Hi, my name is Tsitsi Mutendi and you are listening to enterprising families podcast. Welcome to the world of enterprise in families where we discuss the issues of governance next gen. And looking at how families of wealth and family businesses growing into families of wealth can preserve their wealth become better as they go forward into a new generation.
Hi, everyone, and welcome to this edition of enterprising families and in this edition I have the amazing Steve Legler who is a phenomenal family business advisor. I love following his content on LinkedIn and on Twitter and his blog is a definite must read for anybody out there interested in family businesses and just knowing how they work function and the stuff in between. Welcome, Steve.
Well, thank you very much for having me here. It’s easy, and thanks for the kind words I think I’m gonna have to clip the way you introduced me and share it with my wife and kids.
Always you know how families have complex. Yeah. What other people are saying about you? Because they’ll look at you and say really, really?
Yep. That’s okay. It was it’s been like that for generations, and it will continue to be like that for generations. And that’s just part of the fun of working in this space. Where we’re talking about business, but we overlay the whole complexity of the family stuff that just makes everything so much trickier and more interesting.
Yes, and interesting is always at the the note of the day, and today we want to look at the recent blog posts. That you put out about great expectations in enterprising families. And I know we, we both agree on communication is important for families, and it’s integral to making any process within families move forward. But in this article, you’re you’re really emphasizing about how communication is very, very important, especially when it comes to managing expectations and whether we can meet them or not. Can you probably dive a little deeper for us.
Oh, I can I can dive and I can make a big splash. Communication is to family business. What location is to real estate? You know, they say there’s three rules in real estate Location, location, location, or family business really, I think communication communication is probably the equivalent. However, when it’s so prevalent, the question is, well, where do you start and communication about what? And so I wrote this blog around the theme of expectations. And part of that underneath the whole expectations thing is also the part about the assumptions, and that when people don’t know what’s expected of them, or what to expect, they start to fill in the blanks with what they think the answer might be, and they don’t clarify it. And so if we can spend some time talking about expectations and the assumptions around them, I think that’ll be worth our while.
Okay, so when you say expectations, expectations tend to be the elephant in the room, because I think everybody has expectations and not everybody is able to voice those expectations. How would you define expectations? And how would How would you advise people to look at their expectations and manage them?
So that’s a big question, and I’ll try and give it a piecemeal answer because I don’t want to make it sound. Like I don’t want to give advice that’s oversimplified. Because that’s the kind of stuff that people nod their heads and then like five minutes later, they go well, wait, how what am I supposed to do with that? So let’s just start with the fact that everyone has expectations. The expectations are by definition about the future, right? You don’t have expectations about the past. You already know what happened in the past, although there’s often confusion about that, but let’s stick to looking forward at what people are expecting. So you’re part of a business family or an enterprising family or a family of wealth, and there’s all kinds of names for these families. And you’re looking at the future and you know that your family owns certain assets or certain businesses, and you start to sort of see how you are going to play a role. How you might benefit from it. And you start to look at maybe what are the what are the good things about being in a part of this family. There are also responsibility that’s the come with all those good things, but they often don’t necessarily come to the front of the mind of the rising generation. They’re looking at what the good things are. So they start to form some positive expectations of oh, I’ll be able to get this job. I’m going to be able to collect these dividends. I’m going to be able to have this salary. And sometimes they’re just making it up based on what they would hope sometimes there are older siblings or cousins that maybe are a little bit ahead of them and so they see what what those people are doing. Sometimes they just happen to know other people in another family that have a similar situation. And they start to quickly you know, oh, well if this person has this, and I know your backstory is you went to boarding school Correct? Oh, I’m mixing you up with Nikkei
My sister did though and I can tell you that was quite interesting because I was day schooling. And she was a boarder and trust me, we had expectations.
Okay, and so I did not go to boarding school, but my children did. And I can tell you I heard a lot of stories about other kids. In their school that had very different parent child relationships, when it came to how what they were allowed to spend money on how much money they had to spend, how free they were to do whatever they want with with the family’s wealth, and my kids would come home and look at me and I’m glad they didn’t say Hey, how come I can’t do like so and so. Right? I’m glad that they didn’t, but they might very well have because they saw other things going on. So people have different expectations with respect to some of the good things that they think they might be able to expect being part of this family. And the reality in your family might be very, very different from another person’s family as we were just talking about. So it’s important at some point to take some time to check out those expectations, validate those assumptions. And there really is only one way to do it. And it’s to have a discussion with the different generations of the family now. So that again here sounds very simple. Oh, let’s just have a discussion. These discussions are really not easy. To just sort of start. And the other issue some people have is when they think about this subject, if you can convince the family they need to discuss it. Often the parents will have a lot of anxiety around such a discussion, and they will sort of try to plan to have it all in one shot and get it overall. It’s like having the discussion around sex with your kids. You don’t want to have it. You don’t have to have it. And so you sort of go into it. You throw it out on the table, and then you say Okay, is everybody good? Everyone got Okay, good. Now let’s move on. Right? And that is exactly the wrong way to have these kinds of discussions. Maybe it’ll work in that other scenario, but for for family wealth, I always like to talk about the light switch versus the dimmer switch. And people think that you keep your kids in the dark. You don’t tell them anything. All of a sudden you turn on the chandelier and you’ll light up the whole thing. You put the spotlight and all of a sudden everyone sees everything and now everything is fine. And truth is let’s keep the analogy going. They’re often blinded and don’t really know where to focus and their pupils are dilating and, and they’re trying to adjust and they don’t know what hit them. And then you know, life goes on and they know they had this sudden blast of light and they feel like they should know something but they don’t feel any further informed. And so creating a series of meetings creating a forum, creating a time and a place for these kinds of discussions. Whether it’s a quarterly meeting, a semi annual meeting, an annual meeting, Sunday dinner once a month, where after dessert, you take 15 minutes to talk about family and the family wealth in the family business. Just somewhere where people know that there will be another time and place for them to reengage on this because the other thing is this kind of information around what the family’s wealth is and where people are expected to play a role. It changes as the weeks and months and years go by and the younger generation learns and grows and understands and connects and has some of their own assumptions and validations about what where they might be interested, where they’ve now decided to go to school and learn about a certain subject they start to have more interest in a certain area of the business. So things evolve and the conversation and the discussions need to evolve with that. And it’s actually a discussion that that never really ends and having creating the ability and the safe space for families to come together and discuss these things is so important. But for the leading generation, the parents that now Gen. Often is so fearful of losing control of the discussion that they choose not to even begin that discussion. And to them I say, you don’t have to look at this as all the people around the table now have a vote. It’s not a democracy. It’s not like well, you know, husband and wife are gonna sit there with the four kids and they’re gonna start talking about this and all of a sudden every question that comes up, everyone’s gonna vote and the four kids will vote the parents and decide whatever they’re going to want to do. And the parents will say, Oh, well, I guess we love it doesn’t work that way. So there are and if you give little bits of information slowly but surely and you watch what the reactions are and you listen to the questions, and you formulate intelligent answers, and sometimes the answer is we’re not ready to talk about that yet. And that’s a perfectly viable answer. Most of the time, it can’t be your go to answer on everything all the time because then the questions will stop knowing that there are no answers, but there are ways to engage from one generation to the next. That sort of just add a little bit more light. It’s going to that dimmer switch and turning it up another couple of degrees, another couple of degrees. shedding a little more light on things.
Right. Just focusing on that for a moment. We get a lot of those narratives or a lot of people advising parents and families starts teaching your children about financial education early on. So as young as three years old, start having these conversations about financial education, and from what you’re giving me and what you’re saying to me. It’s very similar. Where then we should start early. Talking about expectations and actually defining what a dictations are. So the question My question is, when do you think conversations around expectations should start, and how what would you say would be the starter conversation because we all know that when when you get to a point where your children reach puberty and you do have to have that conversation, you go breads and the beans and you can send them towards the Discovery Channel to a certain extent, but when it comes to managing expectations, aren’t those also interlinked with their feelings? And when they expose to the world in general, doesn’t the world also feed into these expectations? Like you said, you go to boarding school, you have other people who are sharing their relationships and setting these targets that probably don’t apply in your own setting. So when is it necessary to start these conversations and how?
