My mother and I recently traveled to visit my sister and her family.  Except for the occasional meal out, we stayed in the house, simply being together as family.  And we had a wonderful time! On the trip home, I considered the contrast and how stereotypical sibling conflicts burden some family businesses.  The source of and ways to mitigate these conflicts are this week’s Lesson Found.

Even though he was not an entrepreneur, Edward Ray’s character traits are similar to those of many company founders.  Thus, the Ray family’s story highlights some sources of adult sibling conflict in family businesses.

Source #1: Measuring up to Parent’s Accomplishments. Edward’s accomplishments were impressive including graduating with top honors, fluent in five languages, Assistant Secretary of State, and studying under jazz legend Buddy Rich.  As his son, Joe, puts it: “To measure up to an imposing parent like that; you’re always going to feel inadequate.”

Source #2: Seeking Attention. Joe points to another of his parent’s traits similar to many family business founders: “Because my parents had so little time to give to each one of us, everyone was fighting for my parents’ attention.”

Source #3: Competitiveness. “My father was always competitive” Joe says.  This compounded the drive for parental attention with the children constantly trying to one up their siblings to gain their father’s praise.

Source #4: Being Daddy’s/Mommy’s Favorite. On their parent’s death, the Ray children fought over the inheritance of the family’s “cherished” objects – from their mother’s engagement ring to the “kitschy” Thanksgiving turkey platter. As Joe’s sister puts it: “A lot of this is just whose mommy’s favorite and daddy’s favorite; despite the fact that you’re in your 60s.”

Another way to describe the source of these conflicts is “emotional baggage”.   How to mitigate these emotional conflicts is summarized in one sentence: “Running the company as a business that happens to be owned by a family, not running it as a family.”  This translates into governance policies including recruiting criteria; succinctly defining responsibilities; and setting objective goals and objectives.  Equally important, siblings need to meet regularly to understand each other’s perspectives and that the adult sibling is not the child sibling they grew up with.  Finally, a Board of Advisors can also mitigate potential conflict as well as mentor second generation family members as they grow into leadership positions.

Which best describes your company: “A business owned by family” or “a family business”?

Life brings us lessons every day.  Sometimes from expected sources.  And sometimes from sources and situations we never would have thought possible.  Either way, they are a gift found. I am fortunate to find these types of lessons regularly and wanted to share them with you with this weekly series of “Lessons Found”.
Did you recently receive the gift of a Lesson Found that has helped you with management, marketing or another aspect in business? I would love to hear about it. Comment below or send me an email to let me know.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Artwork from Pixabay through