Heeding the Warning Signals


Photo by Michael R.

Heeding the Warning Signals

By: Dave Williams


As much as I know they serve a very important function, I am not a fan of the warning lights on the dashboard.  When the light comes on, I know that at best, I am facing a minor inconvenience.  At worst, I am looking at a significant expense.  For many of us, our initial inclination is to ignore the warning, and try to convince ourselves that “it’s nothing to worry about-really”.  Full disclosure, this is coming from a guy who ignored the” discomfort” in his chest for several months, telling myself it was “nothing”, only to be told by my doctor that this “nothing” was a potentially life-threatening medical condition and that it was a miracle that I had not experienced a “sudden catastrophic event”. (I didn’t like the sound of that phrase then, either!)   I have learned the hard way that it is both foolish and dangerous to ignore the warning signs that are signaling significant changes need to be made. 


We have discovered this is particularly true in family businesses, especially for those for whom a significant leadership change is just beyond the horizon.  Many times, there are “warning signals” going off that should be alerting the key players to the fact that something is “off”; and that something needs to change.  But for whatever reasons, the signals are being ignored.


Warning signals within the enterprise might include things like:

  • High employee turn-over or the inability to attract top-notch candidates for key positions.
  • On-going and unresolved conflict amongst your leadership team. Perhaps the battle lines have been drawn and alliances formed.
  • Difficult but necessary conversations are avoided because you know how certain parties will respond.
  • Departments are functioning independently of each of other (siloing) and competing for resources.
  • Losing long-term contracts and connections. Customers want to do business with companies that are healthy (stable), and if they sense that isn’t the case, they will turn elsewhere.


Families excel in telling themselves that “it’s not that bad” and “we can figure this out ourselves”. The truth is, the enterprise is best served when there is an outside set of eyes and ears asking the tough questions and gently helping them confront the reality of their situation. 

That’s a big part of what we do here at Family Business Counsel.  We listen, we observe and we ask, “what do you think this means?”. Our aim is to help businesses identify and interpret the warning signals before things reach the point of no return, and to develop a plan that is truly the best option moving forward.


For more information on how Family Business Counsel might assist your family business, contact us at 971-237-3157.





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