By Pete Walsh

Too often I see family business siblings wasting a lot of energy trying to show each other up as a leader in the family business. The problem is that this behavior is not only counter-productive, it is highly annoying and distracting to the employees and other family members in the business.

Sibling rivalry has been around forever. It's a natural hard-wired tendency for us to compete with each other for resources, attention, and affection in our tribes. Some guys, sadly, are still acting like cavemen stomping around carelessly leaving a trail of debris behind them.

Today's workers are looking for more mature, dynamic leadership to help keep them motivated and focused. When two brothers (or sisters) spend their energy puffing out their chests and trying to prove their superiority, it drives good people away. Here is a quick five-step approach to better leadership with siblings.

1. Be more self-aware during the day. Watch the impact of your words and actions. You may not understand why your siblings react to something you say which you thought was not offensive. Take the time to evaluate their reaction and then adjust your words and actions to better communicate what you intended.

2. Check your ego at the door. Stop needing to prove your worth. A business is no place for an inflated ego. You all share common goals and will work together more efficiently without having to prove something to the rest of the family.

3. Identify and understand each other's unique strengths and assign roles based upon those. Ideally these strengths are different with each person. When give someone a role in your family business that is in their area of strength, the business will see more success. And everyone can feel confident in their role.

4. Find ways to support and enhance each other's efforts for the good of the whole company. There may be something in your brother or sister's job description that really doesn’t fit their strengths. Be objective and find ways you can help them in those areas. Also, don’t forget to ask for help with your own weaknesses.

5. Keep giving each other feedback and challenge each other to be better leaders. You will be surprised how far saying “good job” will take the business. If you challenge your siblings and provide constructive feedback, you both grow as family business leaders and people.

Every team needs many different types and styles of leaders. Spend time exploring and understanding each other's inherent strengths and design your roles around those strengths.

When you stop competing, your family business team will see it and appreciate it.
Great sibling partnerships divide and conquer in a positive way. Usually one is better at sales, the other at operations, finance, or customer service. Take a behavioral assessment to learn how you are wired. Don't stay in a position that's not well suited for your talents. I use Path Elements Profile by my colleague Laurie Beth Jones. It's simple to use and provides a new way to relate to each other.

Be humble with each other and realize that when you get focused on your mutual success, you will be a better team and have a stronger company. Give each other positive and constructive, feedback along the way—building confidence, not tearing it down.

Attend some leadership classes and read a few books. There is both a science and art to leadership; don't just try to wing it. Become a student of leadership and realize it’s a life-long journey. Find your own unique leadership voices that can work in harmony for the good of the whole.

When you stop competing, your family business team will see it and appreciate it. Your organization will be well on its way to better results and employee retention. Today's competitive landscape requires you to get this right. Good luck!


Family Business Survivor and Master Certified Business Coach Pete Walsh’s life work is to give family business owners the tools, confidence, and courage to educate and train their families to ensure their business and family's long term success. As founder of The Family Business Performance Center, an online learning center with free videos and proven practices to help families learn to communicate and collaborate as a strong, healthy team.