Families committed to learning who are intentional about their family purpose and culture are better equipped to stand the test of time. It’s no exaggeration to say this is a monumental undertaking.
When my mother-in-law passed away, one of the things she left for each of her children was a large leather-bound dictionary. The one we have is 14 inches thick. It sits open on an antique table in our dining room, the spine broken and cracked from years of use. Grandma McDonald valued words. She wanted her children and grandchildren to be great readers and writers. She knew words held power, and those who used them wisely would be able to make a positive impact on the world around them.
When my children were little, and they had a question about a word she used, she would walk them over to the old leather-bound dictionary and show them how to find the word’s definition by flipping through the alphabet. They would be excited to gently turn the aged, thin pages to find their word.
In this timeworn, leather-bound dictionary, if you look at the word wealth, you’ll see the word’s origin is “well-being.” Before taking on the implications of financial riches, the word wealth meant people’s welfare, happiness, and joy.
A family who desires to maintain its purpose, culture, and learning throughout generations must concentrate on the family’s well-being, returning to the original roots of the word wealth. Is the family well? Are they thriving together? Are the individuals in the family flourishing so they can serve as a building block to a prospering society?
At Moneta, our 360-degree approach to the evolving and complex aspects of the family allows clients to become extraordinary stewards of their wealth. Our family learning program encompasses not just a robust set of financial education modules, but also mission statements, the family culture, family meetings, and legacy storytelling. Our learning program focuses on your family’s well-being, influencing everything from your investments and goals to your estate planning and philanthropic engagement.
Preserving the family itself is far more complicated than preserving financial wealth.
As individuals, we all have unique talents, desires, and dreams. We marry or find partners with people who have their own values, and we raise our children to (hopefully) be autonomous and responsible. Finding a place at the family table can be challenging as families grow. Significant wealth magnifies responsibility both in the extended family and in the world. Each family member must understand they are unique and special, while also adding value to the family enterprise.
Foster Commitment to Learning
Most families with success working together across multiple generations make a commitment to simply — be a great family. It’s as straightforward as it sounds. The family must take a stand for what it wants to accomplish and put the time, resources, and effort toward that end. This entails everything from formal educational programs to reminders about the family’s mission statement to continuously cultivating family culture through unique traditions.
A Lifelong Process
It is never too late or too early to start a family learning program. It is an exercise that is a continuous passage over time. The work never ends. Family Learning requires flexibility, structure, and cooperation; it provides individual freedom and accountability. Granting the family a lifetime of learning experiences will allow each individual to serve the family and impact the world around them. It is a catalyst for success, for the individual, for the family and for society.
Respect the Rising Generations
The goal of the founding generation (the generation who created the wealth) should be to first support rising generations (the generations who will inherit the wealth) in who they are as individuals. A positive family culture will be a natural outcome of a healthy and loving relationship. Family learning works well when the family leaders engage younger generations with love and acceptance. A successful business would never ignore valuable assets. The same should be true within a family. Educating and including all family members on how to contribute to the family enterprise utilizes all the family’s resources.
Don’t Be Afraid of Questions
Every generation that creates wealth worries about “the great reveal.” Meaning, they wonder how much and when they should tell their children about their wealth. What if they want to know too much? They wonder, what if my children ask a question I don’t know how to answer?
The rising generations may not ask questions because they are afraid to ask. They may be worried about appearing inadequate or unsure how to navigate family dynamics.
These fears from both generations are normal. However, being proactive, inclusive, and consistently communicating creates a safe place to ask questions. In today’s world, information is everywhere. The younger generations will fill in the blanks if families don’t start the conversation. Information from online sources or what their friends may tell them fills the void left by family leaders. When faced with missing information, children and young adults figure out how to find what they want to know.
Getting the conversation started – and in any form or manner – is imperative to the long-term success and sustainability of the family enterprise.
Words matter. They are powerful. I love that my children have memories of exploring the definition of words with their grandma. The old leather-bound dictionary on the marble table could not be a more apt tribute, her words still influencing entire generations.
If we understand the meaning of a word such as wealth, we can change the conversation about it, we can change the beliefs around it, and ultimately, we can change the behaviors to enable future success.
Your greatest asset to your wealth, really the well-being of your family, is embracing and finding out who you are together. Putting your purpose and mind into a family learning program will cause a tectonic shift in your family culture and pave the way for the long-term growth and sustainability of your family.
Many thanks to James E. “Jay” Hughes, Jr., author of multiple books and a trailblazer and leader in family learning, for the in-person discussion about both of our families having a worn leather-bound dictionary that has been a catalyst for conversations over many generations.
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