Adult sibling rivalry is one of the most common and potentially devastating family business challenges a family can face. Listening to a brother last week describe the challenges he was facing with his younger brother, I was told, “I don’t know how to describe it – there’s just something between us and it’s getting in our way of working together.”
If you think about it most of us were raised in families where we played games together at an early age. The intent of the games was fun and entertainment initially, but what develops is a family competition that can last for a lifetime!
When the sibling rivalry continues in the family business it can cause great conflict in the workplace. Siblings start jockeying for position and building alliances with key personnel that can cause significant stress and even turnover among non-family employees.
Egos in the Family Business
One of the cornerstones of business coaching is creating a process where family members can learn how to become “detached observers” of themselves and begin to notice many of the counterproductive behaviors that are undermining family business performance.
In my experience one of the key culprits of rivalry are people’s egos! Their ego really does drive them at a subconscious level to want to look their best, be perceived well by others and always end up on top at the end of the competition.
The problem is that business is a team sport. Think about it for a moment. The teams who perform the best and have a healthy locker room are the ones where there aren’t a lot of big egos in the room. The team members realize the most important thing is high-level performance and winning championships – not individual accolades.
In the family business setting it becomes very difficult for siblings to give objective feedback about each other’s strengths and improvement opportunities. A coach can help them put together professional development goals and help hold them accountable to achieving their goals.
The challenge of having strong egos seems to be accentuated in the family business setting. The family has usually enjoyed a certain level of success, which oftentimes carries over into younger family members having an overinflated sense of ego, too often borrowing on the family’s previous success.
Finally we see siblings competing feverishly to win the most high stake games yet in the family – winning over the respect of the founder and being given the reins to the family business as the ultimate prize.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Left unchecked, adult sibling rivalry can cause a level of family business conflict that can ultimately destroy the family business. Learning to tell everybody to shut up and check their egos at the door is one of my favorite moments as I get to work with a family!
Through continued practice, and positive reinforcement as well as a founder who can model the right behaviors, a family can move to a higher level of success that’s based upon team victories and not individual egos!
For more on personality types, watch Coach Pete acting out all of the personality types found in family businesses.