Jun 13, 2024

What’s Your Secret?

“What’s their secret…?”

Asked a senior generation family member at a conference I spoke at this month. A question motivated by the frustration that his family couldn’t agree on fundamental decisions and were at constant loggerheads.

My response was…

“It’s not a secret, they just imagined what was possible.”

The roadmap to family harmony is not as complicated as you might think.

Here are 3 steps to get you started.

1 – Thinking you know everything

I recently worked with a family member who automatically assumed that they were going to be promoted because they believed they were the highest performing member within the company. When they were informed that they hadn’t been selected they were in complete shock. Why? Because their perception didn’t match the reality of their performance.

This illustrates a typical example of The Dunning-Kruger effect – a type of cognitive bias introduced by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999,  in which people believe they are smarter and more capable than they are. In our tendency to overestimate our own knowledge/skills/competence, we underestimate our own ignorance; a mindset that can perpetuate limitations personally and professionally. The “secret” is not in what you think you know, but in being open to what you may or may not know, that you know.

Do this instead:

  • Ask yourself if you are really qualified to give your input? What could you do to learn more?
  • Become hungry for honest feedback from those around you, at home and at work.
  • Question your own beliefs and where they come from – are they actually yours or just ones that you inherited/became conditioned to?

2 – Believing money is the answer.

Money is not the answer and if you think it is, then you will most certainly at some point discover that it’s not. Money is often attributed as one of the biggest causes of conflict in business families. However, it’s not the money itself that’s the problem, but our relationship to it.

Money is more than just a currency to exchange goods and services, and in family-business it is often used as a weapon for emotional bargaining. For some, it offers freedom and happiness, a badge of honor or recognition, but for others it can be a source of anxiety, shame, guilt and insecurity.

The “secret” to a family’s success never stems from their wealth, and in fact it is often their relationship to the money that contributes to their collapse. Stories of families using money to incentivize, punish, or control people are common because we all have our own ‘Money Myth.’

Do this instead:

Ask yourself which out of the 4 below you identify as your own Money Myth.

  1. Investor – Do you invest in money and in your relationships, sometimes to the detriment of yourself?
  1. Spender – Do you spend/deplete your money and also your relationships?
  1. Valuer/respecter – Do you treasure and respect your money and your relationships?
  1. Fearer – What do you fear with money and in your relationships?

3 – Invest in the problem, not the solution.

I know this might sound a little backwards, but stick with me. I came across this concept from Uri Levine, a two-time unicorn builder of the traffic and navigation apps Waze and Moovit. His book, ‘Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution: A Handbook for Entrepreneurs,’ highlights the value in evaluating if the problem is just ours or a shared one. Many issues in families are a collective one, and as such so are many of the solutions. By looking at the issue this way, you open up opportunities to learn from others.

When you believe you have a big problem, you scramble around looking for the answers, solutions and quick fixes. You read books, listen to podcasts, attend workshops, oblivious to what caused the pain was in the first place.

Focusing on the solution distracts you from actually being forensic about the problem and where it came from. In family businesses we often deal with the repercussions of the conflict and not the actual trigger. If we invest/focus on the trigger/problem, the need to deal with the repercussions become minimal because the core issue has been resolved. So when families ask what their “secret” is, I simply say they invested in the problem.

Do this instead:

  • Remove the blinkers.
  • Include everyone along the way.
  • Get really passionate about the pain point.
  • Become curious about the problem you’re solving.
  • Ask for feedback, it may lead you to the answer.

If you invest in doing all 3, then you will be well on your way to experiencing the family harmony you seek and deserve.

Instead of fuelling your frustration by comparing yourself to other families and wondering what it is they have that you haven’t, redirect your attention and focus on your own family.

The gap between where you are now and where you want to be is not as big as you might think, but it does require you to ‘imagine what is possible,’ because that IS the “secret – that is YOUR secret.” 

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