Family Enterprise Center - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Identifying meaningful learning experiences

Family Enterprise Center - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolTo become a successful leader in any organization, young leaders need plenty of time and opportunities to learn, practice and grow. They need support and feedback about their progress and guidance to improve.

For leaders whose name also happens to be the company name, these opportunities to learn can be limited. Some family firms shield the next generation from situations in which they may fail or hold back feedback that could help the young leader grow.

At the Family Enterprise Center’s 2nd Annual Family Business Forum, we encouraged family business students to identify meaningful leadership learning opportunities that will prepare them for their future roles, and to open up dialogue with their families about the kinds of feedback they need. Working with their parent or other family members, students focused on identifying appropriate roles with real responsibilities that they should have at each stage of their career. These roles did not have to be in the family business. Some students identified roles outside of the family business – such as campus leadership positions, non-profit service and summer internships – that will help them develop as leaders.

The common theme for each leadership learning opportunity was responsibility. Each role identified requires students to assess the needs of the position, set measurable goals and work toward achieving them. In many instances, these positions also require students to work in teams to achieve their goals.

Our research shows that the most successful family business leaders take on challenging work experiences at an early age and continue to seek meaningful roles with real responsibility as their careers advance. It is easy for young leaders to get caught up in the busyness of daily tasks, such as putting out fires and responding to email.

Our Family Business Forum gives students time to step back and reflect on what skills and experiences will be required to prepare them for leadership roles.

Committing their specific plan to paper with a timeline for progress makes it more likely that these young leaders will have meaningful learning experiences that will prepare them for a variety of leadership roles inside or outside their family firm.


Tips for identifying meaningful leadership learning experiences:

  • Think about your company’s current strategy and how it might change to reflect growth of the company or changes in the industry over the next 10-15 years. Talk to the current leader of your family firm to get their perspective.
  • Based on the company’s strategy and the potential for change, identify the skills and experience that will be required to be a successful leader in your business and industry.
  • Make a list of leadership positions that could help you gain those skills and experiences.
  • Network. What leaders do you know who have the kinds of experience or knowledge you need? Contact them and ask to take them to lunch. Ask them to tell you about a leadership experience that prepared them for their current position and what kinds of roles they recommend you take on to prepare for leadership.
  • Create your learning agenda. Ask yourself: What specific roles or experiences should you seek out? When should you pursue them? What steps do you need to take?? Do you need additional training to prepare you for any of those roles? Commit your ideas to writing and include a timeline. Start today!