What Happens to Sibling Rivalry During the Succession Process?

Business Leader Post, December 10, 2012

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

It intensifies. Inherent in a family business’ succession process is the idea that the decision making process/authority is going to change. As soon as the next generation becomes aware of that idea, the sibling rivalry intensifies. Although it has been present for years and has played out in the business in one form or another, the level of emotion and fighting has been managed until now by a senior family member who, at the very least, has the power to make a decision.

When the senior family business member contemplates continuity planning, the situation resembles the game of musical chairs: there is only one winner. The race is on. Frequently the sibling rivalry issue inhibits the succession process because of the fear that competition will get out of control and become unmanageable. The family business, confronted with the potential negative escalation of family issues vs. the need to address important business issues, becomes paralyzed

Unfortunately, the problem does not go away; it gets worse over time. If it is not dealt with while the senior family business member is healthy and present, it can become explosive after that person is no longer on the scene. As scary as the situation may be, you cannot allow the sibling rivalry issues to hold the business hostage. It is far better for the siblings to work out their issues while the authority figure is present and healthy, and can help manage the tension as you go through the process of changing leadership.