Okay, there’s a lot there and I love this subject. So it’s I don’t think it’s ever too early to begin. I think if you’re having the birds and the bees discussion before the money discussion, then you’ve got it reversed because I really think that while the kids ages are still in the single digits, it really should start but it doesn’t have to be overdramatized. I mean, it’s about teaching the kids about money. Like every and that’s just part of basic parenting. And don’t ever forget that kids learn a lot more by what they see than what they hear. Right. So the way you handle money in front of your kids, whether it’s you know, tipping the waiter at the restaurant and how you handle all these things, or money, your kids are watching all of that. And if you act in a certain way, and then you tell your kids something that goes against the way they’ve seen you act, it isn’t going to register so so first be mindful of the way you’re handling money. Second, it’s never too soon to start to learn about it. I know a lot of people talk about, you know, teaching kids with an allowance to save some money and to spend some and to anticipate some in a share jar that like those are all great ways to start talking about money. And just underlying that is the whole financial literacy thing scares people. Because a lot of people that you know, they’re not the math isn’t their big thing. And so they they they worry about it, and then the parents sort of end up with their their offspring when they’re in their 20s. So notice I didn’t say children because eventually they’re no longer children, but they do remain your offspring and I hate it when people talk about children and those children are in their 50s But alas, so I’m trying to change the vocabulary and get people to use word offspring. So when the offspring are in their 20s, and they don’t really know anything, and they’re they’re kind of scared and intimidated around the money. People think, Oh, well, we’ll send them to a course will where they’re learned to read financial statements. Well, that’s all very well and good and can be useful. But there’s usually many, many opportunities along the way to interact with your kids and make sure that they understand some money basics that actually have less to do with the dollar signs and more to do with, you know, the whole idea of saving money versus spending money versus you know, going into debt versus, versus using your own savings. All these things there were plenty of lessons and teaching moments throughout the childhood and especially then into the adolescence of children. That I think that too many families probably squander and don’t, you know, notice the opportunity that hey, here’s something that we can talk to our kids about. And it’s not about saying let’s have a half hour discussion. It’s, this is like those, this is those 101 minute conversations that take place over 10 years, that you’re driving in the car and you see something you see an ad on a billboard about something and you ask your kids hey, what do you think about this or whatever or I used to always watch Shark Tank with my kids. And you know, the people would come out and say I want $100,000 for 10% of my company and I would pause the TV and ask my kids so they’re like what’s the valuation and I’ll and and we would do that and it wasn’t like a big you know a forcing them into a lesson it was just having con making the whole idea about money and wealth, a conversation that’s allowed and where questions are allowed and that it’s not mom and dad preaching. It’s really a discussion around money and then that feeds into their expectations later but if they don’t, you know, understand the difference between a million dollars and a billion dollars. Sometimes those conversations are just missing a lot of what they could have.
Right. And I’m just thinking here about the different generations you spoke about the new then now generation and the offspring, which is the next generation and next generation is a really big buzzword globally at the moment. Everything is next generation and now generation and people trying to untangle that. But can you really can you share with us some of the things you find that cause unmet expectations becoming a source of conflict in each generation because the assumption is that the next gen have expectations that are too high or have expectations of things that they haven’t thought well into. Whereas in the Now Generation may also have expectations and the end those expectations may lead to disappointment. What is your thought? on that? What is your thought on expectation, disappointment and the different generations
there is plenty of opportunity for disappointment. And and you know, we before we started recording we were talking about a blog that I had written called Great Expectations and family enterprise and I think you teed it up as well. And in there I talk about actually one of my favorite authors and speakers in the space is a lawyer at American learning David York. And he I’ve seen him present a few times. And one of the favorite things that I saw which I used as a part of my basis for this blog was in one of his presentations. He was talking about the six keys for creating stewards. And point number five was remove the ambiguity. And so this was the whole thing about the ambiguity. And it speaks exactly to your thing about different people’s expectations and different people making different assumptions. So what are the three questions that David York says that you need to clarify between the generations, but number one is for the for the younger generation and they want to know, what can I expect? Number two, what should I not expect? And number three is what is expected of me. So let’s let’s take those three one at a time. What can I expect? So this is again from the perspective of the rising generation or the next gen. They want to know from their parents. What can I expect? Like if you