A Tale of Two Sisters

JoAnne Norton

It was the best of times, and then it was the worst of times for the second-generation family owners of a flourishing gardening business. Sisters Amy and Bethany, members of the third generation, were bright, talented women who were active in the newly formed family council, though neither worked in the operation.

Amy served admirably as the first chairman of the seven-member family council composed of her sister Bethany, her uncle, her aunt, her brother, and two cousins. Amy seemed to be a born leader. She had done a lot of the research and initial legwork to get the family council started and launched.  Thanks to her efforts the family formed an active family council, and the family agreed that these were some of the best of times for them.
After Amy served her two-year term as chairman, her sister Bethany took over. Also bright and well organized, Bethany seemed like the perfect successor. After a year, though, the family council was not performing nearly as well as it had under Amy’s leadership. Council members weren’t showing up, meetings did not run as smoothly, and everyone noticed there was a real lack of camaraderie. Family members wondered if having good governance was really worth the time, effort, and expense.

The best of times and the worst of times boiled down to one significant difference: the leadership styles of Amy and Bethany. Amy understood the importance of building relationships, and Bethany did not. At the beginning of each month, Amy would look at her busy calendar and decide what day she was going to take her dad and her aunt to lunch. Since they were the owners of their family’s growing gardening business, she knew how important it was to stay close to them. She would also schedule calls to her siblings and cousins – making a point to find out what pressing issues she should have on the family council agenda so all topics could be addressed. She knew that staying in touch with the entire family and continuing to build those relationships was critical to the success of the family and the business.

Bethany had not realized the organizational and personal skills it took to make the council run smoothly. She was, however, smart enough to seek her sister’s advice. Amy explained to Bethany how imperative it is for family leaders to stay in close contact with everyone in their family system.. Amy said her strategy was to organize her calendar on the first day of each month because scheduling time for relationship building should always be done first. No one wanted to miss one of Amy’s meetings because the topics were always on target, and everyone was fully engaged.

Staying in contact with the members of the family council did not come easily to Bethany, but she became increasingly aware of how the little things she did to stay in touch paid big dividends in the cohesiveness of the council and the effectiveness of the family governance. Bethany learned from Amy that it is the investment of time that makes for the best of times when it comes to working successfully with your family.

JoAnne Norton can be reached at norton@efamilybusiness.com or 714-273-9367.  Click here to read JoAnne’s biography.

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