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  • Writer's pictureAileen Miziolek

Leveraging Sibling Diversity: Aligning Opposite Strengths for Greater Success

As a Family Business Consultant and Family Systems Coach, I work with numerous sibling leadership and ownership teams. To better understand the dynamics of sibling partnerships, I carry out several assessments that help individuals increase their awareness around their strengths and that of the siblings they work with. What the assessments usually show is what their parents already know: siblings are often polar opposites! Ask any parent who has more than one child if they have similar personalities - the answer will most often be first a big chuckle, followed by “nope - they are all different”.

There are many biological and psychosocial reasons that explain these differences. Among the scientific: variances in siblings’ genetic codes, birth order and epigenetics, the study of how behaviour and environment can cause changes that affect the way our genes work. Among the psychosocial reasons is sibling differentiation theory – that younger siblings will choose different pathways from an older sibling in an effort to create a unique identity. This process of “niche picking” conscious or not, is thought to protect siblings from sibling rivalry and competing for the same resources and parental attention. Ideally this is nature’s way of promoting greater harmony within the sibling relationship and the family system as a whole.

However, when adult siblings come together to work in a family business, their diverse personalities and talents can be both a blessing and a challenge. Family businesses are unique entities in the business world. They combine the complexities of personal relationships with the demands of running a successful enterprise. When we envision siblings as members of a team, the cultivation of diverse strengths becomes an undeniable asset. These differences can complement one another's abilities and compensate for weaknesses, creating a synergy where the collective whole surpasses the sum of its individual parts.

However, the opposite can also be true. When siblings don’t have the relationship skills to leverage these differences to their advantage, they can create a competitive and even destructive dynamic that can ripple through the business and cause division within the family.

Here are five relationship skills that can help sibling teams succeed:

1. Acknowledge and Celebrate Differences

Recognize that your diverse personalities and talents are valuable assets that can bring a broader perspective and skill set to the table. Instead of seeing these differences as obstacles, view them as complementary strengths.

2. Divide and Conquer

Assign roles and responsibilities within the family and/or the businesses that align with each sibling’s strengths and interests. By doing this you can ensure that everyone is working in areas where they can excel. This not only increases efficiency but also allows each sibling to shine in their own area of expertise.

3. Structure Time and Space to Communicate

Effective communication is key to any successful partnership. Whether dealing with matters of business, planning family events, or helping elderly parents, adult siblings need to be intentional about creating time to communicate about emerging matters to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Open, honest discussions about goals, strategies and challenges can help bridge the gap between personalities and talents.

4. Seek External Expertise

In some cases, it may be beneficial to bring in external expertise to supplement the siblings’ skills and personalities. This can provide fresh perspectives and help navigate complex business solutions. External advisors, mentors, or consultants can add valuable insights and bridge any gaps in the family’s collective skill set.

5. Embrace a Shared Vision

Ultimately, the success of a family business depends on having a shared vision and common goals. While adult siblings may have different personalities and talents, they should align on a common purpose, striving for the prosperity and growth of the family business. This shared vision, or North Star, can help them overcome differences and work toward a common objective.

Adult siblings with opposite personalities and diverging talents can transform these distinctions into a powerful asset that serves their family and their business. Even though there can be some bumps along the way, embracing diversity within the family business not only strengthens the business itself but also fosters a deeper, more fulfilling sibling relationship. In the end, it is the combination of their talents, perspectives, and their commitment to shared purpose that can amplify a sibling team’s capability to meet the demands of business in today’s complex and ever-changing business environment.


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