Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle clearly demonstrates what happens when a family narrative starts to break. A prominent next-generation family member marries outside the “establishment”. Soon, the values underpinning the whole family are questioned. Relationships fracture between siblings and with parents. The Royal Family’s central story – which has lasted for centuries – suddenly seems very shaky.
Most families don’t have anything like that level of scrutiny or history, but a shared narrative is still the thing that holds them together. A strong story increases the chances of future success. A weak or vague story heightens the risks to wealth and unity.
Families can derive great meaning from their stories. They can forge trust with one another – and across generations – by exploring their shared history. They can find purpose in the present by building on their collective experiences in the past while also clarifying their vision for their future. When they don’t, factions can develop and create great chasms within and across generations.
This situation exists because families tend to get bigger and more complex over time. New members arrive by marriage and birth, and differing opinions and even competing values and priorities can develop. Successful families tend to amass greater wealth and assets over time too. Thus, stewardship of the family’s estate gets more complicated and new structures like family offices and family foundations are created to preserve and manage the family’s assets.
The Family Charter (or “Family Constitution”) is often used as a written guide to help family members navigate this complexity. The Charter acts as a statement of the family’s heritage, culture, hopes, and aspirations for the future. The Charter usually details the following principles for governing the family:
When the pandemic first hit, like many others, I tried to convince myself if I simply hunkered down, it would all pass in a couple months. Yet as time went on, I realized – as you likely did too! – that at some point we had transitioned from a sprint to a marathon, and the uncertain times were sticking around. While there are some positive signs we are slowly emerging from the pandemic, the ripple effect it has wreaked on businesses, communities, and citizens around the world will be felt for months and years to come. And that’s just one of the crises we weathered!
As we redefine “normal” and begin operating in a deeply changed world, leaders at all levels are now presented with a two-pronged challenge – 1. How do we help our teams remain engaged and successful, and 2. How do we simultaneously stay grounded enough to meet our own individual needs?
While undeniably challenging, the current situation also provides opportunities for us to engage our workforce on a more meaningful – even vulnerable – level. It may feel uncomfortable and can be difficult at first, but it’s important to create an environment where our team members can bring their whole selves to work. As Jeremy wrote in his post “What Your Employees Really Want Right Now” last July, it’s not only about providing a safe and supportive work environment for our team members but also making sure they know we care about them and will do everything we can to support them as they continue to do everything they can to support us and the customers we serve.
As leaders, we can create this environment – even virtually! – by authentically living our values. That requires us to know what our values are, though, doesn’t it? The best leaders are values literate. They understand how their values shape their behaviors and how they are distinct from their personalities and skills. In From Values to Action, author Harry Hansen-Kraemer Jr. shares a model to help us lead authentically and connect deeply with our teams and colleagues. Hansen-Kraemer outlines the following four principles of values-based leadership for us: