What Family-Owned Businesses Can Learn from Scout and Atticus


Family-Owned Businesses

You don’t read fiction you tell yourself. You’re just too busy. But you loved To Kill a Mockingbird when you studied it in high school, and you’re curious after all the news reports–you’d like to know if Harper Lee’s sequel is worth carving out hours in your jam-packed schedule.

Family-Owned BusinessesThe short answer is “no.” That’s not to say the story isn’t compelling; it is. But in this case, the critics are right. The book is a rough draft. It needs lots of editing to clear up inconsistencies and add clarity. At times, the dialogue is so smart, it seems as though Lee was writing about racial tension in 2015. Other times, the Southern arguments for segregation are simply awkward, awful reminders of what the United States would rather forget of the 1950’s.

So I’ll save you time and tell you what business lesson you can learn from Go Set a Watchman.

The plot focuses on a grown Scout, or Jean Louise Finch, as she’s more formally known. The culture of her small Alabama hometown has become foreign to her since she moved to New York and only visits once a year. When she sees Atticus participate in what she knows to be a meeting of racist, close-minded men, it destroys every ideal she had of the father who so eloquently defended the one-armed Black man on trial for rape when she was a girl.

Like Scout nearly worshipping Atticus, the second and third generations of your business may have put you on a pedestal. After all, you built the company from the ground up. You were brilliant, hardworking and innovative. They were weaned on the narrative and repeated it in the schoolyard. They chose to go into the business because of your principles and success.

They might not have seen you fail or even make a mistake. Or they may have developed different priorities and values, so when they perceive that you have done or espoused something egregious—as racism was to Scout—you not only fall off the pedestal, your image and reputation break into a thousand pieces.

Spoiler Alert

Here’s what Atticus knew that you might not: he counted on his fall from Scout’s grace, and he prepared for it. When she says horribly vile words to him, Atticus becomes neither angry nor defensive. In fact, he tells her he loves her.

Later, when she comes to a bit of wisdom and maturity, Atticus says he’s proud of her for standing up to him.

It’s a line you can use when members of your family question or attack you.

If you do take the time to read the book, you’ll realize that Atticus is not perfect, and you’ll realize that unfortunately, neither are you.

But your family can still love you, and your business can still profit.

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