If you are involved in a family business (or like me, were) chances are you will relate to this story.

My grandfather was larger than life, in every sense of the word.

He was the true patriarch – the glue that kept our family business together.

All this came to a grinding halt when my grandfather died of a massive heart attack in 1970. He was just 68 years old. I was 15 years old.

His death precipitated the collapse of the family business.


Because there was no successor, nor succession plan.  A vacuum in leadership ensued. No family member had the skills to take up the running and continue the business.

My grandfather was our family’s rock. Our Secure Base.

Let me outline the qualities of a Secure Base to help you recognise that special someone who may be the successor in your family business – may be a family member, or non-family member.

There are 9 characteristics of a Secure Base Leader, described by George Kohlrieser, in an excellent book on leadership, called Care to Dare. Highly recommended.

Since it was published in 2012, I have provided copies for several clients in different industries and their feedback is confirmation-positive that this model of leadership works. For some it has been transformational.

The 9 characteristics of a Secure Base Leader:

  1. Stays calm – especially when under pressure.
  2. Accepts and respects the individual – separating the problem from the person. Blaming individuals is not part of a Secure Base Leader’s repertoire.
  3. Sees the potential in others – often times far beyond what the individual can see for themselves.
  4. Listens and genuinely enquires of others – listening is more than hearing, it involves a deeper dialogue.
  5. Delivers a powerful message – Secure Base Leaders can cut to the chase and say the right thing at the right time.
  6. Focuses on the positive – a persistent challenge for many of us.
  7. Encourages risk taking – supports the autonomy of others and not over-controlling.
  8. Inspires others through intrinsic motivation – encourages others to do stuff that is inherently interesting or enjoyable, irrespective of the financial reward.
  9. Signals accessibility – rather than detached or “too busy”, Secure Base Leaders are always accessible and available, even if it is the perception of being accessible.

Contrary to the myth that “leaders are born not made”, these attributes can most certainly be learned.

The point of this article is that it is the responsibility of leadership in a family business to identify and install a successor well in advance of an event such as death. My family failed on this score.

If you would like a deeper dive into Secure Base Leadership, email me using the contact form below.