As a family business succession planner I am commonly asked:
- How do I help families find harmony? And then more specifically.
- How do I convert skeptical, envious, petty, self-serving, back-biters into unified families?
- How do I help them find agreement on goals and processes that will help achieve a mutually agreeable mission?
My response is that I don’t deserve too much credit because family harmony issues on their lightest days are far bigger than this little guy. What I can really take credit for is being a diehard optimist about the potential of family and not knowing when to give up. As you would expect, like most conundrums, there are multiple answers to questions about family harmony. I’ll take a shot at shedding some light on how some families find harmony and others just remain in a quagmire of resentment, angst and anxiety.
My first thought is that some families are just not destined for harmony and unity. That’s a brash comment for a guy who is an admitted family optimist. However the fact of the matter is that the only commonality some family members have is genetics or wonderment, “did someone drop this kid in the wrong crib?” I believe that some family members are not cut out to be members of a cohesive, interdependent social unit, such as a family. And unfortunately for many disappointed parents and siblings, regardless of desire, longsuffering commitment or willingness to give, some of us just cannot or will not play family. There are simple reasons for many of these unfortunate circumstances such as drugs, alcohol and traumatic divorce. There are other more vexing, less obvious situations. Regardless, all forms of teamwork, including the family, require two choices:
- To be a part of the group.
- To conform to the generally accepted level of common values and priorities of the group.
No matter how bad you want a child or sibling to be a part of your family, you cannot make these choices for them. Therefore, most families will admit that some children, siblings or cousins are name-only/blood-only family. It is what it is. On a more positive note, there is encouragement in the fact that just because a child or sibling chooses to “opt-out,” the family can still be a meaningful, supportive and encouraging social and business unit for those who “opt-in”.
My second thought on family unity is that none of us have a right or entitlement to a loving, supportive, unified family. Family love and support is not an inalienable right. I contend that outstanding family business relationships, just like outstanding businesses, are achieved as the byproduct of a mystical commodity known as hard work. Those who want to achieve family and business success work beyond the pain to achieve the gain. And if you have not had a dose of reality lately, just trust me when I tell you that wherever there are relationships, there will be pain.
As humans, we (except for my mother) lack the ability to read each others’ minds. We also lack the ability to always clearly express our feelings and expectations. Thanks in part to the primal instinct of survival buried in our psyche, we commonly think of ourselves before others. Therefore, it is inevitable that irrespective of our sincerity and effort, the security, support and encouragement we seek in family relationships will sometimes also be a source of frustration and pain. This pain can only be overcome with hard work in the form of a long series of small steps and sacrifices by family leaders. These family leaders will set the standards and expectations of going the extra mile to promote and support family. They will walk the talk even when it would be a lot easier to “don’t and say we did.” My belief (and I am sticking to it) is that whenever I see a unified, harmonious family, I can find those who have “taken one for the team” and who have personally sacrificed their priorities and agendas for the family. The security and gratification of family does not just happen, you have to earn it. Reciprocally, if you are expecting all the benefits of a strong family and have not had a history of thinking and acting “family first”, it is time for you to get real.
My final thought on why some families are more effective at achieving harmony and unity is that successful families dwell more in the present than in the past. As even the presumed role model families will admit, it is not always hunky dory on the family front. The fundamental family motivation is “the good of the present outweighs the bad of the past.” My encouragement and advice to clients seeking family harmony and unity is to “remember to forget.” You have choices. First, do I want this/these relationship(s) and do I want to have family in more than name only? If yes, you have to remember to forget the pain of the past as it can and will totally pollute the relationship prospects of the future. Being practical, I am not talking about forgetting that your brother-in-law is a convicted bank robber or that your son is a struggling drug addict. I am talking about the personal stereotyping and resentment that if allowed to taint every personal interaction will build and sustain insurmountable boulders in the pathway to strong interdependent families.
If you find yourself wanting to work more on your family’s unity, I suggest you consider reading more on the subject of building and sustaining relationships. Allow me to get you started by recommending, “The Present” by Spencer Johnson that is available at Amazon.com and surely other outlets.