are one of those families that have decided, like I think I heard Bill Gates had done and said he’s not gonna you know, give his kids anything but they’ll get a million dollars and everything else is going to charity or one of the if that’s the case, look, I’m not gonna judge what he’s doing, but just don’t do it in secret. Now his is obviously not a secret. If we know about it. I’m guessing his kids know about it, too. But there’s nothing more demoralizing for a child to grow up in a family of wealth and then find out oh, by the way, mom and dad have decided you’re getting nothing and you’re you learn that at some age, where Geez, that would have been good to know that five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, so So what can I expect what what are mom and dad dreaming of how they’re going to, you know, leave their wealth when they when they leave this earth? The other one is what should I not expect? So it’s very much related. But often, if if the question is only what can I expect? They will get some ambiguous some some platitudes of we will always love you and and that old someday this will all be yours, you know, nebulous thing that they can. Well, there’s, there might be some things that mom and dad have decided, well, no, you’re not going to get to have a job where you do nothing. And you still get a salary or what you know, and they may have seen this in other places, and it might be very close to their own family. So they may expect that and if and if maybe they have a cousin who has exactly that situation, and you really want to make sure they don’t end up like that then then that needs to be clarified early because if they’re seeing that someone else, so what, what can I expect and what should I not expect? There are two sides of the same coin, but it’s too easy to sort of forget the second part sometimes and just pay lip service to the first one. But then the last one is what is expected of me. So what I talked about this a little bit earlier when I talked about you know all the good parts about the expectations, but what are the responsibilities? So what am I responsible to do? Like what are the conditions around these things that that you’ve said that I can expect? Well, I can expect, you know that you will pay for my schooling. Okay, and what’s expected of me? Well, the expected expectation is that you take your courses seriously, and then you do your, whatever degree you’re doing in a regular time, and that you don’t just say, I’m going to be, oh, well, you’re paying for my courses. And now I’m 40 and I’m still in university and I’d switched majors, and I was doing this and then I’m doing this but you’re paying for my school and my lifestyle. And so I’m what is expected of me well, if it’s expected that you will graduate and then you will get a job like let’s let’s make that clear at the outset, so it’s tying some of the responsibility very early into the discussion. And you were talking a little bit earlier about the entitlement aspect that that that sometimes the rising Gen expect too much. And so I think it’s very, very important to clarify that. what is expected of me and what should I not expect? Those two are also very much related, right? Because it’s, it’s the condition that, well, you shouldn’t expect this unless you do that. Or if you don’t do this, well then don’t expect that so they’re all they’re all tied together. But I think they all need to be sort of addressed. And again, this is not a let’s sit down today and hammer all this out. This is an ongoing discussion, and it’s turning the dimmer switch up a little bit, a little bit at a time. But in order to do that, you have to have a regular meeting at which you do this. And just getting started on that can sometimes be too much of a hurdle for some families. So I want to share what I’ve what I did with one family that decided they wanted to start to have these meetings. I came with them. I came to the first meeting and I drew up the agenda. And I said, this is family council meeting number zero. I purposely called it number zero. We’re not starting today. Today we’re going to talk about how we’re going to do this. And then we came back a month later and we had family council meeting number one and guess what there were there was two parents and four siblings. So the first meeting, one of the siblings, which we drew out of a hat was the chair and drew up the agenda. And another sibling, which we also drew out of the hat was the secretary and they had a meeting with their parents. The parents were just participants in the meeting. And then they said at the end okay, when is the next meeting everyone took out their phones looked at the calendar, they booked the next meeting. The one who was the secretary at that meeting became the Chair of the next meeting. We chose another one to be canceled and we rotated around so each one of the four kids could have the experience of being the chair and drying up the agenda. The other end so they started to work together. And the last meeting I was at I think was meeting number eight where they sort of graduated from meeting me because they had now created this system where they were off on their own and they are talking about all their expectations and all the development that each child needs to do to get to that next position in the company or to be able to move up and be on this committee or to to perhaps join the board of the business. So it’s creating the habit of having a meeting and having a forum is probably the most important thing that families need to do. And I know you don’t just wake up tomorrow and say, Hey, let’s start doing this. And you’re off and running. It takes convincing the right people and it takes some it takes time and effort and yes, everybody’s busy and nobody has time and everyone has other important priorities. You can’t keep kicking this can down the road forever. You eventually have to get to these discussions.
