What Promotes Change?

David Lansky

I noted in my earlier blog three factors that inhibit change in a family: Inertia, Fear of the Unknown and Psychological Reactance. Here are three guidelines for promoting change.

Vision and Values
Clarifying vision and values through family meetings or individual discussions, and documenting your findings, can  add energy to a family system by raising hopes for the future and will help to alleviate Fear of the Unknown by articulating clear family goals.

Inclusiveness, Open Dialogue and Good Questions
Much of the energy for change comes from process. How do you create a good productive process? Ensure open dialogue. How do you  do that? Schedule opportunities to discuss change and why you want it to occur. I occasionally ask families to sit down with each other and give each person a chance to speak uninterrupted for 10 minutes at a time.

Asking questions ensures that people feel included and valued. This enhances the sense of choice in a family.

Questions are an opportunity to learn what  a person is really thinking without his or her  feeling coerced or pressured to do anything in particular.

There are some questions that persist in your mind for weeks, months or years, and continue to spur curiosity and engagement. You know that a question  is effective in this way when the question is met with a long pause, or when the person says “Gee, I never thought of that before” or “I never knew the answer until you asked the question”.

Balanced Task/Process Orientation
All of this requires a balance between leadership that is focused on accomplishing a task and leadership that is attentive to process. And sometimes leading change in family requires a very different set of skills than leading change in a business.

Some business leaders are incredible visionaries and very bold and they will “go where no one has gone before” because they are hard charging and tough. The problem is that sometimes these business leaders find that they have left their families behind. Or more accurately, the family has not decided to move ahead with them.

I worked with one family in which the family leaders created a transition agreement to the next generation that was visionary and generous and would have permitted the next generation to assume ownership at a very good price and over a reasonable period of time. They spent a small fortune on attorneys’ and consultants’ fees to create the plan. The problem was that the next generation as a group couldn’t tolerate each other personally; but the family leaders never had a real sit down to discuss the situation.

What helps in the business context – focus, drive, task orientation – may well get in the way on the family side.

Leading change in a family means being able to balance both of these orientations.


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