What if you look back and realise you got it all wrong

Steve Jobs designed some of the most successful and iconic products of all time, he amassed a $14.1bn fortune and was one of the richest people in the world. Yet when he died aged just 56 it was his children who he claimed were his biggest achievement.

His children, too, were also a feature in Jobs’ list of regrets. He told his official biographer Walter Issacson in an interview for Time magazine that he wished ‘his kids had known me’, adding: “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

Mr Jobs’ experience is typical of that of many individuals who founded successful businesses for the first time. The pioneers of family businesses, who build enormous wealth, often do so at the expense of family, friends and wider interests.

The very drive and motivation that allows generation one individuals to succeed, can be the reason they fail elsewhere in life. A myopic focus on building the business can exclude family and, most importantly, might inhibit their ability to build meaningful relationships with their children.

As we explored in earlier articles, humans must work hard on mastering life skills if they are to feel happy. In many cases, G1s fail to adequately attain skills in more than just one or two of these key areas, leaving them unable to feel truly fulfilled.

At the same time, their inability to building meaningful relationships with children – perhaps the most important of all skills – means the second generation also is unable to achieve happiness.

This is where the regret factor comes in; is there a danger you will look back on your life and believe you got it all wrong?

The G2 experience

The early stages of parenthood for G1s often coincides with the initial creation of the family business meaning many G2s shared their parents’ journey in building up the company. Consequently the young G2s may have experienced long periods of parental absenteeism, not just physically but emotionally, too.

Of course building a successful business means hard work and spending many hours away from home. At the same time, it is all-consuming, so even when G1 parents are with their children they are not actually emotional; either looking at a mobile phone or thinking about business.

Such interactions with their parents leads some G2s to feel disconnected from their family. They may feel second best to the business or that their own concerns are not important or validated.

Such feelings can be exacerbated by the oft given line from G1s that their endeavours ‘are all for the children’. They say – and often completely believe – that they want to give their children what they never had and this is why they work so hard. However in focusing so much on wealth as the sole means of improving their children’s lives they may miss the importance of building relationships with them as well.

The second generation also faces additional pressures to continue what the first generation started; that is to carry on the family firm. However, their neurological development and life experiences differ so materially from that of their parents that it can be incredibly difficult for them to pick up the mantle.

Rather than being pioneers, many G2s are conservators and preservers, keen to protect what their parents have built. The demand to replicate the success of their parents works to yet further undermine their self-esteem.

In his book Passing the Buck: How to Avoid the Third Generation Wealth Trap, Simon Bloom explains that rather than celebrate the G2’s naturally conservative and protective characteristics, G1 parents may undermine them instead.

“The characteristics which make these second-generation individuals successful wealth preservers often mean they can be perceived as ‘weaker’ or less creative without the ideas or strength of personality to push something through.”

Bloom says being brought up by a high achieving first generation individual can lead many second generation individuals to ‘undervalue their own instincts or ideas’.

The propensity therefore, in an effort to gain respect, may be for the second-generation individual to attempt to replicate their parents’ behaviours.

However, Bloom says attempting to make the second generation more like the first is often doomed to failure and undesirable since the G2s’ strengths and skills should be harnessed and celebrated.

Presence not presents

Understandably many G1 parents attempt to make up for a lack of physical and emotional presence by buying their children gifts. However these material offerings alienate parent from child yet further. G2s feel as if they are being ‘bought off’ while G1s think that since the child has accepted the gift, they have connected. They may even believe their child ungrateful since they are rejecting the fruit of their parents’ hard labour.

It is incredibly important that issues between G1 and G2 are reconciled before G2s is become parents themselves. Inherent issues between the first two generations will likely impact the relationships G3s have with their preceding generations and set a negative tone for their own futures.

The first step in building better relationships is by opening the channels of communication. G2s need to talk to G1s honestly about how they feel and show that while they appreciate the trappings of wealth, they need more from their parents.

G1s may not welcome what they perceive to be criticism but if they can see that emotional presence is more valuable than material gain, they stand to have a better relationship with their children.

Ultimately G1s and G2s need to spend quality time together. For those in wealthy family businesses this may be more challenging since time is at a premium, yet setting aside time every week both one to one as and as a wider family is crucial.

It is also important as we discussed in this article  to appreciate differences between the generations. G1 must leans to embrace the positive attributes shown by their children. Also, they must accept that their offspring might not wish to take on a role in the firm.

If one is to believe that a life has been well lived then success must amount to more than money. Healthy familial relationships are at the heart of happiness and achieving these takes time and effort. Building a strong family unit is as important as securing the best business deals and the family firm stands a better chance of surviving into the future.

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