Different comes in many forms. Different stands out. We know what different looks like because it doesn’t look like us. We may say that different is valued and yet, many times we see different as difficult or we spend more time judging different than valuing what it contributes.

In family business, just like in sheepherding, different has a name and that name is black sheep.

The Purpose of Black Sheep

For years, before becoming the suburban oasis that it is now, the part of Chandler, AZ where I lived was the stopping point for sheep farmers moving their herds to the mountains for the hot summer months. Yes, there were modern-day shepherds that tended the herds and there were also black sheep in the herds.

Factoid: Black sheep are used by shepherds to keep count of their herds. Generally speaking, one black sheep is placed in the herd for every 100 white sheep. When we take the time to think and reflect beyond difference, we come to recognize that in sheep herds, just like in business, black sheep have a very unique purpose.


Without perspective related to sheep farming, we wouldn’t really understand the purpose that black sheep serve. Without a black sheep it becomes much more difficult for the shepherd to gain a quick reference or perspective on the number of sheep in the herd.

Interestingly, the same is true in family business.

Without perspective we don’t fully understand or value difference in the form of family members or people that are “a little out there”. These are the people that aren’t fully understood therefore they can’t be fully valued. They’re dismissed as different quicker than they are accepted as valuable to the business of family business.

Have you ever heard any of the following expressions?

  • “Oh, that’s uncle so and so… he’s the weird uncle.”
  • “That’s aunt so and so… she’s a bit eccentric.”
  • “They’re from out of town, they don’t quite fit the rest of the family.”

Introduction to Different

Let me introduce you to Jana. In addition to being an executive coaching client, Jana was viewed as highly successful by most people and yet, was also viewed as different and a bit “out there”.

In business and in her family, she was known as the black sheep. Maybe it was because she was introverted while the majority of her family members were extroverts. Could it be because she dressed uniquely and differently than everyone else? Jana’s choice of clothing could best be defined as “loud and bold”. Many of her colleagues and family had coined the phrase “that’s just a Jana thing.”

Interestingly, Jana was the CEO of a very successful international land development business. Purposefully, deliberately and with a style all her own, Jana lead one of the largest oceanside multi-unit development projects ever undertaken by a privately-held company.

Viewed as different, and noted for such repeatedly, my executive development work with Jana was centered around how she best maximized her approach and interaction with leaders and family members who were uniquely different from her.

How to Deal with Different

There are many times where, in family and in business, we don’t do different well. Why? Because we don’t value different as contributive. We see it only as different and without understanding, perspective or context we don’t really define the usefulness it offers.

So how do we deal with different in relationship to the Jana’s of the world or anyone else who seems to stand out as the black sheep in family business? Here are five proven strategies that are the result of helping the leaders of family businesses deconstruct the complexity of difference that exists among individuals within their families and companies.

  1. Use a validated assessment to objectively understand the diverse nature of difference that exists in any family or business team. Why? Because in both situations, someone is almost always referred to as the black sheep and what is needed is more objective information and less subjective opinions.
  2. Instead of judging the differences, define and value the contributions of the black sheep.
  3. Because black sheep stand apart, it’s imperative that we understand their purpose and what drives them. This is how we can value the unique contribution they make.
  4. Increase your awareness, appreciation and interaction with “different”. This helps to eliminate the lack of awareness and potential lack of interest you may have for anyone that is the opposite of you.
  5. Place focused emphasis on the problems that need to be solved or the objectives to be achieved, rather than spending countless hours critiquing what you don’t like about different.

The Value of a Black Sheep

Let me encourage you to invest 20 minutes at some point in your week to watch the Ted Talk in the link below. Often times in our work with family business leaders, it’s often the introverted relative, business partner or team member whose categorized as a black sheep. Consider the five practical strategies given above as you watch.

My commitment to you is that you’ll expand your awareness and insight into how you value and work with people that are different than you. After all, depending on the group of people you’re with or the environment you find yourself in, each of us/all of us can be referred to as the “black sheep” who stands apart from all others.

The Power of Introverts


  • Who do you find difficult or challenging to deal with simply because they’re different than you are?
  • What could you do to gain perspective on that difference and determine the value it offers to your business?
  • How can you value difference rather than judging it solely because it’s different?
  • Who’s the most “different” or “out there” person you know? How do they positively impact you or your business? What have you done to try and involve and engage them differently? How’s that worked for you? What’s your plan going forward?
  • Gain some perspective…how do you think that person that’s different sees you through their lens?

Be authentic. Be purposeful. Make it meaningful.


P.S. I want to hear your thoughts – please share them in the comments.

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