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Nov 17, 2021


If you and your sibling group are going to inherit assets (business, family office, vacation home) you will need to create a different set of skills and behavioral patterns that do not occur by being born into a family. Natalie McVeigh and Matthew Kerzner, Managing Directors in the Center for Individual & Organizational Performance, discuss roles, relationships, differentiation, and failure in stewardship.

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Matthew Kerzner: Hello, I'm Matt Kerzner and I'm the director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance. And I'm excited today to work with my colleague, Natalie McVeigh, and she is also a director in the center and as part of our CIOP podcast series, I'm delighted to have Natalie here today. Natalie, thank you for joining us.
Natalie McVeigh: Thanks Matt. It's a pleasure to be here.

MK: Today, we're here to talk about sibling development, getting the next generation ready. So tell me, Natalie, what is the role of sibling development in family enterprises?
NM: Absolutely. It's so interesting that we often think our children will naturally be ready to do all the things that we're already doing and many of us are doing it alone. I started my company, I'm the CEO. And so sibling group development really has to do with them understanding their roles relative to one another and the function of what they're going to be asked to perform, and these aren't occurring at the same time. And so really saying, what are our relationships and what are the functions we're expected to perform together? And how do we practice the skills to get us there? So nothing we do, playing in the yard, doing homework, extracurriculars or separate roles in the company actually allow us to practice these kinds of skills. In fact, what siblings do, and it makes a lot of sense, is they go their own way. Now, we're asking them to come together to do something together.
MK:Excellent. What hits me when I hear this is roles and responsibilities, having a clear understanding of everybody in the family, what role they play, what strengths they add to the family enterprise, et cetera. But I'm curious when we're working on sibling development, what are the steps?
NM:Absolutely, and you're right. It starts with roles and sometimes we become role dependent. Many of us, I'm the peacemaker in my family, or I'm the funny guy, that role dependency, or I do this one thing. I lead the family council meetings because we have something to cling to, that's the first step, but you also want to progress to individual emergence. I'm more dynamic than this one dimensional creature that you see. I don't just make peace. I have my own opinions too. And then accepting that we're different. So really understanding that even if you do it this way and I do it that way, we're going to move through it. We're going to manage our conflict. We're going to fully, freely express and I can hear most of you saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, we already do that.

You probably don't in a family because where we most want to belong is our family. And we know neurologically our desire to belong outweighs our desire for safety. All of us can think about the things we haven't yet shared with our family, but we might prep a spouse for before they come to our Thanksgiving dinner. And then eventually, once we truly are individuated where we truly feel comfortable, we can hash it all out, we become interdependent where we can work together and collaborate, so that's really the group development side.
MK: Excellent. When I think of family, I think everybody is different. Everybody brings something to the table as a family member. So how does differentiating play a role in sibling development?
NM:Yeah. Differentiating is very helpful because our family enterprise is a little bit like the sun. It has its own gravity and its own orbit and it's pulling everything towards it. And so I might, if I have a parent who might be in the way and they're in the way in my head more than they are in reality or vice versa, or if I have a sibling who usually takes those leadership roles, I might make myself smaller. I may identify with my parents, think they're always right. I may not stay in my adult mature self, which means I might have difficulty with patience, self-confidence. I might appeal to others to adjudicate my role in things.

And so when we're talking about staying in your adult self differentiating, we're not saying co-mingling with your parents or your siblings, we're talking about your own patience, your own goals, what's really meaningful for you, and then how can you pair it to the function? The function of either stewardship or legacy, and stewardship and legacy really are the end goal. And there should be lots of experimentation before then. And when I say experimentation, I mean failing. And sometimes we don't differentiate because I don't want the way that I did this wrong to be attached to my name because I know at the end of a stewardship process, I win. I either win inheritance or a CEO role and I don't want to fail along the way.
MK:That's great. Now, sometimes when I work with families, you have some that are working in the business, some who are not, but they might have ownership in the business, and then you have the family dynamic in general. You have the family, you have the business and you have the ownership. What I'm really interested and curious about is those who don't work in the business, why should they be interested in sibling development?
NM: That's a great question. The main reason is that it's for the entire enterprise. And so we don't just stop being siblings one day. So you're not going to stop talking to your sister, your brother. And especially if you're an owner, you're entitled to returns on investment, which your sibling, your sister, your brother are probably stewarding. And so part of this is to understand if I'm getting less dividends this year because of a business reason, we have to problem solve that together. We have to talk through that together and we have to agree on that functional role of what stewardship means.

And if we have very different definitions of it, even if we like each other, that other part that we were talking, that group development role, we are going to have conflict. We are going to be upset. So sibling group development or cousin group development, which follows the same pathway, is critically important because it's not enough to enjoy each other. You have to know how to work together as well, and you are in fact working together unless you are not an owner, you are not a part of the family and you are not a part of the business.
MK: Excellent. Great answer. So how does a family start this journey?
NM:The way that a family starts the journey is by really getting to know each other. I love to do an exercise with families called a lifeline, where you walk through individually your own important moments. You don't talk to anyone about it, you write it down and then you map out the entire families together because we take our families for granted. We think we know everything about them, and we don't understand how they've changed. We also don't understand what they're celebrating. So a lifeline.

Another good activity is what's in my bag, where you create a bag on the outside of what people see and other things on the inside where they do, where you start self-disclosing, where you start creating the area for what I know about myself that you might not know about me as a part of it and getting really honest. That might sound silly and people like, that's not to do with business, but the more we can actually express who we are, the more we will then start expressing our true desires in the companies. When we walk that line of stewardship, what we find is I'm still not differentiating. I'm going to do what I think my parents want me to do or my siblings do. So it's easier to start with self-disclosure and then build on the tasks we're working on.
MK:That's great. So, Natalie, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out to be part of the podcast series today. It was a pleasure talking with you. If you'd like to have some more information, we have plenty on our website and that's Natalie, it's always a pleasure and thank you for being with us today.
NM:Thanks Matt.

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Natalie M. McVeigh

Natalie McVeigh is a Managing Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence Group within the Private Client Services Group and has more than 10 years of experience as a consultant and coach.

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