As a family business member, it can sometimes be challenging to find the courage to stand up for what you believe. However, it can be just as complicated to walk away from a difficult situation.

Being brave means more than just having the courage to speak your mind. It means having the courage to believe in a better future, know who you are and be vulnerable with those around you, even if that requires stepping outside of your comfort zone.

It is crucial for every family business member to understand their role within the company. However, if a role does not coincide with your ideals, beliefs and aspirations, it is sometimes necessary to be clear and draw the line.

In this episode of our WiFB conversations, Susanne Bransgrove and Ramia Marielle El Agamy discuss what it means to be brave and why courage is conducive to a more harmonious family business environment.  

This episode of Conversations with Women in Family Business is co-produced with Susanne Bransgrove, director of LiquidGold Consultants.

Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash

R: Today, we’re going to discuss bravery and courage. Susanne, do you consider yourself brave?

S: I do. There have been times when I didn’t recognise my bravery until after the moment had passed. However, today, I am confident in my bravery. 

R: Can you think of a specific time in which you didn’t realise you were being brave?

S: When I started working with families in business, I was in a partnership with my life partner at the time, and we had created what I thought was going to be our forever business.

Our relationship fell apart because of the stress of the business, and working together was becoming increasingly difficult. When I reached my breaking point, I walked away from everything to try to start a new life without much of a plan.

R: We often mistake being confrontational with being courageous. It sometimes takes much more courage to walk away from something because you have to live with the fact that it’s over.

A lot of people think that you must always communicate and figure out how to resolve a conflict, but that’s not realistic. In a family business, you have to find the courage to let certain things go, and that’s very difficult because you never know whether it’s the right thing to do.

S: It’s important to understand what you’re walking away from. If you walk away, it doesn’t mean you can’t come back to it if you continue that journey. In my case, I didn’t return to that particular business, but I also didn’t stray from my purpose. I stepped up to something new and better that drew on everything I’ve experienced in the past.

Having said that, in my family business, I have stepped away from a lot of conversations. When I’m facing a difficult or stressful situation, I let it rest and pick it up at a later time when the emotions have passed, and I’ve been able to think things through.

You need to listen rather than let your emotions drive your actions. Listening makes it easier to know at what point you should walk away and at what point you have to stand firm.

R: Being brave has a lot to do with being mindful of when you’re letting your emotions take over. Having self-awareness of the reasons behind your actions has a lot to do with recognising when you’re being brave.

For a lot of women in the family business, playing several different roles can be overwhelming and feel like there’s never going to be a better balance.

Having courage is having hope that your actions will yield a better result, whether that means you’re walking away from something or fighting for something. A lot of people struggle with this concept, and many find it increasingly difficult to be hopeful with the results of their actions.

I’m not sure whether this is because we are surrounded by negative noise in the information we receive or because we are constantly being compared with other people. However, I draw inspiration from the fact that perfect strangers on social media can say something that resonates with you and instils courage and resilience.

There is no sure-shot recipe for building courage because everyone has a different character. However, I do feel like it links with hope in every case.

S: Having courage also means having clarity. If you understand what matters to you and where you want to go, taking a step along the right path will require courage.  

There’s a difference between courage and confidence. Confidence is not something we should rely on because it is an emotion that comes and goes. Looking ahead and being clear about what we want to achieve is a great way to build courage.

Taking in all of the noise about what other people are doing will make us lose sight of where we want to go. When we lose that certainty of who we are, being courageous becomes more difficult because we’re constantly questioning our actions and worrying about what other people think. It’s important to have your own meaning, purpose and clarity of path, and courage is part of that.

R: It’s such an important distinction to make between courage and confidence. When I look back on my courageous moments, I was not particularly confident with what I was doing at the time.

When we are courageous, we’re operating outside of our comfort zone. That’s what makes our actions so extraordinary. It’s never an agreeable process, and that’s why it is so difficult to recognise when you’re being courageous. Being brave does not have a lot of fan fair. In most cases, bravery is a quiet battle that we only recognise once it’s over.

In the family business context, being emotionally close to other family members can be a burden, but it is also a huge advantage. It gives you the opportunity to point out their bravery when they cannot see it, and this adds a lot to the emotional bank account of the relationship. Pointing out someone’s bravery can encourage them to further develop and grow within the family business.

S: I could reach a certain point in my journey on my own. However, having people who believe in you unconditionally and without judgment allows you to leave some of those doubts behind and be more courageous.

That’s something I have been very grateful for. The people who’ve believed in me during my journey allowed me to step up and step out. I think it’s important to find people who you can have open conversations with and who will support you.

R: Communicating with others about your doubts is courageous. When you do something brave, it might be out of the ordinary, and that might be met with disapproval. However, we often feel judged much more than we really are.

In the context of women in the family business, there are a lot of moments when courage and bravery play a big role, such as deciding what your role should be within the family business, or whether or not you even want a role in the business.

Being courageous means picking your battles. There are a lot of moments in which you have to make brave decisions to achieve your goals. The family business can become so big that family members often forget to write their own stories because they are so wrapped up in the collective.

Bravery means writing your own story without contradicting the collective interest. You need to be allowed to give the family business your own twist and direction.

S: I’m always clear when I work with families that they have to define not only their family’s values, vision and purpose but that of each individual within the family. You can’t have a healthy collective when the individuals don’t have room to find themselves.

You need to know who you are and where you want to go. The moment you start subordinating yourself to an overarching purpose that goes against your personal values, you lose your entire vision.

As much as people subscribe to family values, they also have to be clear on what they stand for. This is where a lot of mental health issues start. By the time you’ve undermined your mental wellbeing, it’s difficult to be courageous. You’ll be prone to jump at shadows, and that can have a negative impact on family harmony, therefore risking the family’s future.

R: Standing up to your family or standing up for what you believe takes courage. It is always much easier when we fit the mould, but we rarely do. A lot of people are happy to blindly follow the beliefs of the family because they’ve never questioned it. Constructively questioning the norm is an immensely courageous thing to do.

The overarching motivation of anyone in a family business will always be to make sure the family stays together. However, this demands a lot of sacrifices; not every family is fit for it. You must have the courage to draw the line of how much you’re willing to sacrifice for the family business.

As an entrepreneur, you have to know what you’ll stand up for as an individual within the collective. You have to have the courage to voice that, and it may make you unpopular. It’s worthwhile in retrospect, but it has nothing to do with being comfortable in that moment itself.

S: A truly harmonious family is one with individuals who stand up for who they are and what they believe. The more you can foster a respectful and loving, the more harmonious your family will be. You might not always agree, but discussing your differences creates a deeper harmony.

When I look at the work I do with families, I observe the values, purpose and strategy of families, the individual and the business separately. We make sure we’re not leaving the individuals behind, and we always do an assessment to ensure that we’re not one-sided in our investment into the business or the family as a whole.

It’s never going to be a perfect balance. You’re always going to skew it slightly, but taking the time to complete that assessment will ensure a better long-term result.

About Susanne Bransgrove and LiquidGold Consultants: 

Susanne Brainsgrove

Susanne Bransgrove, one of the directors of LiquidGold Consultants, is known for her passion for supporting Families in Business manage the complexities of balancing multiple generations and for encouraging female founders and future leaders to be the best they can be. Growing up in Germany as part of a third-generation family business has provided her with a sound foundation for understanding the range of issues that arise when family members work together. Susanne puts her heart into the businesses and individuals she spends time with and believes in a strong foundation of love and compassion.