An interesting way in which hierarchy is played out in Indian family businesses is between mothers-in-law and the daughters-in-law when they are both involved in the business. The mother-in-law might expect the hierarchical relationship at home to be reflected at work, which might not sit well with the daughter-in-law.
This can also be an issue when professional managers are inducted into the family business, giving rise to an owners vs. managers division. Many times, professional managers are treated like puppets by the business owners therefore missing out on truly utilizing the manager’s potential in driving the business forward. Of course, in the past couple of decades, things are changing for the better, with professionals being on a more equal footing with the owners, creating winning partnerships that ultimately benefit the business.
Though the most famous of Indian philosophies, Vedanta, declares that there is no duality in the universe and everything and everyone are the same (and therefore equal), for material life, Indian societies have relied on clear division of labour based on individual competencies. Even in the great Mahabharata, Krishna singled out Arjuna among the five Pandava brothers for his special mentorship!
At the end of the day, family businesses are first made in the image of families. In our work with family businesses, when we see underlying issues of hierarchy affecting the business, we help business owners and other stakeholders understand and analyse the issue and construct a demarcation between the family hierarchy and business hierachy.
What you think about hierarchy in your family business? How can you work on this to drive your business forward?
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Keywords: hierarchy, authority, Mahabharata, Krishna, Arjuna, Pandavas, professional managers, owners, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, brothers