It Gets Dangerous When Leading Generations Won’t Disembark

When going about one’s business in society, there are some unwritten rules that people follow that ensure the smooth and safe flow of people.

Some of these are based on laws that are written and enforced, but many are simply based on custom.

Driving a car is largely based on laws, with a few customs sprinkled in, and these are usually formally taught to those who wish to be licensed to drive.

How we walk through airports, shopping malls, and other public spaces is usually way less formal, and is something we learn from our parents, who are concerned for our safety and try to teach us how to function in society.

One such basic practice is to always get off an escalator when you get to the top (or bottom), and not to step backward just to stay on.

Stretching the Metaphor for All It’s Worth

I may have used more words than necessary to set up my metaphor, but I’m glad that I was able to incorporate the part about how such customs of behavior in society are typically taught to us from a young age by other family members.

In my work with intergenerational families, it’s always interesting to note how the proverbial apples don’t fall very far from the tree.

Yet there are some things that the leading generation sometimes does that don’t serve the family well, which are then learned by their successors, much to the dismay of the generation that then has to follow them.

Failing to disembark from the escalator, and not getting out of the way of those who are behind you, is a problem that we see far too often.

It’s not safe for anyone, and the repercussions are far-reaching.

Examples Abound – Let’s Look At Some

A while ago, I was visiting relatives and learned about a large family in the town. 

The matriarch had recently passed away, which brought with it a hope that some of the uncertainty facing the rising generations might soon be clarified.

I hope to address the follow-up effects that such a lack of clarity can have on the subsequent generations of these families.

When those in their 80s and 90s still haven’t ended their ride on the proverbial escalator, those behind them in their 60s aren’t able to begin to make their own plans, which then stifles the ability of their offspring to figure out where they fit into things.

You now end up with people in the prime of their lives and careers, in their 30s and 40s, who are unable to make key decisions about whether or not they have a future in the family enterprise.

A Recent Extreme Tale

I recently made a presentation about legacy planning to an industry group in the center of the universe (Canadian readers all know I’m referring to Toronto).

During the Q&A, an attendee shared their story, which I will now relate here while disguising some facts for privacy.

The G1 founder is in his late 90s and still very much in charge of all major decisions, including many day-to-day ones.

Unfortunately, the G2 heir apparently passed away recently, reinforcing the founder’s perceived need to stick around even longer.

The G3 person who attended my session, who’s trying to run the company with a sibling (and both see things very differently, by the way), now has to deal with a meddling founder grandfather, a mother who suddenly holds a large ownership share despite never having been involved in the business, and a sibling equal.

When this person’s offspring, who are hitting their prime working years, ask their parent to try to paint a picture of their future in this family enterprise, how can they do anything but shrug their shoulders and say, “We’ll see…”?


Moving from a “Me Focus” to a “We Focus”

I’m often too indirect in my writing, referring to the importance of “having important discussions.” I now want to highlight that talk is insufficient, and that action has to occur.

A key action that needs to happen is for senior family leaders to get off the damn escalator.

They need to move from focusing on ME to doing what’s best for WE.

Hopefully, some will recognize themselves and act.

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