Interesting. I’m just thinking about what you just said and as you know, I have a Montessori Primary School. And one of the most interesting discoveries I’ve made is when you have new kids coming through, and I think a pertinent question that a lot of people want answered is why? And that might be a very important question to ask, even when you’re talking about expectations, because when these new kids come to school, and sometimes as kids do, they’re confused. Why am I here? Why do I have to go to school? Why is it important? And so when you are talking about what is expected of me, what should I not expect or what can I expect? The question of why can I expect this? Why should I not expect this? And why is this expected of me came up to me? Because sometimes it’s dished out, this is what I expect of you. And this is what you should not expect of me. And this is what you can expect from me, but is the question why really answered because sometimes answering the question why may make the understanding of those expectations easier.
You are bringing this discussion into a whole other area that’s very important and I also like to talk about this because what we had you and I going into this discussion, some assumptions that we did not clarify. And, and that includes I think, at least from my point of view, I assumed we were talking about families who have already sort of decided that they’re staying together and that this fact that this wealth that maybe the parents generation has created or inherited is expected to be shared over the next you know, over the through the next generational transition. And that’s not always the case. And so when you just started to pose this question, and you said why the first why that came into my head was, oh, geez, we didn’t clarify this. Why are we in business together? Or why are we better off staying together? As opposed to each of us growing going our own way? And so when, when those questions like you said, Well, why is this expected of me? If that question comes at a young enough age, and the person says, Well, I don’t want to abide by those conditions. And that person is realizing this at a young enough age and they say, You know what, I’m gonna go and make my own way in this world. And I don’t want to deal with these archaic ways that my parents have decided they want to do things. I think I can do my own thing, and I’m going to go to school and I’m going to become a this or that and I don’t need or I don’t want or I don’t want to abide by the terms of remaining in this family, just so I can have those good things which are really actually maybe undefined and maybe they’re being oversold. So if if you get through those why’s that hey, those are all great and juicy questions to have. I hope they don’t come up in the first meeting. Because it may scare the parents off from having more meetings. But it is so I guess in these meetings so here’s here’s another thing about families that decide to have meetings very often, they start off in a very one direction, information flow. So I know my father was encouraged to have a family meeting when I was about 20. So my sisters were 20 to 25. And we went on a retreat and my dad had been told you have to have a family meeting. And we spent this weekend where 95% of the information flow was from him down to us and we sat there kind of wondering why are we here and does he care what we have to say or could have just written this in a letter to us? And we were very, very confused. And so it might be okay for the first meeting or two to be a little bit more download of information from the now Gen to the next gen but by the second or third meeting it better flow into more of a conversation rather than a monologue. And then some of these questions about the whys are absolutely fair game. And the parents shouldn’t take them necessarily as a challenge. I mean that or as as push back, right. I think one of my favorite words is co creation. And I think if the family can set things up in a way that they together as a family are creating the future they want for the family, by the family through an open discussion. However they get there is fine, as long as they actually let everyone put their questions and thoughts and comments on the table and take the time to sort through them and what they mean. And I don’t mean over a 20 minute meeting, or a one hour meeting. I mean over the course of weeks and months and years. Let’s look at what we have, who wants to do what who’s able to do what, what, who, who needs to learn what to be able to get to a position where they can do this. What are the what are the minimum contributions we’re expecting from people and if people don’t want to be part of it, what is their opportunity to gracefully exit and do their own thing and not be part of it? Not all of these things can be contentious and often will be and I wish they wouldn’t be. But if the family creates the safe space and is able to converse together, ideally they should be able to have these kinds of discussions
and I think the last question or the last point of discussion is goes back to assumptions. I just an idea came up in my head and I thought, Well, imagine if you had a family discussion. And you had a hat where everybody wrote down assumptions and just put them in there or had them typed up to remain anonymous because some assumptions can get a bit ridiculous, but just having a lot of assumptions it out. how impactful Do you think that is in helping resolve expectations? As well as helping avoid unnecessary conflict?
