What Happens When He’s On Top (in the Business)

When partners own a business together and are working together to raise a family, based on their career backgrounds, the male may take on the top executive while the woman (or other partner) takes on a smaller, supportive role (see last week where this is reversed).

PLEASE NOTE: This is not suggesting that both cannot be on top and manage family responsibilities in senior roles, but is just discussing the scenario where he is on top and she has chosen to take a step back.

Also of note—this month is focusing on partners working together in the same business; however, similar principles apply if working in different businesses.

It is perhaps now only seen as the more “traditional structure” when partners work together where the man handles the CEO position while the woman takes on more of the supportive, operations and administrative duties. And if it works for your company, then run with it.

However, like when the woman holds the top spot, issues can arise over the normal course of time so it’s good to keep an eye out for them.

Wife still wants career when he is executive at joint business.

Still Desires a Career

Keep in mind, even if the man is the top executive at your business, the woman may not want to be restricted to the admin job (or other operation role that she took to fill a hole in the business).

It’s entirely possible that she hold aspirations outside of that role—ones that could potentially not even exist in the business you both own. It’s important to work together to understand where she is, what her short- and long-term career goals are and how the business (or perhaps a second side job) might help her achieve them just as you would any other team member.

At a joint business, do what works for both partners.


A related issue, if the woman feels undervalued in her role, both at the office and/or at home, then she may become less motivated at work. While taking a back seat might be ok in her eyes for a short period of time, she may have only wanted to do that temporarily.

While business owners can tend to stretch themselves and have higher expectations of themselves, sometimes it is also important to look at the practicality of workloads of not just performing a role at work but also at home.

Make sure to do several things to keep up the motivation:

  • Make sure she feels valued and appreciated in all the roles she plays (just like you do if she’s on top!).
  • Figure out what helps motivate her, from clear career goals to the business to involvement in setting the vision of the company.
  • Review resourcing requirements in the same way you would any other role ie may need to take on a part-time bookkeeper while she spends more time at home.

Keep in mind how you treat your partner in the office.

Lead By Example

While this is true for whoever is on top in a spouse-run business, it holds particularly true when men are on top.

The way he treats his partner at the office reflects on how his leadership skills are viewed by the rest of the staff. If he’s constantly belittling her or snapping at her, the staff will notice and many will view him poorly because of it.

The opposite carries consequences, too. If he’s too “friendly,” calls her honey or babe all the time or, worst case, touches her inappropriately, staff will notice these actions. They will probably be not only “grossed out,” but also view him as unprofessional.

Best case? Act like co-workers (maybe even co-workers who know each other really well!).

Spouses could get jealous of office friendships.

Jealousy Rears Its Ugly Head

This problem could arise no matter who is on top. Because whoever takes a backseat in the business might find they spend more time at home—perhaps lots of hours with just the kids.

This somewhat isolating feeling, or just the fact that the partner is in and out of the office more, could factor into how the person views the partner’s relationships with fellow staff members.

Basically, it boils down to: Don’t flirt with your staff.

Not only could it make things awkward among staff, especially if the boss is seen as favouring someone, but your spouse could get jealous. Or worse, consider breaking up the relationship.

Come back next week when we discuss what happens when no one’s on top.

Is Your Business Facing Any of These Issues?

There are 3 areas you need clarity to solve the issues we’re discussing this month.

1.        Vision
2.        Values
3.        Role clarity and KPI success factors

Get in touch for a strategy call to help.