I chuckle when I ask others if they would like to work with their siblings because I usually get a sarcastic response in return. “We would kill each other,” I often hear. My sisters and I have chosen to do exactly this, and we haven’t killed each other yet! All kidding aside, this has made us all better leaders. While I could – and maybe someday will – write a book on this topic, what follows are three lessons that I have learned working with my sisters, lessons I believe that are helpful for all leaders.
The overarching lesson I have learned can be summed up this way: when in doubt, talk it out. There is nothing worse relationally than “assuming.” Assumptions can often lead one to think the other person has motives that, in reality, they do not. The closer the relationship, the more this is so as we often mistake proximity for knowledge. Thus, my sisters and I have made it a point to intentionally get together and talk through issues (NOT just when they come up). We have a quarterly meeting on the calendar, and another meeting set for every other week throughout the year. We do this so that we have a rhythm of meeting in our schedule. Otherwise, our natural tendency is to avoid difficult subject matters. A rhythm of meetings ensures that we have space to talk about everything. This takes a lot of intentionality, but it is what has helped us grow our relationships to where they are now.
The next lesson is to talk directly with each other, rather than processing an issue with another family member. We have come to call this “triangularization.” In other words, if I have an issue with one sister, I shouldn’t go process the issue with the other sister (creating a “triangle” and putting the other sibling in-between). Rather, I should go talk directly with the sister I have the issue with. The implications for leadership with this one are rather easy to see. For, a leader should never process an issue they have with someone they lead with another person on the same team. It is always best to talk directly with the person you have the issue with.
Finally, working with my sisters has taught me to give others the benefit of the doubt. The three of us made a covenant that we would “assume the best” in each other, and that we would give each other extra servings of grace. It is inevitable that when talking about key business initiatives, like succession planning, that we will say things that we wish, in retrospect, had come out a little different. But by living this virtue, I can record that we have never had a MAJOR relational conflict because we have given each other the benefit of the doubt. We even went on a Disney Cruise with our spouses and kids over Spring Break, something some non-working siblings even cringe at! The point is that we have given each other grace -- work is important but life is more than work – and that has allowed our sibling, and business, relationships to grow the past decade.
To be 100% clear, I do not claim my sisters and I have a perfect working relationship --whatever that is--, or that we have figured it all out. We have not. If anything, we are at where we are at because of a TON of prayer, a TON of intentionality, and a TON of humility. I am proud that we have each laid our egos down, the best we can, and have found a way to work and lead together. This will continue to be a daily occurrence for us to succeed for the, hopefully, decades to come.
Business is hard, whether you work with siblings or not. These three principles will help you create more relational peace in the midst of the expected, even inevitable, business challenges.