The Importance of Leadership in a Family Business


The DCU National Centre for Family Business is an invaluable resource centre for family businesses in Ireland. At the recent “Trust in the Family Firm” event, Prof James Davis from the Utah State University gave an inspiring and thought-provoking talk on the three key criteria to be a good leader.

The principle is based on ABI – Ability, Benevolence and Integrity. A leader needs to have a balance of all three elements to be trusted by those who follow them.

The key takeaways for any leaders are:


TRUST is Key

  • You know you are a good leader if people follow you only for curiosity
  • You need to have the willingness to take a risk and be vulnerable in a relationship
  • The question in a family business may be – “I trust my child… but do I trust them in my business?”



  • If I perceive you don’t have the skills I won’t trust you
  • However, if I prove my ability in the future, I will gain credibility and trust in return



  • The concept of perceiving that the person being trusted wants to do good for the team
  • A family member may question – does Dad really care as much about me as they do about their business?
  • If you lose trust because of not being able to be benevolent, it is much harder to regain trust from followers in the future



  • The concept that you adhere to a set of principles
  • If you veer away from those or it is perceived you do, it is very difficult to regain trust


In summary, if integrity or benevolence is not shown by the leader, then trust is broken. If there is insufficient ability, there is no trust, however, it is the only element where trust can be rebuilt when ability is proven. You know you have been a great leader when your followers believe “we did it ourselves”.


Ronan Harbison is Commercial Director with Mentors and can be contacted at [email protected]

Ronan Harbison

Ronan Harbison

Commercial Director