Starting Fast and Moving Slow, Overcoming Resistance in Family Systems Conversations

Too often, families do not get into important discussions about family systems and succession planning until it is too late. While it may be uncomfortable at first, families need to have key succession conversations about what happens if and when wealth holders become ill, incapacitated, or pass. So, how do you overcome the hesitancy in order to lay this important foundational work?

Host Cindy Radu sits down with Steve Legler, an independent family legacy coach, to discuss what family systems are, how to push past anxiety surrounding conversations and start the process, and what to look for in a family systems advisor team.

to our hosts, Cindy Radu speaks with experts on many topics relevant to the ultra high net worth family. Cindy was author and co author of numerous articles related to trusts, family enterprises and estate planning and co author taxation and estate planning in Canada for many years. She also shares her expertise as a consultant, advisor and educator to those in the family enterprise space. Cindy is the chief learning officer of tailoring an online wealth education platform that develops practical citation for beneficiaries and their advisors to help them prepare for the responsible stewardship of wealth.

Welcome to the tamarind learning podcast. I’m your host, Cindy Radu, Chief Learning Officer of Tamarin learning Canada Tamron learning is an online wealth education platform that develops practical foundational learning programs for families, beneficiaries and their advisors to help them prepare for responsible stewardship of wealth. As part of the tamarind learning platform, I have the privilege to speak with experts on topics relevant to families of wealth and family offices. In this episode, I look forward to a conversation with our guest, Steve Legler. To talk about family systems. Steve grew up in a business family, but when that business was unexpectedly liquidated in his 20s he shifted his plans from taking over the family business to managing his family’s family office. About 10 years ago, Steve had what he refers to as a career changing calling, and he now works with family clients as a facilitator and mediator, as well as doing individual family member coaching. I came to know Steve when I reached out to him after reading his second book, interdependent wealth how family systems theory illuminates successful intergenerational wealth transitions. This is a great book that offers guidance and a deeper dive on our topic today. Steve welcome. It’s great to have you with us as our podcast guest. And let’s start with what family systems actually means and how you explain family systems to families.

Well, first of all, Cindy, thank you for having me as a guest and for reading the whole long title of that book, which has a very long secondary titled bunk which were all those words were chosen very carefully. So what is family systems? I mean, I remember when I first heard, okay, the family is a system I thought, okay, I guess that makes sense. But then, upon further reflection, I decided to do a little more digging. And that’s when I discovered Bowen family systems theory. And I actually did a lot of studying of that both at a place in Vermont, and then in Washington DC, at the Bowen Center, where I was surrounded by a bunch of people, many of them social workers, therapists and clergy, people who are all there to kind of learn what makes families tick. And I was fascinated by this. Because when working with business families and families of wealth, there’s always a lot of stuff going on that is hard to kind of put your finger on and so I think that the simplest way to describe what it means to think of a family as a system is that all the people are interdependent, meaning one person does something, it actually affects everyone else. And I know people who are part of families, you know, they they’re looking out for number one, and they’re thinking of themselves, but really in order to understand a family, especially as an outside adviser when you come in, it’s not so much the people in the family, but the relationships between the people, and that’s where I’m always concentrating when I come into a family. I want to get to know the people of course, but I’m always looking for how does this person relate to this brother relate to mom relate to cousin Joe how do they relate to each other? What is the relationship like? Because a lot of times when things aren’t working the way you want, it’s easy to kind of blame one person but it’s it’s it’s a little deeper than that. And it’s how what one person did affected something else which then ended up affecting someone else. So it’s kind of like more how the pieces move around and the individual pieces themselves.

So it sounds sounds a lot like a chess game in a sense.

Yes, there is. There is a lot of and so really the important thing, and I’m glad you mentioned that because if you were a pawn on a chessboard, the way you look around at the other pieces, you can’t really see over everybody. So it’s important to detach yourself and look at yourself as a chess player, looking at the whole chess board, where you actually have a better view of who could and should move where whereas if you’re on the board yourself and you’re one of the smaller pieces, it’s really hard to try and figure out where you’re supposed to go next.

And that’s a fantastic visual, thanks for sharing that. So I think in my experience, and I’m sure, especially in your experience with the type of work that you do, there’s a lot of anxiety among families when they start talking about family wealth transition. And I’d be interested in your thoughts on what you what your experiences and some of the main causes of that anxiety.

Oh, there’s definitely definitely plenty of anxiety and allow me to be a bit sarcastic or facetious a bit but you know, you’re going to be talking about money, talking about love talking about death, like what’s to be anxious about, of course, everyone loves to sit down and chat about these things. So, it is a potential hornet’s nest. There is always you know, people, people are realizing that they are not going to live forever. There’s decisions that have to be made about who’s going to do what and who’s going to get what and then so there’s the anxiety of oh, how is this person going to feel about the fact that I decided to leave this to so and so. There’s always worrying about certain people’s feelings. And so it’s it’s always much easier to just kick that can down the road and say we’ll deal with this some other day, because I don’t really have the stomach for it now. And the problem is too many families don’t get into the important discussions. Until they’re forced to because of some medical event or something that happens and now it’s like, Oops, we better start talking about this. We’ve put it off long enough. And I’m always trying to tell us families try to start earlier start to discussions when you don’t need to have them it’s a lot easier. Then you’ve done some of the work when you actually need to do it. You’ve already learned how to relate to each other better. You’ve already started to sort of pave the road a little bit to where you need to go.

