ideas I bring him, he lets the employees ignore my leadership and, instead, do things their own way. Implementation always falls short, and sales and profit margins are declining.
Before joining Dad’s company, I was successful in building clients and increasing sales for similar businesses. My wife and I want to start a family, and she is encouraging me to find another job. It isn’t easy to quit and move on when you work for your father. What do I do?
A: An employee who feels a lack of respect and believes he is being sabotaged by the boss will likely change jobs. But if the boss is a parent, there is a compelling reason to find a way of communicating in which you can each see the other’s point of view and address the problem.
While it is easier to point to what the other person should have done to improve the situation, look at what you might have done differently when you felt undermined. This increases your self-awareness in working through conflict. Organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley, author of Finding Our Way: Leadership For an Uncertain Time, describes the way we “lock in” a view of ourselves, creating a “self-seal” in which we notice only the things that confirm what we already think. She points out that when we move outside our own self-reference and notice something new, we have a chance of changing and can “break the seal.”
You and your father have established a pattern in the workplace. That pattern has no upside for the company and clearly doesn’t work for you.
If you have a passion for the family business, is there a trusted third party who might help you and your father talk about your role, your work relationship and what you each can do to support your success and that of the company? If you don’t have that passion, identify a resource to help you think through your career goals and options. If you decide on an exit strategy, make sure it respects your father and the business, and share it with him as early as possible.
Q: I’ve developed a line of facial products for customers whose race is different from mine—a fact that is obvious when they meet me, as I’m also the chief salesperson. For some prospective customers, that is a deal breaker. I’ve been in business many years, so I resent it when people challenge my qualifications. How do I build trust with them?
A: As long as you remain resentful, you’ll be the biggest obstacle toward building trust. No entrepreneur likes to have his or her credentials challenged, but when you let yourself become defensive, people you just met aren’t likely to hang around to find out why you created the product. The why can be a key element in earning someone’s trust if it establishes that you have a shared goal or common interest.
In a 2009 TED talk, Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” If your why is a genuine expression of what you care about, it establishes a reason for someone to believe in you and opens the door to trust. Nothing can happen without keeping the lines of communication open. You need to talk (about your reasoning, the product, testimonials and credible research) and remain open to listening to customers’ concerns.
Once we notice that our ego is doing the talking and decide to take a fresh, nonjudgmental look at the situation, resentment gets dialed back. No matter how successful you’ve been in the past, you’re a stranger at another starting gate when entering a new market.
If your marketing plan doesn’t include answers to questions potential customers might ask, it’s time to think about constructive responses. Search out tips from entrepreneurs who have successfully developed products they don’t personally use. Study the way others have answered questions about gender, race or ethnicity. Building trust depends on your openness, commitment to serving this market and the ways in which you establish credibility.
If some prospects can’t overcome their first impressions of you or your product, don’t burn bridges. Time, endorsements and a solid track record can create converts.