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Confronting the Various Forms of Greed in Family and Business

Do you know anyone who has told others he/she is greedy? Generally, the adjective greedy is reserved for those who are subsequently convicted of a felony or for front page stories concerning corporate America and government.

In the areas of power and wealth, all of us prefer to be known as generous rather than greedy. Many people will classify themselves as generous, but no one volunteers that he/she is greedy except for Gordon Gekko of Wall Street cinema fame. Therein resides one of the dynamics that confronts individuals, families and organizations.
I would like us to examine greed as more common than we would like to admit; it comes in forms that attack us in ordinary relationships. Everyone is subject to the destructiveness of greed, but for the purposes of this article, families in business and/or wealth transition and consultants who serve them need to guard against all forms of greed. Conversely, families in business have much to teach non-family organizations because they combat greed in two arenas: those of family and of business.

Greed can be intentional but more often it exists in subtle, disguised forms. Greed is insidious by nature because it is generally transferred by default teaching, which is tremendously powerful. All of us have experienced the results of default teaching. Culture, peers, media and inaction by the family are a few of the classrooms in which default teaching occurs. Parents know the challenge of providing options to what is powerfully taught by default everyday to their children.

Two common forms of greed that afflict families in business/wealth transition are lack of communication and sense of entitlement. An absence of communication stemming from withheld information seems, on the surface, an effective way to prevent younger generations from being plagued by the baseline cultural problem of wealth’s negative effects. In reality, not sharing information with younger generations generally results in their misunderstanding the mission or purpose of the family business or wealth. Older generations rightly fear the negative effect of wealth. However, greed can emerge in older generations in the form of not relinquishing power or identity, resulting in a refusal to share information for preparation of all generations. If the older generation has developed an irreplaceable identity in the business or wealth, how can the business or estate be transitioned with harmony?

A sense of entitlement is a form of greed. Family Business states it this way: “Entitlement refers to a sense of being “owed” such benefits as: wealth, employment and status without having to work to achieve these benefits.” Some children who grow up in a successful family business can be inclined to a sense of entitlement, which is a seed of greed. Achievement alone can become infected by greed when others are viewed as inferiors rather than as peers with similar struggles. Younger generations not lead through the processes of adopting a deeper mission of values and principles are greatly tempted to go to any lengths to protect what they believe is their inherited right.

Generosity combats entitlement by promoting responsibility. Generosity communicates the necessary boundaries, preventing an unintended route into expecting something for nothing. Generosity is not simply writing a check or a transaction; it is relationship based. Senior generations committed to investment of time, integrity and preparation of younger generations counter the drift towards hunger for the physical nature of ownership, power and wealth. Operating in the realm of trustees, stewardship or fiduciaries rather than absolute power inherently assumes taking action in everyone’s best interest. Fear of loss of status, power and wealth through planning for succession is replaced by energetically pursuing the preparation of all generations for transition of the business and estate, to serve rather than be served.

Default teaching of greed is always present; intentional efforts to teach generosity are crucial. Families in business should be recognized as role models to non-family organizations, demonstrating how generosity can replace greed in the business culture. Keep everlastingly at it.

Grant Goodvin Family Legacy Consultant Group

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