Leading Through Crisis as a Family

alex gretchen and charlotte

On January 1 of this year our father moved into a new role as Chairman of the Board. This meant that he had to pick one of his three kids to run the business. Except that is not how it went down. Instead, the three of us spent the last few years growing our work relationships and determining how WE were going to run the business together. As unconventional as this sounds, it was brilliant in hindsight because it forced the three of us to learn how to relate to one another in the most difficult of subject matters: who is going to run the business?

We came up with an unconventional model of shared leadership. One sister would be Chief Financial Officer, one Chief Cultural Officer, and I would be Chief Revenue Officer. We then named 10 other people chiefs and Vice Presidents – of course I am kidding but we got really tired of the title game. In fact, after several meetings we decided that the only thing that really mattered was running the business well without jeopardizing our relationships.

Remember how I said above that talking about succession was the “most difficult of subject matters?” I was SO WRONG.

COVID-19 had the audacity to come to town less than 90 days into our new structure. It did not RSVP. Nor, did it send an “outlook” calendar invite to ZOOM. It just showed up unannounced. When crisis hits, we were previously asked when planning our new structure, who would make the decisions if you don’t have a President? The rest of this post shares how we are navigating this reality. I would be remiss not to say that I am writing this on April 8, 2020. In other words, we are closer to the beginning of the challenge than we are to the end.

One last note to leaders in more “traditional” workplace hierarchies: Everything I share below is applicable to leadership because leaders are those worth following. They are not dictators. People want to follow those that are humble and willing to change.

Without further ado, here are 4 key things my sisters and I are doing to work through this crisis:

  1. We listen. Listening is hearing the entirety of the other person’s point of view. It is openness to changing your perspective because of it. For example, I wrote a memo last week to the company that both my sisters thought needed some editing. My intention in the memo was to lead boldly. They both said the wording was too bold however. My choices were to insist on “my way,” or listen to their counsel. Reading what I wrote I could see their point. While I was attempting to be candid and honest, I was sharing too much. By softening the tone of the letter, it was received with positive feedback from the organization.
  2. We communicate in person or ZOOM daily. In times of crisis people are obviously very stressed. Higher stress should equal more frequent in-person meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page. Being able to see and hear the person simultaneously protects one from misinterpreting tone. My sisters and I have used this time to ensure relational harmony and make decisions together. To date we have yet to get to the point where one of them has me in a headlock and the other is tickling me like they did in 1980 something…
  3. We assume the best in each other. High stress also equals higher chances to say something that ticks someone off. Remember that time your sister or brother said something during the holidays that made you sneak sip some beverage of choice? COVID-19 is WAY MORE STRESSFUL than the holidays! So, considering my sisters and I work together, we are assuming the best and apologizing if we must.
  4. We are attempting to laugh and have fun when we can. Laughter is a healthy coping mechanism for stress. Let’s face it, there is not much to laugh at these days. So, attempting to laugh can mean entertaining the silly in the pursuit of a momentary diversion from the crisis. Some examples include MEMES about Joe Exotic and YouTube videos about ZOOM, etc.

I would imagine that 99% of readers do not work with siblings. That said, these ideas: listening, communicating daily, assuming the best in one another, and laughing together, can be applied to ANY Executive team.

They also can apply to your next holiday gathering.