You’ve taken over the family business from your parents and now you’re working every hour God sends to make it even more successful. Your sibling also works for the company but had no ambition to be the Managing Director or CEO. For some reason they’re really struggling with the fact that you’re now their boss and their behaviour is getting you down. Sometimes you just want to scream ‘This is hard enough for me, I’d like to see you take on all this responsibility’ but you don’t because you want to preserve your relationship!
The family business can provide a fantastic vehicle for family members to grow and thrive in their careers. Perhaps they don’t fit the mould for corporate life or they’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug of their parents.
But what happens when you AND your sibling work in the company, with varying levels of experience, competence, leadership skills and ambition? In most cases there is only room for one leader in a business. Meaning that when you succeed your parents at the helm, you are ultimately going to be their boss.
This can very often cause a huge rift between siblings who were previously very close. As siblings at home you were raised equal; afforded the same opportunities, loved equally by your parents, given the same pocket money, thrown the same birthday parties, equally supported financially for university or your first house.
But now that you have been chosen to lead the family business, suddenly the relationship feels unbalanced. Whilst your brother or sister may never have expressed an interest in being the next leader, it doesn’t make it any easier for them to take orders from their sibling who, up until this point, was their equal.
There will be an element of confidence crushing on their part. Even if they never wanted to be at the helm, they will question why they aren’t good enough, why they don’t have the drive or ambition. Why your parents’ entrepreneurship and nose for business didn’t rub off on them.
They may give you the cold shoulder or find it hard to take direct orders from you. Some deliberately create a deeper allegiance with the staff leaving you feeling isolated at the top. As a self-preservation tactic you shut yourself off and go it alone. You keep your sibling at arms length and avoid confrontation.
But this is not sustainable. It will eat away at you and distract from the running of the business. It’s also not good for your relationship as siblings which will slowly be eroded as you just become colleagues.
So how can you avoid this happening and build an environment whereby you and your sibling can work harmoniously in your separate roles in the business?
NUMBER ONE – This single most important thing you can do is to sit them down and listen. Find out from them what’s making them uncomfortable and what the REAL root cause of their behaviour is. There’s probably been a lot of focus and talk on YOU recently as you prepared to take over the business. Their opinion may not have been consulted and as a result they’ve built up some resentment. Ask questions like ‘What can I do to make this relationship work better?’ and ‘What would make you feel more comfortable in terms of how we work together?”. You may decide that they work under someone else, a non family member, rather than reporting directly to you. That way they have someone to talk to and be accountable to without blurring the lines of your relationship.
NUMBER TWO – Create a bespoke personal development plan for them. In fact everyone in your business, or at least the senior management, should have a clear path of where they’re going and how they’re going to achieve it. This will give your sibling the opportunity to create their own level of success and have something to constantly focus on and work towards rather than dwelling on the fact that you are their boss! They can be in control of their own success.
FINALLY NUMBER THREE – It’s important, no it’s CRUCIAL that you make time to do things together as siblings, outside of work. Imagine if you didn’t work together, you’d probably spend lots of time, with your families, getting together at the weekends, doing things together. But because you already see each other 5 days a week, you probably avoid doing that! It’s important to remember that time as a family is very different. You go back to being equals as siblings – it will help you understand what’s important in their life and rebuild that bond. Why not try doing something THEY are passionate about? Give them the chance to teach YOU a thing or two and turn the tables on your Monday to Friday work relationship.
My mum has a saying – You can always get another business but you can’t get another family’ and it’s absolutely true. If your sibling can’t hack working FOR you then perhaps it’s time they found their happiness elsewhere, for the sake of your relationship.
But let’s recap on the three simple things you CAN do to try and avoid that happening –
ONE – Sit them down and listen. Get to the real root of the problem and understand what they’re thinking.
TWO – Create a bespoke personal development plan for them. Allow them to create their own level of success, even if they’re never going to be the leader.
THREE – Make time to do things together as siblings. This will put you back on an equal footing and stop them feeling like the under achiever.
If you can do these three things and start communicating honestly there’s no reason why they can’t become your strongest supporter and encourager as you lead the family business into the future.
I’ll leave you with final thought – the more successful your family business, the bigger your family’s impact.
Author: Amalia Brightley-Gillott, MD & 2nd Generation
Family Business Place