Imagine having the kind of commitment to your family and your business that’s so deep and satisfying that you and your siblings are still working well together when you’re in your 70’s? And imagine that your children-and theirs-have joined you, finding the same kind of satisfaction in their careers that you do?
Impossible? It may feel that way to you, particularly if you are currently finding your siblings difficult to deal with. But a recent article in The New Yorker magazine (the June 23rd edition) describes the Argosy Bookstore as a place where three sisters, now in their 70’s, have worked happily all their lives.
Judith Lowry, Naomi Hample, and Adina Cohen, the daughters of Argosy’s founder Louis Cohen, all came to work at their father’s bookstore right after college. The three women have special interests within the store, but their roles are flexible and they share many activities involved in the business. Janet Malcolm, who wrote the article, observes that “they seemed to be of one mind about the business is to be run and how its functions are to be performed.”
The sisters describe their dad as someone who “fell in love with books” who was “smart”, “kind”, and “pleasant to deal with.” Ben, Naomi’s son, observes that even if someone makes a mistake, the sisters try to understand what happened, but waste no time on blaming anyone. There’s no drama, and the family moves on.
It is clear that that the sisters have carried on not only their father’s passion for books, but also his positive and congenial leadership style. And, as a result, they have sustained a workplace which is satisfying for them, their families, and their employees.
I encourage you to read the full story. But if you don’t have the time, just remember what made the sisters’ sibling team successful for so many years:
Lesson 1: respect the legacy and values of the business:
Remember that you and your siblings share a history together. Many daughters I’ve worked with, and their parents, love recounting the story of how the business started, the personality and values of the founder (sometimes from many generations back), and the ups and downs the business has experienced over time. Telling and retelling that story can connect you and your siblings even when daily pressures may drive you apart.
Lesson 2: share passion for the work: When one sibling is simply not interested in the work itself, or ambivalent about working with you, the situation can become very frustrating. You may feel that you have to pull more of your load, and that may make your brother or sister withdraw even more. But when you and your siblings are excited about the business, you will feel energized—and so will your employees, customers, and vendors.
Lesson 3: take on roles that tap talents: Keep in mind that the more people work in a setting that suits their interests and skills, the happier they are likely to be. You may be very satisfied, but if your siblings are not, support them in their search for a satisfying career somewhere else.
Lesson 4: accept errors as an opportunity not to blame, but to learn. This is perhaps the toughest lesson. It’s so tempting to defend ourselves and blame others. But to analyze the situation, and figure out how to prevent a similar mistake, and then to move forward-that’s the kind of maturity that can make sibling teams thrive…year after year.