Monday, June 8, 2015

Family Harmony as a Planning Priority Part 3: Five Ideas for Improving Family Harmony

If you believe that Family Harmony should be a planning priority (see Part 1 of this series) and you are committed to not harming your clients’ Family Harmony (see Part 2), then the next question you must ask yourself is this: How can I proactively improve Family Harmony for my clients? 

I believe improving Family Harmony goes much deeper than facilitating families holding hands and singing a few choruses of “Kumbaya.”  The Thriving 3-GEN Family model employed by SunBridge provides a catalytic framework for rich, breakthrough thinking about how to foster Family Harmony in the planning and advisory processes. 

From the quadrants of The Thriving 3-GEN Family model, I have fashioned five ideas in the form of questions that the advisor can pose to the family.  This is best done when the advisor is acting as a facilitator in a family council. 

I recommend that we advisors focus on questions — rather than answers — because the smartest “experts” on the subject of Family Harmony are the family members themselves.  They know the family better than anyone and they know what will work best for them. 

As the advisor, our job is to carefully frame the questions; create an environment in which family members can do their own best thinking; and if necessary provide them information about compliance and regulatory constraints.  We may need to challenge them to think far outside the boxes in which they presently find themselves.

Beyond that, however, we need to leave the answers to them.  Their answers will be far better than our answers.  And they’ll be much more likely to implement if the results originated with them instead of us.

Please note, this is a list of questions, not the list.  Many more questions will come to your mind as you study The Successful 3-GEN Family model and think about each client family and their unique circumstances.

Here are some ideas/questions to get you started:

Question #1.  [The Library]:  How can our family capture and communicate family stories from all generations, to all generations?

As human beings, we are hard-wired to communicate with stories.  It is our native language.  We connect with those who listen to our stories and we cherish those whose stories we have truly heard.  Through stories, we understand their world and they understand ours.  Nurturing family stories is essential to strengthening family relationships.

There are two sets of stories that are critical to Family Harmony: 1) stories of the family’s past, their heritage and their history, and 2) stories of the family’s shared, collective future.  Knowing and sharing the first provide the environment for developing the second.

Building a family identity through shared stories of the past forms a baseline of what it means to be a member of this family.  As we sit around the modern-day equivalent of the tribal fire, it is essential that all members of the tribe know those stories and can pass them along to the younger generations.

But sharing the past, while important, is insufficient to preserve Family Harmony.  Lasting relationships exist only among those who share a credible story of a shared future.  Our lives are full of “ex’s” and “former’s” and “used-to-be’s.”  We share memories with them but memories do not equal relationships.  We may share a past with them, but if we can’t look ahead and see our lives intertwined in a positive way, there’s no real relationship.  A shared vision of a collective tomorrow is the sine qua non of every meaningful family relationship today.

Perpetuating family heritage stories and creating shared family vision stories takes work and attention.  Given the dispersed nature of multi-generational families today, it will probably require modern technology to harness and hold those stories for all to hear and see.  I believe such an investment is time and money well spent.

Question #2. [The Playground]:  How can our family provide opportunities for family members to play together?

Wholesome recreation is one of the ingredients of a thriving family.  “The family that plays together, stays together.  The family that isn’t ‘working’ is the family that isn’t playing together.  Playing together is an essential trait of happy, healthy families.” Jim Burn

Every family’s definition of playing together is different; that’s one reason the wise advisor asks great questions and allows the family to find their own right answers.  Some families play golf; others play Scrabble or Rummy or Risk.  Some fish or hunt; others wouldn’t be caught dead with a fishing pole or shotgun in their hands.  Some love the beach; others would prefer to hike and camp in the mountains.  Some like to sit around and chat; others play softball or flag football or go skiing.  Certain foods are almost always a part of most families’ recreation.

The point is, each family decides for itself what form of recreation they enjoy.  The family council needs to consider how the family can come together on a consistent basis and allocate some of their “together time” to having fun.

The family may have the means to maintain a recreational property such as a house on the beach, a cabin in the mountains, or part of the family farm.  If so, this issue needs to be discussed, appropriate decisions taken, and these decisions implemented so that this valuable resource can enhance Family Harmony. 

But owning a vacation property isn’t required to establish and maintain a tradition of family gatherings and recreational get-togethers.  All it takes is the will to do so and the commitment to follow through on family fun as a priority.

Question #3. [The Wheelhouse]: How can we encourage and sustain an attitude of entrepreneurship in all generations of our family? 

“Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” is how the proverb goes.  Over time, the families that die on the vine are those who never replicate the drive, initiative, and creativity of the “founding” generation.  Within three generations, they wither away and are scattered to the wind.

While this “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeve” phenomenon usually refers to the family’s financial capital, it also applies with the same force to all forms of family capital, whether intellectual, social, spiritual, artistic, character, etc.  Regardless of the forms of “wealth” to which this principle may be applied, resilient families encourage and sustain an attitude of entrepreneurship in each generation of the family. 

By contrast, non-resilient families rest on the laurels or ride on the coattails or live in the shadows of their upstream ancestor as they steadily consume the “wealth” he or she left behind.  Without constant renewal from generation to generation, the family’s essence slowly bleeds out.

The questions of what attitudes and skills are necessary for members of younger generations to leave the comforts of the nest and soar into the wild blue yonder of growth and new opportunity, and how those attitudes and skills can be fostered in each new generation, is a subject worthy of each family’s best thinking.  Finding the answers that work for each family will be the lifeblood that sustains it and builds Family Harmony from one generation to the next.

Question #4. [The Storehouse]: How can we use our resources to foster self-reliance among family members?

Robert D. Hales defined self-reliance as “preparing for the ups and downs of life,” to which I would add, “without an unhealthy dependence on someone else’s (in this case the family’s) money.”  Self-reliance means developing the internal capacity to produce the necessities of life, the ingenuity to find alternative solutions to life’s inevitable challenges, and the maturity to recognize that very often, “less” is in fact “more.”

Some would argue that self-reliance is antithetical to Family Harmony, that too much independence gets in the way of harmonious relationships.  I say that self-reliance is a precursor to Family Harmony, that only self-reliant family members can build mutually supportive and lasting relationships.  In the words of Stephen R. Covey, “interdependence is a decision only independent people can make.”

The opposite of self-reliance is dependency and an attitude of entitlement.  Self-reliance fosters a sense of abundance, while dependency and entitlement foster a sense of scarcity.  A scarcity mindset disrupts Family Harmony, as family members jockey for and squabble over their slice of a finite pie, worried that someone else might get what is “rightfully mine.”

Self-reliance coupled with an abundance mindset beget optimism, resourcefulness, and generosity.  If any family can develop those five attributes, they will discover that Family Harmony is a piece of cake.

Question #5. [The Academy]:  Is there a meaningful cause that all of us can support?  How can we use all our wealth (not just our money) to make a difference?

Family philanthropy is a wonderful tool for teaching a wide range of important life skills.  As teenagers and young adults are challenged to make thoughtful gifts, they organically acquire important tools for thriving in today’s world.  Some of these include:

  •          Financial Literacy
  •          Written and Oral Communication Skills
  •          Confidence and Self Esteem
  •          Community Awareness
  •          Interpersonal Trust and Communication
  •          Identification of Personal Values & Purpose
  •          Group Collaboration
  •          Group Decision-making
  •          Volunteerism
  •          Gratitude
  •          Creative Fund-raising
  •          Understanding the Tax System
  •          Investigation & Evaluation of Organizations

The key to a successful family philanthropic experience is to engage the younger generation’s interest from the start.  From my experience working with client families of all sizes and types, and with teenagers in Main Street Philanthropy, I have learned that today’s youth and young adults can get very excited about family philanthropy IF they are allowed to participate fully in the decision of what causes to support.  The only time this process hasn’t worked was when one of the parents or grandparents insisted on having his or her own way.

I use a set of Make a Difference flash cards to put a large number of possible charitable causes on the table and to kindle a robust family discussion.  Once the discussion has been started, it’s important that everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s vote is counted, and then that everyone rally around the chosen mission.

The quality of the family’s philanthropic experience depends less on the number of dollars given away, and much more on how many different forms of non-financial wealth the family chooses to employ — along with their money — to leverage their gift. 

When time, talent, connections, creativity, and other resources are thrown into the mix, family members learn how they can truly make a difference.  They learn that the capacity to spark change is not limited by the size of the family’s balance sheet.  They discover that their human capital is ultimately more valuable than those assets that are measured in dollars and cents. 

* * * * *
As you can see, when I talk about Family Harmony, I am not thinking about civility, “getting along,” or even friendship. That’s way too shallow. I’m talking about bone-deep connection on a rock-solid foundation of love, integrity, and character. 

This is far grander work than merely avoiding shoving and shouting at annual family meetings.  This is the opportunity to touch hearts, connect families, and change lives.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Now that I’ve shared with you five of my ideas/questions based on The Thriving 3-GEN Family model, what additional ideas/questions can you think of?