Which is all great points. So for me, I think always the challenges you say when I have the chance to talk to families and tell them about starting early. The problem is getting in front of the families to tell them to start early and a lot of families are really hesitant as you say is is that kick the can down the road sort of mentality. So with our listeners, what can we share some opportunities to be aware of to get this process started when families are and I think generally families are hesitant to start doing this, this kind of really important foundational work if they’re hesitant to

get started, but once they get started and they see that it’s not nearly as scary as they expected. They’re glad that they started. So a couple of things that I always think about is don’t try to get everyone on board from the word go. So if there’s mom and dad and four kids, you know, don’t think that you need to have all six people saying okay, yeah, we’re going to have this meeting. Start with some smaller conversations with smaller groups of people to sort of get some momentum going, and then hopefully you can enlist other people later. The other thing is, starting early really gives you the most good options as time goes and you get closer to somebody’s eventual exit date, whether as selling something or dying. As the as the time winds down, you end up with less good options. So I will say you always have more options now than you will a year or two from now. So start now, and then hopefully you can start to work your way towards some good solutions.

Can you can you maybe give us an example from from a family that you’ve worked with on something like that?

Yes. So so there was one family I’ve worked with where they had the four rising generation offspring, three of them coming into the business and one of them was going to run the family foundation. And they hired me to work with them to start to make sure that the sibling group knew how to work together. They didn’t have any pending stuff. They didn’t have anything urgent. They just realized they had heard that it’s important to have somebody work with your rising generation group. And for four years I worked with them and only after a couple of years did we actually start a family council and have started having formal family meetings with both generations. But the work that I did with the sibling group to get them to start to learn how to work together to learn how to share responsibility to learn how to make decisions, democratically. Those were important steps that later became very important when we were looking at more formal governance to create the family council.

And, and I would think that, that skill development is not something that happens overnight. That it’s really important to build those. Building practice like be become aware of the skills learn about you know, how, how in yourself to use those skills, observe what other people are doing, and continue to practice that so that in your family systems, you get really good at us.

Yes. So so I’m glad you mentioned that because really, there’s a skill development of all the individual people in the family. And so each and then each one is figuring out what they’re really good at. But then there’s the working together with each other and supporting each other and recognizing that, oh, my sister’s really good at this. She’s better at that than I am. And so if there are opportunities that bring in that skill set, they are more appropriate for her and learning how and learning about each other with each other. CO creating what they want to build together. See the whole idea of these parents they realize that okay, someday X decades into the future, we won’t be here. And all the wealth that we have created is going to be managed by this group of the four kids that we had. We don’t want them to fight over it. We don’t want them to screw up the wealth. We don’t want the wealth destroying the family. So how can we start to have them working together? And of course they each had their own development plan of what they’re good at and what roles they would you know, follow in the company and grow in the corporate sense, but they also wanted to make sure they learned to work together and it’s sort of like a bricks and mortar thing. So they were they each had they were each their own brick but but I was charged with trying to help them build a wall with that and figure out how the bricks all need to work together.

That’s fantastic. I love that. Okay, so we’ve talked about we don’t need to get everybody going all at once. Just sort of get the momentum going. And kind of getting getting the skill building done. sort of started and that training. There any other opportunities that you think are important to mention to what

what I like to say is hurry up and get started. So that you can then go slow pace a little bit counterintuitive, like cuz I’m saying Hurry up, but the whole point of hurting up is Hurry up to start. So then you can take your time it’s one of those. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Too often people look at at things that they need to do in this area of preparing for the for a transition. They look at it as like a checklist. I gotta do this, I gotta get this thing done with my lawyer. I gotta get this thing done with my account. And I can’t wait to finish off checking off those boxes. They’ll be done. And I don’t have to think about this anymore. But when we’re talking about the human side of it, it’s more about the journey. It’s more about learning to work together. It’s more about learning to co create and be able to understand each other and be part of what you’re building together for when your generation will be at the top of the heap. And so, you know, not talking about things doesn’t make them go away. And so let’s start talking about them. Let’s start planning a bit around them. Let’s forget about the fear of Oh my God, when we bring up this subject it’s going to cause but there are people out there that are experts in coming and helping families talk about these things. And and we’ve seen these things before. And conversations with just people in the family around the table often do go sideways because someone brings something up in a way where they hadn’t considered how somebody might take it. So yes, there’s reason to be to have a bit of anxiety, but there are ways around that. Starting slowly bringing in a facilitator, doing some coaching of the rising Gen group, having the rising Gen do some learning on their own to improve their own skills. There’s all kinds of things you can do. And they are all additive. So you start with one and then you say hey, let’s bring in this this is going well we’re we’re getting some momentum let’s keep going.

