Juggling family expectations and personal passion in an executive career

Following in his father’s footsteps, Charles joined what was once the family firm in the City roughly ten years ago. Ownership long-since passed to corporate hands, although there is still a portrait of his great-grandfather hanging in the corridor by the Boardroom. Few people even noticed his surname and those that did tended to think it was a coincidence that he shared it with one of the past Chairmen. Charles’ wife also came from a family closely associated with the same profession.

Charles and I began working together when he was refered to me by the HR Director. Charles’ explanation for this was that, in a review, he had expressed a concern that he wasn’t really being challenged by the firm or his work. It soon became evident that the lack of challenge was within himself and nothing to do with the firm.

It isn’t easy being the umpteenth generation of male ‘heirs’ expected from an early age to enter the family business even though it is no longer family-owned. Once you are ‘inside’, it is probably even harder to get away and carve your own path. We spent some time exploring the ‘prison sentence’ dished out to Charles for the crime of being born into this particular family.

All rational explanations, logical arguments, and linear thinking pointed to the need for a career change, but family pressure was still ever present. While still working on day-to-day leadership themes, we also explored options open to Charles to leave – and ways in which he might satisfy the expectations on him while still finding his own path.

One of his dream jobs was to work in a particular leisure-related industry. He had always been envious of a cousin who worked in that field and who had a successful business based on it. At one of our sessions, Charles mentioned that the cousin had been diagnosed with cancer and had little hope of surviving. Initially the issue came up because it again challenged him to do something with his life, but it also struck him that someone who he had always envied was now in such a desperate situation. Slowly, we evolved a scenario in which he might offer to take over the business, learning alongside his cousin while it was still possible, and thereby doing a very decent thing in the eyes of the family. When he discussed the idea with his father, uncle and cousin, the response was immediate and very positive. Five years on, it is fair to say that Charles has transformed the business into an international operation, that does credit to his cousin’s name – which still features prominently in all their literature.

Best wishes

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