I love your question, and I don’t think I’m going to give you the answer you’re expecting but I really like the fact that you’ve introduced the opportunity for anonymous conflict contributions. That is so so important, whether whether it’s someone like me coming into a family and interviewing all the family members and then having that first meeting where where the results of what I’ve discovered gets shared. I need to do that anonymously. I can’t say Well, Bobby said this as soon as he said that, you know, it has to be well there is a general feeling that and without pointing fingers. And it’s amazing that with the technology that exists today there are there’s surely an app where people can enter different things anonymously, and they can show up on a screen. And so if that’s what it takes, and often I guess it will for it to be to feel safe enough to say something right and so your write it down and put it in a hat. I wouldn’t want them necessarily probably dad grabbing that heart and being able to read and recognize the handwriting right. So, so some thought has to go into how these things are going to happen. And yes, obviously I will I will never tell people they should not have a facilitator at their family meeting because some people pay me to do that for them. So I think it’s great. Choose that person. Well make sure that they understand what the stakes are and that they’ve that they’ve worked with families before and understand. But but the tools that are available to make the space safer and to make sure that that dimmer switch is being used as a dimmer switch and that somebody isn’t tempted or able to go and reach that dimmer switch and turn it all the way off or all the way on that that it continues to go in a gradual, thoughtful way. Think the whole idea of being able to share one’s questions, one’s assumptions, one’s ideas in a way that doesn’t force them to stand up and look like they’re the one that’s questioning the old man. Right. And that that that’s that can be very scary. And there’s reasons why it is scary because it serves the person, the incumbent person to to maintain that control. But that the harder you try to hold on to the control just for the sake of the having the control that the weaker your your hold typically gets. And I don’t know how that message gets through to some of the older generations that still have what I would term a more old fashioned mentality. And that’s also that that’s also very cultural, right and in different parts of the world. That you know, societies have evolved at different rates to talk about gender equality and other important things like that, that that in some countries they’re still faced with a more autocratic default style. And I know it’s going to change over the generations. I just hope that some of the current people that are holding on and aren’t able to hear things that they should be hearing. I hope that they’ll learn the benefits of hearing and having the diversity of the family’s opinions heard and understood. Before making the decisions, the final decisions of how the parents are going to leave things for their children. It’s really important to make it not just a one way communication, but that there’s actually some some listening and some evolution and some understanding and incorporating things that the parents have heard from their children as they go forward because there’s nothing more demoralizing than having all of the children’s speaking a certain way and the parents nodding their heads and then every time they come back to the next meeting and the next meeting, the parents have not moved one iota because they’re still stuck in their old ways. And if that’s the way it’s gonna be, you may as well stop having the meetings because eventually the kids won’t show up anymore if if nothing is evolving or moving. Now that doesn’t mean the kids should show up at the first meeting and expect everything to lickety split, start to change. Like it works both ways. And it’s very incremental and as long as you’re making progress, that’s the important thing. Start as long as you can be moving towards something figuring out what you can all be for. And working together. I think that’s that’s what you want to be striving for. Gotcha.
Thank you so much, Steve, for joining me today and just sharing with me all this incredible knowledge and wisdom and hopefully somebody can just get a grain of something they can implement within their own family meetings and within their family business. Is there any parting words you’d like to share?
Yeah, just that I know. When I talk about this stuff, and I’m passionate about it, and I know that it works, but I don’t want anyone to get the feeling that I’m saying this is easy. I try I tried to make it sound as simple as possible, but simple and easy are not the same thing. And so the these kind of family efforts, they take persistence, they take some leadership, they take time, and you really got to keep working at it and don’t give up if you’re not getting wonderful results after the first few meetings. Maybe you got to change a few things up a little bit. If you’ve tried to start some of these things and you’re feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. Hit me up on LinkedIn and we’ll set up a zoom call and maybe I can give you some ideas. I’m always willing to sort of share a little bit for a while and try to get people who are stuck to be unstuck.
Brilliant, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to share Steve’s contact details at the bottom of the podcast they don’t always get hold of him on LinkedIn or Twitter or even through his website can just click and be able to get hold of Steve, thank you so much, Steve.
Thank you for having me. I hope this has been useful and maybe even entertaining.