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Family Business on the Couch: A Psychological Perspective

Family Business on the Couch: A Psychological Perspective

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Randel S. Carlock, Elizabeth Florent-Treacy (With)

ISBN: 978-1-119-20902-7 September 2015 324 Pages



The challenge faced by family businesses and their stakeholders, is to recognise the issues that they face, understand how to develop strategies to address them and more importantly, to create narratives, or family stories that explain the emotional dimension of the issues to the family. The most intractable family business issues are not the business problems the organisation faces, but the emotional issues that compound them. Applying psychodynamic concepts will help to explain behaviour and will enable the family to prepare for life cycle transitions and other issues that may arise.

Here is a new understanding and a broader perspective on the human dynamics of family firms with two complementary frameworks, psychodynamic and family systematic, to help make sense of family-run organisations. Although this book includes a conceptual section, it is first and foremost a practical book about the real world issues faced by business families.

The book begins by demonstrating that many years of achievement through generations can be destroyed by the next, if the family fails to address the psychological issues they face. By exploring cases from famous and less well known family businesses across the world, the authors discuss entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial family and the lifecycles of the individual and the organisation. They go on to show how companies going through change and transition can avoid the pitfalls that endanger both family and company. The authors then apply tools that will help family businesses in transition and offer their analyses and conclusions.

Readers should draw their own conclusions from careful examination of the cases, identifying the problems or dilemmas faced and the options for improved business performance and family relationships. They should ask what they might have done in the given situation and what new insight into individual or family behaviour each case offers. The goal is to avoid a bitter ending.






1 A Psychological Perspective on Business Families

Psychodynamic and family systemic perspectives

Key ideas from the psychodynamic approach

The role of transference and countertransference

The family systemic perspective

A therapeutic alliance

A summing-up


2 The Challenges of Love and Work

Conflicting goals in the family business

The tree-circles model

How conflict can develop


3 Family Business Practices: Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses

The interface of business and family practices

Assessing the health of a family business



4 The Life Cycle as an Organizing Construct

The multiple life cycles of the family business

Key models of human psychological development

The family life cycle

Carter and McGoldrick’s family-based life cycle model

Applying the life cycle in family businesses


5 Narcissism, Envy, and Myths in Family Firms

Personality types

Managerial implications of dysfunctional narcissism

The importance of individuation

The family firm as transitional object

The power of envy

Games families play: the role of family myths

The impact of family myths on the family business



6 The Entrepreneur: Alone at the Top

Common personality characteristics of founder-entrepreneurs

Larry Ellison and Oracle

Deciphering the inner theater of the entrepreneur

Common defensive structures in founder-entrepreneurs

Maintaining the balance


7 Leadership Transition: Replacing a Parent as CEO

Options for tackling the succession problem

The inheritance

Psychological pressures on new leaders

Staying on course


8 A Systemic View of the Business Family

A two-way relationship

The evolution of systems theory

The development of family-systems theory

The family-systems proposition

Family scripts and rules

Family scripts in the family business

A practical example of family systems thinking


9 Diagnosing Family Entanglements

The family genogram

The Circumplex Model of marriage and family systems

Differentiation of self from family of origin

Two family stories



10 Addressing Transitions and Change

Lewin’s ideas on change

The Kets de Vries model of individual change

Major themes in the individual journey toward change

The process of change within organizations

The change process in families

Family focus or organization focus?


11 The Vicissitudes of Family Business

The Steinbergs: A study in self-destruction

The immigrant dream

His mother’s son

The entrepreneur’s vision

Sam as a family business leader

The entrepreneur’s dilemma: Passing the baton

The next generation

Irving Ludmer: Play it again, Sam

A family systems perspective on the Steinbergs

The effects of Sam Steinberg’s inner world on the family business

The inner theater of Sam’s daughters

What if?


12 Putting Family Business Intervention into Practice

The Family Action Research Process

The succession conundrum

The role of the outside adviser

Advice to families seeking help

The benefits pf a psychodynamic systems perspective

Final words


Appendix 1: Developing a Business Family Genogram

Creating the genogram

Therapeutic applications of the genogram

Using the genogram to identify family scripts and themes

How genograms improve communication


Appendix 2: The Clinical Rating Scales and the Circumplex Model

How the CRS work



“…explores the reasons why some family businesses are dysfunctional – and how to cure them.” (The Guardian, Saturday 15th September 2007)

"fascinating new book" (The Independent, Tuesday 9th October 2007)

"a unique insight into the subject." (Guardian Unlimited, Thursday 13th December)

"You'll find this book well worth reading" (Edge, February 2008)

" insight into addressing key family buisness issues." (Gulf Buisness, February 2008)