Purpose: Several studies of family firm failures have pointed to non-family members in leading positions as a reason. However, non-family members have often played a key role in family-firm longevity, while non-family executives’ involvement in family firms is increasing. These non-family executives who (co-)run family firms are thought to require an almost impossible set of behavioural qualities. The aim of this exploratory study is to find out how specific leader behaviours of effective family executives and non-family executives may differ. Design/methodology/approach: Based on Dulewicz and Higgs’ (2005) broad leadership frame, the authors draw attention to a large range of behaviours of family-firm executives. In-depth interviews were conducted with successful German executives, both family and non-family ones. Their answers had to contain specific behavioural examples. Findings: More behavioural similarities than differences are shown between family- and non-family-based executives. Yet, the self-reflective communicative behavioural qualities of the non-family executives could balance a lack of such qualities among the family-based executives. Based on the three major differences – decision-making style, communication versatility and self-awareness – specific new research propositions are distilled about effective family firm leadership. Originality/value: Practical suggestions for recruiting non-family executives are offered. Future quantitative longitudinal research on how to pair specific behavioural qualities of family and non-family based executives that optimise family-firm longevity is urgently needed.
- Entrepreneurship and small business management
- Family roles
- Organizational behaviour
- Qualitative research