That’s fantastic. So I really like this, this working together beam and bringing in what I what I really like is this the skilled advisor and and as we know it takes it takes a village to do this this kind of work. So when maybe shifting gears a little bit, picking up on that theme what what do you think families should really look for in their family systems advisor team, like what kinds of skills experience should they be looking for? In in their advisor? And should they also sort of a leading question, but to also be expecting their advisor team to be working together?

Yeah, you can learn a lot about people by watching them. If you’re thinking about engaging someone to work with some other professional and then somehow you see that they’re not able to manage their professional relationship. Well, that that might be a red flag. My biggest thing of of when it’s important to look at people’s credentials, you wouldn’t want to just hire someone off the street but more important, assuming that everyone that you end up talking to sort of meets a minimum of experience and education and all that. I think the most important test is the chemistry test. It’s like how do we get along? And I think that the most important thing there is evaluating how much and how the professionals you’re thinking of engaging actually listen to you. And I mean by like listening to understand before coming in there and talking about how great they are, and how they have all these great solutions. There are plenty of solutions, and they don’t all apply to your family. And so too often. There are a lot of professionals that work with families that have have done something for 90% of the families that come to them. And so they assume that well 100% of the families need this and I’m really good at it. And so they’ll walk in and they’ll say hey, you should do this because I’m the best person in town to do this. And this might not be something that your family needs. So has this person taking the time to ask you the questions about what is your situation? And maybe if they did ask that they’d realize that that solution that’s usually their plan a really doesn’t fit, and they shouldn’t even be talking about it. But if they keep going back to it even after you’ve realized that that’s not what fits for my family, there’s another red flag for you.

So I just want to pick up on on this theme a little bit more because this listening thing is really, really important. And I think that while I’m interested in your thoughts on if the advisor coming in should have enough self discipline as well to say, You know what, I think there’s bigger things going on in this family as they listened to those initial coffee and really those initial conversations and who they’re having those conversations with, but to just say, you know, before we kind of start going down the path of, you know, whatever tool I have in my toolkit, I should bring in somebody like Steve Legler or I’d like to introduce you to Steve Legler to start doing some kind of foundational work so that as we move forward, we’re actually integrating these more technical plans with something that’s going to be conducive to where the family wants to go.

Yes, absolutely. So So, one of the things I lament about this kind of work is very often by the time I come to a family, they have already taken a number of concrete steps on structural solutions, because when they a year or two or five years ago, whenever somebody advised them go see this person, you need this estate freeze, you need to create a trust you need to do all these different things and not knowing any better, though that family just went and followed this great advice, which they ended up with one big brick, that might be a really good brick in a lot of walls. And then they realized that oh, you know what, had we done a little more discussing of what it is we actually need for our family. We might have constructed this a little bit differently. And so I’m very used to, you know, having to walk back different things and see how, how flexible are those plans that were already built because we may have to change them. Ideally families come to someone and sort of let’s figure out what we need as a family. What does our family want what’s important to our family, and then say okay, because you want this. Now you should go see this professional and say this is what we want. Please draw up the legal agreements for that. Go and see this account and say this is one please draw up the structures for that. Too often people are you know, they’re so they see the shiny object of okay, if you do this move here, you will save $2,486,201.16 And so of course you’re going to do that right, because it’s clear and yes, that look, it’s very enticing. And it can be very difficult to say no, I don’t want to do that. But there are always yes. But with that comes what what are the restrictions, what are the things that then won’t necessarily play? Well among the family members who have to live with the structures afterwards? So I’m always about, let’s talk about what we want to set up that makes sense for our family. And then it’s actually pretty easy to find professionals who want to who want to do the right work for the family, when usually the family doesn’t know what they want. So the professionals are making suggestions based on other families. And that’s where sometimes it’s like digging a tunnel from one end to the through the mountain and one or the other, and they don’t always meet in the middle. Yeah, now that I like that analogy,

is that building the tunnel. So I think really the message I take from that is is really this idea of of a collaborative team where people are coming in working together on the advisor front but with among themselves very out there, hopefully the right the right order, and it sounds like the really getting a lot of this family systems work done sooner is better than better than later.

Figuring out what what our family wants and what our family needs, before accepting recommendations from professionals who have worked with lots of other families. But those families are not your family, and you may very well want and need something much different than the Jones family across town.

That’s excellent. Steve, thank you very much for your time. today. I’d like to wrap up with maybe one or two of your key takeaways for our listeners.

It’s you know what it’s it’s some, you know, their platitudes a little bit. But if you’re thinking about it, is it time to start talking about this? If you’re thinking that it might be it probably is it probably was already a year ago or two years ago? And then the old adage of when is the best time to plant a tree. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today. So you cannot go backwards. But let’s start today and then in 20 years someone will be sitting under the shade of that tree, even if it’s not you. And then I think that fits with what we’re talking about with a lot of these families were were concerned with today.

Steve, it was great to have you on our podcast today. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and pleasure joining the Tamron learning podcast

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