A father and son are pictured in an office smiling at the camera.
Strategies for next-gen leaders in family propane businesses

In the world of propane, oil and energy family businesses, the challenge of establishing one’s identity within the shadow of a highly successful family member — which is often a parent — is a common struggle. These feelings echo the experiences of many individuals navigating their roles in a family propane business, where the legacy of a prosperous parent can cast a long shadow.

Escaping this shadow and carving out an individualized identity within the family propane business demands intention, resilience and a strategic approach.

Embracing the Challenge

In the realm of family-owned propane businesses, the journey for next-generation leaders holds both challenges and opportunities. The allure of success is undeniable, but the real test lies in finding one’s footing while being constantly compared to a highly accomplished family member.


To step out of this shadow, one must first acknowledge the unique dynamics at play and embrace the opportunity for personal and professional growth.

A Guide for Family Member Employees in the Propane Industry

1. Define Your Own Path

To break free from a parent’s shadow and truly thrive as a family business employee, it’s crucial to define your own path. While your parent’s success can be a valuable source of inspiration, it’s important to identify your own strengths, passions and aspirations. What sets you apart? What unique talents and skills do you bring to the table?

To get started on this journey, begin by setting personal and professional goals that align with your individual values. By doing so, you’ll have a clear road map for success that is tailored to your own needs and desires. As a family business employee, you have access to a wealth of resources to help you achieve your goals. Working with coaches and therapists can be particularly helpful in identifying your strengths and overcoming any emotional blocks that may be holding you back. With a little guidance and support, you can confidently navigate the complex intersection of family and business priorities and chart a course for success that is fulfilling and uniquely your own, as well.

2. Seek External Experience

Expanding beyond the boundaries of your family business bubble can offer incredible insights and experiences. Exploring different work environments exposes you to diverse perspectives, challenges and skill sets. This external experience will not only enhance your professional competence but also shape your identity beyond familial expectations. Succeeding without the safety net of a family business builds personal confidence and serves as a powerful example to employees and key leaders that you can excel in the “real world.” If you’re a family business employee looking to grow and develop your skills, venturing outside your comfort zone could be the key to unlocking your full potential.

3. Prove Your Worth Through Competence

Competence is the cornerstone of gaining respect and autonomy within the family propane business. Excel in your role by continually expanding your knowledge and skill set. Demonstrate a strong work ethic, consistently delivering results, and showcase your capabilities through tangible contributions to the business.

4. Communicate Transparently

Effective communication is key to breaking down the barriers that may exist within a family propane business. Transparently express your ambitions, concerns and vision for the future. Foster open dialogues with family members and colleagues to build understanding and collaboration.

5. Establish Boundaries

Maintain a healthy work-life balance by establishing clear boundaries between professional and personal life. Avoid allowing business discussions to dominate every aspect of family interactions. Creating these boundaries helps in fostering a more holistic and sustainable approach to your role in the family propane business.

6. Embrace Continuous Learning

Commit to continuous learning and development. Stay abreast of industry trends, advancements and best practices. Attend relevant workshops, seminars and training programs to enhance your expertise. A commitment to ongoing learning demonstrates a proactive approach to personal and professional growth.

7. Cultivate Your Unique Leadership Style

Leadership within a family propane business doesn’t have to replicate your parent’s approach. Cultivate your unique leadership style that aligns with your values and personality. This authenticity not only sets you apart but also fosters a positive work environment.

8. Collaborate & Build Alliances

Forge alliances with non-family employees within the business. Collaborate on projects, seek their insights and acknowledge their contributions. Building positive relationships beyond family ties fosters a more inclusive and supportive work culture and environment.

9. Celebrate Your Achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate your own achievements, no matter how small. Establishing a track record of personal successes within the business contributes to building your own individual legacy.

10. Seek Mentorship Outside the Family

Seek mentorship from individuals outside the family circle. External mentors can provide objective guidance, share their experiences and offer insights that may not be readily available within the family dynamic.

Earning Respect in the Family Business

Earning respect in a family business can be a challenge, especially as a family member among key employees. Whether you entered the business with a sense of entitlement or are perceived to have a silver spoon in your mouth, the family business can be a fishbowl with various expectations, assumptions and perspectives impacting and sometimes impeding your success. However, respect can be earned by following these strategies:

1. Demonstrate Competence in Business Operations

Excel in your role by acquiring relevant skills and knowledge specific to propane operations. Deliver high-quality work consistently to showcase your competence effectively.

2. Embrace Accountability & Excellence

Take ownership of your responsibilities in the family business. Admit mistakes and learn from them, demonstrating a commitment to improvement. Show accountability by meeting related deadlines and fulfilling commitments.

3. Communicate Effectively in Discussions

Practice active listening to understand others’ perspectives in propane operations. Express your thoughts and ideas clearly and confidently. Foster open communication to build trust and rapport with colleagues in the industry.

4. Respectful Interactions in the Propane Community

Treat all colleagues — family or not — with respect and courtesy. Avoid favoritism and maintain professionalism in your interactions. Acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of others.

5. Check Your Attitude

Be conscious of any perceptions of entitlement due to family ties. Strive to earn your position through hard work and dedication. Complete your tasks and attend to your responsibilities like any other industry professional.

6. Seek Feedback & Continuous Improvement

Request feedback on your performance from colleagues and supervisors in propane operations. Use constructive criticism as an opportunity for growth. Show a willingness to learn and adapt to changing circumstances within the propane industry.

7. Build Relationships Beyond Family Business Ties

Cultivate and nurture relationships with non-family employees and industry professionals, treating them as equals in the propane industry. Participate in team-building activities to strengthen connections. Recognize and value the unique contributions of each team member within the propane community. Serve on national, state and regional association committees.

8. Lead by Example

Exhibit a strong work ethic and commitment to excellence in propane operations. Demonstrate qualities such as punctuality, dedication and resilience. Inspire others through your actions and commitment to success within the propane industry.

9. Understand Business Dynamics

Gain a deep understanding of the propane industry and your family’s propane business. Stay informed about market trends, competitors and industry developments specific to propane operations. Contribute meaningful insights based on your knowledge.

10. Collaborate & Share Credit in Achievements

Work collaboratively with others to achieve common goals within the propane industry. Acknowledge and share credit with team members for collective successes in propane operations. Avoid taking sole credit for propane-related accomplishments.

11. Be Adaptable & Open-Minded in Family Business Strategy

Embrace change and adapt to new business strategies within the propane industry. Be open to feedback and different perspectives in propane operations. Avoid rigidity and demonstrate a willingness to explore new ideas in the propane community.

Navigating success in the propane industry as a next-generation leader requires a proactive approach. By embracing your unique identity, seeking external experiences and demonstrating competence, you can contribute meaningfully to your family’s legacy.

Kendall Rawls knows and understands the challenges that impact the success of a family-owned business. Her unique perspective comes not only from her educational background, but, more importantly, from her experience as a second-generation family member employee of The Rawls Group — Business Succession Planners. For more information, visit seekingsuccession.com or email info@rawlsgroup.com.


Placing Priority on the Employee