Picking up where we left off from my last post….

In typical Loyd fashion, just before hanging up from our phone conversation focused on Gender’s Impact on Leadership and Teamwork, he left me with a zinger – “What if siblings in business are not willing to recognize each other’s contributions to build a strong partnership?” After working through the previous gender topics I was grateful to have a few days to think about his heavy question.

Waiting on Loyd to arrive from another delayed flight, I had a few minutes to enjoy the purple nectar and ponder his question. Upon arrival, we exchanged pleasantries and then predictably Loyd got back to business. 

“So, Doc, what are your thoughts on this sibling conundrum”, Loyd asked. Working to organize my thoughts I was silent for a few moments until Loyd continued “Are you there? Is the Merlot putting you to sleep?”

I responded with a ting of annoyance to my tone, “Yes and No!, I am thinking.” A few more moments went by and just as I noticed Loyd getting antsy again, I responded: “This is not a trick question I presume and therefore it’s simple; If siblings are not willing to move beyond a “ME” childish mentality and focus on the power of “WE” the success of the business will be impacted and any dreams for business succession are in grievous doubt.

I savored another sip of Merlot and noticed Loyd was about to respond, so to protect myself from the pounding of his rebuttal, I quickly jumped back in to share what I had been noodling over the last couple of days about the unique connection between siblings.

“As children within a family we develop a standard of interaction with our siblings which later shapes our adult perspectives. We learn, what is fair-play as we engage, quarrel and compete with our siblings. Our parents set “the family rules” through what they dictate, what they tolerate and who they favor. There is also a culture imposed by schools, social settings and groups that modifies and refines social norms for what is expected and acceptable behaviors with authority and between peers and siblings.

Fast forward, what we feel and believe as adults, is a byproduct of what we learned and developed as children. So, if you are dealing with a dog eat dog, every man for himself, survival of the fittest family – business environment; it did not just happen overnight. This is learned and/or tolerated behavior. This is the harvest of relational seeds planted during the initial formation of the family. The bigger question Loyd is, how do we get these weeds and thorns to die and help siblings overcome engrained attitudes and perspectives that run contrary to building teamwork?

This is by no means your first rodeo with sibling rivalry Loyd, so in your experience how have you reconciled dysfunctional family history. How have you helped move daddy’s little girl, a mamma’s boy or the family scape-goat away from their win/lose competition and acrimony to united, compatible adults working together for a common cause.”

Loyd was surprisingly pensive. Generally, by this point, he would have responded with a reference to a classic example in a case he worked 20 years ago. Concerned, I may have frustrated him with throwing the question back into his court, I asked if he was still with me. He quickly answered:

“Yes, been a doozie of a few days and wasn’t expecting the question to be thrown back in my direction. But you are right, this is not my first rodeo with siblings and I just need to think about how we have dealt with this in the past.”

Loyd took a minute to order himself a club soda and after taking a sip responded

“Well, fundamentally it is an issue of recognition and respect.” 

I had “duh, dude” on my lips; but before I was able to get them out; Loyd held up his hand and said, 

“Before you comment on my grasp of the obvious, let me digress just a little here.

In a family business, just like any business, as ambitious leaders and managers we get caught up in ourselves. We are focused on our own performance, progression, success and future. Because of the business mentality of “what have you done for me lately,” competition is the norm. However, the added dynamic of the family is their history and the nature of the “bond” that does not naturally exist between non family members. A good bond could mean family members innately know their siblings have their backs. A bad bond could mean skepticism and resentment, driving competition for perceived entitlements.

Recognition and respect is simple and maybe even cliché’. Doc, you were likely just about to affirm that with a “duh, dude,” which is why I quickly interrupted you. The good news is if siblings can recognize success is based upon “we” not “me” they can operate out of a “team” foundation to foster respect for each other towards a strong partnership. However, there’s no quick fix on what has been reinforced for 20 – 30 plus years. It takes work to overcome the emotional stress of dysfunctional relationships. It takes self-examination and personal responsibility to foster attitudes that are an asset to a united family business mission. And based upon my experience changing ingrained competitive win/lose attitudes is easier said than done; evidence by the many family businesses that effectively cave in in rivaling siblings.”

Both of us needing a few minutes to process our epiphanies, we ordered dinner and I welcomed another glass of wine while Loyd nursed his club soda. Conversation moved to effective strategies Loyd has used to help families in stress.

Our initial discussion focused on what we sometimes refer to as the “mirror test.” Essentially, having each sibling look into a mirror and ask them to judge themselves, as they judge their sibling. We discuss their responses and specifically examine which behaviors and attitudes are coming from the “child” meaning those ingrained from adolescents; and those coming from the adult. Most often, each party thinks they have matured beyond the “child.” We discuss how the “child” versus “adult” attitudes and stereotypes impact their relationships today and discuss tools for overcoming communication pitfalls when they feel they are regressing back into old behavior and perspectives. Moving beyond the blinding stress childish sibling rivalry creates in adult relationships allows space for respect and recognition to develop.

Another key step in the coaching process is working with each individual to develop an in-depth understanding of their communication style, natural strengths and weaknesses. We then educate the siblings on each-others communication profile, providing insight into the best ways to relate and collaborate as a team.

Once we are able to facilitate open communication between siblings, we introduce the Covenant Process, where in, each sibling develops what they perceive as Reasonable Expectations of each other. We discuss each expectation with the individual to determine if it is “reasonable” before exchanging expectations. Once we feel each sibling has developed reasonable expectations, we hold a group meeting where they are presented to each other, discussed, refined and ultimately confirmed. The outcome is an introduction to open dialogue and clearly communicated expectations, which creates the foundation in which trust and respect is built upon.

In going through this exercise, you also find a drastic shift in what each sibling views as respect. Again, if we look at the start of the exercise where it is all about “self”, by the end of it, the exercise moves to “we” – with less finger pointing and deflection, and more personal responsibility which then creates support and respect of each other.

 So there Loyd! Now what do you have for me?

Don’t forget, if you have a mind-boggling question for Dr. Merlot, please don’t hesitate to ask: drmerlot@rawlsgroup.com


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