The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta are known worldwide for their work in preventing outbreaks of diseases and research in understanding viruses and bacteria. Now, the CDC can help us in understanding how to successfully transfer positive values to our children and future generations. But I am talking about a different “CDC”.
One of the most common issues I am asked to address when working with financially successful families is: “How do we help our children (and grandchildren) develop positive character qualities? How do we prevent our wealth from ‘ruining’ our kids?”
Here are three core principles that will help:
- Communication. If you are going to effectively transfer values across generations, you must proactively communicate about what is important to you. While modeling is important, it is critical to verbalize clearly and directly with your family members. It is easier to “catch” a character quality or behavior if it is described to you — otherwise, misinterpretations and misunderstandings occur. (For example, there is a difference between being honest and being so blunt that you are rude.) One form of communication that is especially effective is storytelling — especially stories about your life (or other family members) that demonstrate the value you are trying to transfer. But again, don’t just infer what you are trying to communicate (e.g. honesty), but tell the story and clearly state: “and that is why it is always important for us to be honest.”
- Demonstration. Demonstrating the value in your life, in front of your family members and over time, is hugely important. Family members, especially, are watching carefully to see if you “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk”. If you espouse that kindness is important to you but treat those around you rudely, your words won’t have much impact. Modeling is possibly the most impactful way you can transfer your values and those characteristics important to you. This is especially true when you demonstrate the character quality in different settings, with multiple people, over time, and when doing so is costly to you. Children and grandchildren are great observers but are sometimes poor interpreters (which is why “communication” is such an important part of the process.)
- Celebration. When we bring attention to and celebrate the desired character quality in real life, we solidify the experience in our family members’ minds. We can celebrate the characteristic both in our children and grandchildren (praising them when they work hard and complete a job) but also calling attention to the character quality in someone else — in a movie watched together, in another relative or friend the child knows, or people in the news.
The combination of all three steps (communication, demonstration, celebration) are extremely powerful. As one of my friends noted, the CDC process is really what coaching is all about — teaching a skill, showing them how it is done, and then celebrating when they are able to replicate the skill. Another one of my buddies commented: “I’ve been using the CDC concepts for a long time. . . I just got the last ‘C’ wrong. I’ve been criticizing and critiquing instead of celebrating, and I can see the negative impact I’m having.”
So, think about what values and character qualities you hope will continue to be displayed in your family across generations. Identify them, and then think of ways to communicate them to your family. Do a self-evaluation to make sure you are consistently demonstrating them in your life. And then celebrate them both in your family and as you see them in daily life. Over time, you will start to see these character qualities take hold and become a part of your children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Then you can rejoice, be proud and thankful!