As owners or managers in the business, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to “do it all”. We like to own the work and too often, avoid delegating or mentoring others for fear of losing our position of power. What happens is that we, as the leader, set an example that others try to follow, and before you know it, people are working in silos. The reality is that teamwork is one of the most crucial foundations to a successful, long-term business and the entry for our future leaders.
Because we are human, the tendency to share and collaborate often does not come natural. We are competitive by nature, we want personal recognition and our personal opinions and beliefs impact our daily interactions with others. All of these influences creates barriers to reaching out to those around us for help or “across the aisle” to another department for insight, diminishing our ability to ensure proper mentorship and growth of our colleagues and future leaders.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a client who was on the verge of a family business meltdown due to the issues above. Since Dr. Merlot has a knack for setting people straight, I asked him to join me on the visit. What we encountered is not an uncommon day at the office for us – the dealer and family member employees were not on the same page – highlighting how a breakdown in teamwork has more than just a negative business impact.
Passing by the receptionist’s desk we caught Millie’s expression of relief, followed by elevated voices from Jack’s office.
As we entered Jack, the dealer, was standing behind his desk bellowing, “I have had all of your stance on politics. I am telling you now; not no, but hell no! We are not going to bankrupt this company by giving our employees two weeks’ vacation, 10 days paid sick leave and paid maternity leave.”
While Jack was ranting, his 33-year-old daughter Rene’ was sitting at the small conference table in his office, head down and sobbing. Her brother Jack, Jr. was across from her, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed smiling at his sister, appearing to relish in her misery.
Jack realizes that myself and Dr. Merlot have entered his office, “Oh hello there Loyd, Doc. Glad you both could make it. As you can see, my parent’s words of telling me to never talk politics fell deaf on these ears. The outcome of our recent election has my daughter Rene’ needing grief counseling where Jr. thinks Christmas came early.”
Rene’ pokes her head up off the table, all red eyed and running mascara and said, “Both of you have been out of control. You’ve both been just intolerable!”
“He’s been intolerable?” questioned Jr. in his most sarcastic tone. “You have been moping around here proclaiming doom and disaster. I think all your HR minions believe all minorities are going to be rounded up like cattle and railroaded out of the country.”
Rene’ pushed herself erect and started to return salvo when I decided it was time for me and Doc to start earning our keep.
“Shut the front door!” Doc proclaimed with hands in the air as a referee holding off two prize fighters. Rotating his arms in and out, “let’s do some deep breathing. Breath in and breath out. Let’s relax and take a chair.”
Jack, who had been progressively losing hard-drive voltage, started opening his arms and deep breathing as though he was in a yoga class. Following instructions, he took a chair at the table beside Rene’ and a few moments later Jr. reluctantly followed suit.
Doc made sure Jr. was seated and then settled in a chair, nodding to me, “We got this! Just another day at the office.”
After the jostling to get comfortable I resumed the conversation, “Rene’ thanks for inviting us. This is our first family election donnybrook but I’m sure there are more in our future. Apparently, our timing was impeccable.”
Jack Jr. was true to his impatient form; “Mr. Rawls, presuming you did not come here to tell us about your problems, could we address this pathetic situation. Wouldn’t you agree my sister is out of her element here?”
“Just listen to Archie Bunker,” responded Rene’ sarcastically glaring at her brother. “Archie? Who is Archie?” Inquired Jack who had lost his grasp of hyperbole or exaggeration.
“Stop that nonsense, Dad!” blurted Jr impatiently.
“See Loyd, he’s got the sensitivity of an anvil,” responded Rene’ as though she had proved her point.
“Please” I pleaded holding my palms down, “could we cease fire for a moment?”
Jr. leaned back in his chair with crossed his arms shaking his head, “is my sister a nut job or what! There’s no place for this craziness in the business. Let’s keep this simple, sell me her stock.”
“Jr.” Doc proclaimed in disgust. ”You need to drink a big glass of ‘SHUT-UP’. The world has endured about all of your intolerance it can handle. Let me remind you, when your dad acknowledged his disease he positioned me as trustee, the controlling shareholder because he had observed intolerance from both of you and did not want to perpetuate a business with a succession terrorist. If I think either of you are a liability to the continued success of the business I have the power to fire you and buy back your stock. But what you don’t know is that I also have the power to sell the stores if I don’t think neither of you are making an effort to accept and respect the other, and frankly having witnessed this worthless fodder for the last 10 years, that’s where I am at this very moment. In spite of our efforts to bring you both to the middle you take something as stupid as a presidential election to put the dealerships in tilt. And I assure, if I sell the stores the proceeds will be divided with your other three siblings and your grandiose lifestyle will be caput.”
“We would only get a fifth of the proceeds?” challenged Jr. in disbelief.
“That is correct,” I responded as the architect of the documents. “Are you feeling just a little more compassion towards your sister’s political opinion?”
“I’m not disappointed in either of my children,” expressed Jack warmly having lost grasp of the discussion.
“Oh thank you Dad”, responded Rene’. “And thank you Doc for putting Archie in his place.”
“Rene’” I responded with frustration, “He’s not Archie, he’s your brother.” Although he’s not the GM today, he could very well be your boss one day, and if you cannot listen to his pleading to keep politics out of the store, you are going to join your three siblings in the Income Trust. I called Kenneth on the way over and he said you stormed out of his staff meeting ranting about unfair persecution because someone cracked a political joke.”
“Unfairly persecuted!” Jr., was again in full attack mode, “What world do you live in?”
Rene’s face was beginning to turn red. Dr Merlot again seized the moment. “Just chill, both of you. The election is over! The votes have been counted.” he proclaimed raising his arms. “It’s time to cope and adapt. This nation is not going to change dramatically with this election and this business is not going to continue in turmoil over the results.”
Reaching out to Rene’, Doc continued his case. “You both better dial up your tolerance.”
Then looking back and forth at both of them, Doc concluded; “Accept and Respect. Accept your opinions and differences and respect them. To accept your sibling (or co-workers) beliefs does not mean you agree, it means you accept they have the right to feel and believe as they do, which in effect means you respect their beliefs.
Although there are many factors that go into team work and collaboration, the one sure piece of the puzzle, if missing, is acceptance and respect of others opinions, especially when you disagree. Only in an environment of mutual respect for personal beliefs can there be communication and unity on business issues and principles. Acceptance, respect and unity on business principles is your only hope for survival, the fundamental predicate to your success and the future of your business.
Author: Loyd Rawls
Loyd H. Rawls, President/CEO of The Rawls Group, has specialized in succession planning for closely-held, family owned businesses since 1973. Well respected in his field, Mr. Rawls is a highly requested speaker and has published numerous articles and publications on this subject such as “Seeking Succession: How to Continue the Family Business Legacy” and “The Succession Bridge: Key Manager Succession Alternatives for Family Owned Businesses.”