“Once you have agreed, aligned and instilled a set of family values, remember that families change and grow, sometimes in unexpected ways, and that aligning family values is an ongoing effort.”
Charlotte Filsell, Sandaire
Values are often considered the building blocks of a sustainable family and, indeed, a family’s identity. Many wealthy families and their businesses proudly proclaim what they stand for, but what holds these together and how do these values endure successive generations? Like any leader, the head of a family has a myriad of complexities and differences to consider; Competing interests, multiple generations, distance, culture, ambition, all add to what is already a demanding role.
Any bricklayer will tell you that building blocks are only half of the required materials for a stable wall. Without mortar, blocks lack what is needed to bind them and when subjected to pressure, a building may collapse. Family values, if unaligned, are destined for the same fate. Built correctly, anticipating what the world may throw at it, and maintaining it over time, a building may last for centuries. Alignment is the binding force that enables a family’s values to endure.
So how are aligned family values achieved? As with anything in life, there are many answers and not all will work for everyone, but ask enough people and you will see themes and trends emerge. Put simply, a family leader would do well to:
- Start young;
- Be inclusive and genuine;
- Keep it simple;
- Be transparent and consistent;
Children have a marvellous capacity to learn and absorb, thanks to their innate powers of observation. Moreover, the younger they are, the easier it is to build your values into their world view. Incorporating values into as many facets of everyday life is key to this. In so doing, the next generation can live the values shared with them, rather than merely adhering to them.
An effective method for parents and mentors is to create learning opportunities where possible. If a family stands for community and conservation, the younger generation should be shown the effects of the family’s support, not just the means and decisions taken. After all, giving to charity and seeing charity at work are very different things. And keep in mind the old adage: ‘never give your children your valuables until you’ve given them your values’.
Be inclusive and genuine
If family values are to endure, they must be the domain of the whole family. Inclusion and involvement are key to promoting engagement, and it must be genuine for it to work. Play to the strengths of each member of the family. As stated previously, start young and where possible, encourage participation between multiple generations. An above all, ensure you lead “from the front” and live those values yourself.
Keep it simple
A family may stand for many things, but at some point, it must decide what these values are and make them easy to communicate. It must also try not to spread itself to thinly (aligning 50 people with 20 values is no easy task) and where possible ensure that these values are distinct from each other, even if there is a relationship between them. For example generosity, philanthropy and charity.
Be transparent and consistent
Writing down your values can help to keep things clear – give thought to creating a family charter and documenting your values there – and obtain acceptance from the various family members so that you have a point of reference when discussing family matters in the future. It pays to eradicate all ambiguity from proceedings as you move forward.
Remember that communication works best when it flows both ways. Allowing members of the family to make the values their own and contribute in their own way is essential. Where multiple generations are involved, remember that values mean different things to different people, particularly Millennials. To one, charity may mean donating a sum of money to a local cause, whereas to another, charity is the giving of one’s time and effort. While both may be equally valid, try to encourage such things in a way that plays to each individual.
“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Once you have agreed, aligned and instilled a set of family values, remember that families change and grow, sometimes in unexpected ways, and that aligning family values is an ongoing effort. As a leader, aim to evolve with it and embrace change as a positive force. Human beings have a remarkable ability to adapt to their surroundings. If we change, our values must adapt to the new set of circumstances.
All too often in life, it is easy to confuse the accomplishment of something with its end. It is important to remember that aligning family values should be a never ending journey.