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Of boundaries and staying friends with your family in the ranch business

Scott Olson/Getty Images Ranching generations
You’ve worked long and hard to build your ranch. Have your family relationships suffered?

We’ve all heard the old saw that good fences make good neighbors. Indeed they do. They establish boundaries and keep livestock where they belong. That allows neighbors, if so inclined, to fuss about something of less importance.

It’s also a good idea to establish boundaries between your work life and your family life. I am not qualified to speak to this directly, because I’m not very good at doing that.

For example, we spent a few days with longtime and very good friends last week. We’ve taken trips with them for many years and apparently my inability to stop working has become a subject of conversation amongst the women. I overheard them plotting against me, saying their main goal was to keep me from doing any work.

READ: Your identity is more than the farm

But they’re right—there’s a time to work and a time to enjoy doing other things. I’ve just never been very good at drawing that line. However, I’ve found that grandbabies make it a lot easier.

Then, this week, I get an email from the Network of Family Businesses on that very topic. “In a business family, boundaries, though often mental structures or commitments, are as real as tangible fences. Boundaries draw lines regarding what is acceptable and what is unacceptable within the family and the enterprise. Boundaries help family members balance personal and professional obligations; maintain family bonds; and develop emotionally and psychologically throughout their lives,” the email advises.

In fact, the Network says in a business family, it is as important to have a Boundary Policy as it is a Mission Statement. A Boundary Policy should include:

  • The balance between individual needs and business needs
  • Maintaining personal and interpersonal privacy
  • The elimination of burdensome family baggage
  • Avoiding domain ‘spillover’ – family, business, ownership, management 
  • Resolving conflicts in the appropriate domain (the family or the business)
  • Promoting growth, stability, and success of family business    

READ: Bear Grylls--4 pillars to apply to your family ranch business

While establishing a Boundary Policy will take time and input from all family members, there are several key items families need to recognize and can start working on immediately:

  • Recognize the need for clear boundaries. These boundaries exist in the family, in the business, and personally with individuals playing several roles depending on the context.
  • Talk about boundary issues. Communicate the concerns of each individual and walk toward the conflict. Avoidance is not a healthy option.
  • Then develop a written Boundary Statement for your family and business.

If you’re successful in your business, it’s because you’ve worked long, hard and with intensive focus. That’s good. But it can be harmful to your relationships with family and friends. So set boundaries. Then honor them.

Time will tell if I’m able to take my own advice.


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