By Melissa Mitchell-Blitch
A Simple Tool to Help Families Thrive
I was recently asked by our local community foundation to speak at their upcoming meeting for advisors. My talk would follow a tax law update and precede a generous time for Q&A. That would leave 15 minutes for me to talk about family dynamics in wealth. Families are complex. The emotional and relational dynamics of wealth are complex. How do you cover family dynamics of wealth in 15 minutes?
While that sounds like the start to a great joke, it was the real scenario. Gratefully, bringing simplicity to complexity is what I do, so I quickly knew how I would meet the challenge of bringing meaningful information about these complex subjects in a short period of time. In this article, I will share that information with you.
I would like to introduce you to the Support Challenge Matrix. On the vertical axis, the level of support given rises from low to high. On the horizontal axis, the level of challenge ranges from low to high. The combination of these two variables produces four quadrants that can be used to describe a family’s culture at a given point in time. Family culture is like the atmosphere of the family. Its health, or lack there-of, will greatly impact the well-being of each family member and the quality of their relationships with each other.
In families where there is high support and low challenge, family members know they are loved and accepted. The family is for them and does not ask or expect much from them. Needs are met, and most wants are granted, with little-to-no expectations in return. Many families of wealth worry about creating a sense of entitlement, and this is it. We call it a Protect Culture.
Because the Protect Culture lacks challenge, unmet expectations, disappointments, and hurts are stuffed and build up over time. Once these resentments cannot be contained any longer, they are unleashed in passiveaggressive fashion. The lack of timely feedback and challenge stifles growth and plants seeds of mistrust in relationships. The yellow color represents the poor health of relationships, which struggle in a Protect Culture due to the lack of necessary, honest challenge.
The lower right quadrant represents the opposite scenario. Families experience a Dominate Culture when support is low, and challenge is high. Expectations and demands are expressed. Family members are challenged to stretch out of their comfort zone, grow, and improve. Compliance may be an outcome, but because of the lack of support, family members fear disappointment, disapproval, and rejection when expectations are not met.
I see this dynamic often in entrepreneurial families. The fear of emotional, relational, financial, or opportunity loss creates a low sense of psychological safety. Family members know what is expected of them, but do not get acceptance that failure is a natural part of learning, growing, and succeeding. They also lack the emotional support necessary for relationships and emotional well-being to thrive. The red color represents the heat of pressure family members feel in a Dominate Culture.
The Abdicate Culture, in the lower left quadrant, is characterized by both low support and low challenge. Family members check out from meaningful engagement with each other. They may share physical space, but they are just going through the motions. There is no depth to relationships.
Families can easily slip into an Abdicate Culture as a result of distraction and failure to be intentional to create meaningful interactions. Family members may be highly engaged with professional, recreational, social, or civic pursuits, which fill them up but deplete them of time and energy to pour into family relationships. Abdicate is in black, because in an Abdicate Culture, family relationships are dying from neglect.
Our final quadrant, in the upper right, represents a Liberate Culture. A liberator is someone who fights for the highest possible good of others. They do so by calibrating both high support and high challenge. Liberate is in green because a Liberate Culture supports health, growth, and vitality. With both support and challenge, family members and their relationships with each other can thrive.
In a Liberate Culture, family members believe in each other. They accept them as they are and challenge them to risk, learn, and grow – without loss of relationship or favor when failure comes. They have reasonable expectations for what it means to be a contributing member of the family. They freely give and freely receive.
Circling back to that fear of entitlement, dominating through high challenge is not the antidote. Domination only creates different issues. Liberation is the key – calibrating high support and high challenge.
What About Your Family?
So which quadrant best describes your family’s culture today? Are you trending toward Protect, Dominate, Abdicate, or Liberate? What does your family – and its individual members – need more of right now? More support? Greater challenge? A bit more of both?
Each of us finds one or the other – support or challenge – relatively easy, with the other being much more difficult. With honest, open communication, families can be intentional to work together to bring what is needed and create a family culture that promotes individual well-being and meaningful relationships. What is one thing you can do today to be a liberator and fight for the highest possible good of your family?
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Melissa Mitchell-Blitch is the founder of Eredita, LLC and a Senior Consultant with GiANT Worldwide. As a former CPA and financial advisor, who left finance for a career in psychology, Melissa is uniquely equipped to help families navigate the complexities of wealth. Melissa is currently writing a book about boundaries in family business. This practical book will help equip families to successfully navigate the inherent challenges of working with family members – the overlap of multiple life roles and financial interdependence. Learn more at MelissaMitchellBlitch.com.