Shadow of the Prince: Parent-incumbents’ Coercive Control over Child-successors in Family Organizations

Xu Huang*, Louis Chen, Erica Xu, Feifei Lu, Ka Chai Tam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


During family firm succession, parent-incumbents are often caught up in a paradox of both empowering and dominating their child-successors. To understand this recurring phenomenon, we draw from socioemotional wealth literature and a philosophical account of the power-transfer paradox in ancient patriarchal monarchies to hypothesize that parent-incumbents tend to exert generational coercive control when their child-successors are seen as very unwilling and incapable or very willing and capable of taking over patriarchal family organizations. We test our hypotheses in three studies. In Study 1, we coded data from succession cases in Chinese patriarchal monarchies (403 BC to 959 AD) and found support for the predicted non-linear effects of successor-princes’ willingness (63 cases) and capability (80 cases) on their father-kings’ coercive control (persecuting or murdering the princes). In Study 2, based on survey data from parent–child dyads of 157 family firms in Taiwan and mainland China, again, we found U-shaped effects of child-successors’ willingness and capability on parent-incumbents’ coercive control (restraining successors’ power). Moreover, parent-incumbents’ highly narcissistic personality attenuated these U-shaped relationships because they tend to devalue their child-successors’ willingness and capability. In Study 3, we conducted a survey of 103 parent–child dyads in family firms in mainland China and found a U-shaped relationship between capability and coercive control only when incumbents’ roles in the family and at work were highly intertwined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)710-750
Number of pages41
JournalAdministrative Science Quarterly
Issue number3
Early online date27 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration

User-Defined Keywords

  • family firms
  • generational conflicts
  • patriarchal organization
  • socioemotional wealth
  • succession


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