Sibling rivalry runs deep.
I was returning from a family business coaching engagement at the airport two years ago. A three-year-old was sitting in his stroller and the five-year-old sibling came over to push the stroller to help Mom and Dad. The three-year-old had an instant, hysterical reaction to the fact that his older sibling was going to be directing him.
I burst out laughing. Those same reactions and behaviors play out in family business conference rooms all too often.
It was a jarring reminder for me how deep these sibling rivalries run on all the way back to our earliest childhood days.
I know from first-hand experience. My older brother ruled with an iron fist. He made many of us younger siblings do things we didn’t want to do in terms of small chores, etc. His dominance over us continued until middle school when my other brother stood up to him on behalf of all the younger siblings. The dominance lightened up quite a bit after that.
In our later years, I’ve evolved into more of the leadership role with my brother. At times I’ll see him want to tell me what to do. I will still have a deep visceral reaction to his direction.
So let’s talk about five dos and don’ts in family business and sibling rivalry.
Try to solve your family history at the family business.
It’s unfair to everyone involved in the business. The worst thing is for good employees, vendors and customers to get caught in the middle of family drama. That should be resolved with the help of a family therapist. I have worked with and seen a lot of employees who are hostage to bad sibling behavior. It can be a real cause of turnover in the family business.
Assume your family role is your business role
You can actually be a leader in the family environment, yet not necessarily be a leader in the business environment for any number of reasons. Just because you are the oldest in the family doesn’t mean you are automatically anointed to be in charge at the business. The business leader should be the one who has the most expertise and leadership presence. He/she earns loyalty with the business team. It can be a real mistake to try to make someone be the leader of the business who is not respected.
Allow your business conflict to pollute the family system
If there is conflict in the business, it’s important not to bring it home and let it play out in family interactions. Keep your business conflict in the business and get business professionals to help you sort that out. Too often conflict in the business then becomes disruptive to family gatherings and family traditions. Don’t let that happen.
Let sibling rivalry ruin your family business experience
If your sibling rivalry is so deep and so bothersome, maybe you should consider not working with your sibling. Sometimes personality differences or family baggage can be so severe, trying to work together can be a painful or even impossible task. Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole for your entire career. You’ll end up regretting it later.
Withhold your praise because of family history
Great family teams and family business professionals know how to cheer each other on in the work arena regardless of their family history. Even if you have a complicated family, it’s important that you are able to demonstrate genuine support and enthusiasm for each other in the business. It sets the right example for all the employees.
Act like a business professional all the time
Business professionals leave their personal baggage at the door. Learn to give each other feedback objectively that is around your business results.
Take the opportunity to learn to work together in the business
If you look at it the right way, working together in the business is a great opportunity to actually set aside any of your sibling history. It is the time to work together for the good of the organization and the family.
Set an example for all of the employees
The more you can leave your personal issues at the door and bring a positive, professional and upbeat attitude to work everyday, the more you’ll set the tone for the entire organization.
Find a way to support each other
Business is a highly competitive sport. The only way you’re going to be successful is to learn to really cheer each other on and support one another. Any unhealthy sibling rivalry will be destructive to the business.
See if you can find the right competitive spirit
Having said all of this, it is good to have the right competitive spirit on a team. If you have a healthy sibling rivalry that challenges each other and brings out the best in one another, that’s another great asset to the organization.
Do not allow unhealthy sibling rivalry to be disruptive either in the business team or the family team for that matter. Remember, all eyes are upon you. How you interact with each other sets the tone with all of the employees and all of your children, nieces and nephews within the family.
I kid you not when I tell you that I have seen sibling rivalry destroy very good businesses. Please don’t let that happen. Rise above it all. Take the high road. Be a leader. Lead by example. You can do this!
Play to your potential!
Pete Walsh offers family business consulting services, workshops, tools and resources as the founder of Family Business Performance Center. Subscribe to his newsletter or get in touch to get actionable insights to help your family business grow for generations to come.