This week we’re looking at a topic that applies to both the people who work in their own family enterprises and also those who work as professional advisors serving such families.

Ideally, everyone who plays either of these roles will be able to do so in a competent manner. Otherwise, problems come up, and they usually aren’t that simple to deal with.

When these competent people are also very self-aware, they typically have a confidence level that matches their ability, and they present a coherent narrative that’s easy to ascertain.

But when they exhibit a high level of one, combined with a low level of the other, it’s less pretty to see.

The Spark for This Post

Because I write a blog post every week, I’m constantly looking for ideas to expound upon here. 

As someone who speaks to lots of people in my field, who occupy various roles in this ecosystem, I’m part of many conversations that provide fodder for these posts.

I get plenty of ideas from others with whom I speak, and also many that come out of my own mouth because I like to think out loud, especially when speaking with colleagues who also work with families.

That’s what happened here, as I was lamenting that there are some people who think that facilitating a family meeting is pretty simple and that it doesn’t require much in the way of training or skill.

As I noted to a friend recently, “They are very confident in their ability to pull this off, even if they are not very competent.”

So this became my starting point, but as I thought about it, I realized that it’s part of a much larger subject.

Overconfident Professionals 

Of course, there will always be some people out there who are more confident in their abilities than they really should be. The trick is to sniff them out early so that you can upgrade the quality of the people you’re paying to serve you.

Unfortunately, sometimes we put our trust in folks for one thing, get to know and like them, and then we wrongly assume that we can rely on them for other matters too.

Some accountants, lawyers, and bankers can do a good job facilitating family meetings. But I daresay that most of them make sub-optimal choices for that role.

Overconfident Family Members

We also come across family members who work in their family enterprise who overestimate how good they are at their job.

One of the stigmas that family businesses sometimes face is that they are filled with incompetent people whose only qualification for their job is having the right last name.

I like to think that these situations are more the exception than the rule, especially once you get to a certain size of business, but these people certainly do exist.

The non-family employees of such businesses have a front-row seat to some of these situations, and I’m sure they end up with some interesting stories to share.

Competent Family Members Without Confidence

There are also situations where the reverse is true, though, and sometimes these are even harder to watch.

I’m talking about smart, competent people, often poised to become future leaders of their family enterprise, who don’t have enough confidence to really get them there.

These situations can often be helped with some coaching and mentorship, but it takes lots of time, effort, and patience.

It can be more difficult when the lack of confidence stems from less-than-ideal parenting, which is always sad to see. If you hire your offspring to work for you and you then constantly belittle them and put them down in front of everyone, don’t be surprised if they don’t become top performers.

Finding the Right Balance

In the end, though, I think we can all agree that spending time and working with people who are both competent and confident is more enjoyable and satisfying than dealing with people who don’t practice those qualities in sync.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice in these matters, of course, but when you are in control of the situation, sometimes you need to notice these things and make some necessary changes, even if it isn’t always easy.

Life’s too short to spend it with people whose confidence far surpasses their competence. 

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