Engaging The Next Generation in Family Enterprises
By Paul L. Hokemeyer,
J.D., Ph.D. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Abber is the eldest son of a leading family in Saudi Arabia currently living in a Parisian flat his father purchased for him while he was completing a master’s degree in Paris. For the past several months, his parents have been asking him to come home to join the family business. While Abber promises he’ll return, he makes excuse after excuse as to why he must remain in Paris . During this time, both parents have grown concerned over what they see as Abber’s abuse of his trust funds and ‘disrespectful lifestyle.’ A crisis erupted last week when a cousin, also living in Paris, reported seeing Abber stumbling intoxicated out of a nightclub patronized by gay clients. *
The above scenario, presents a host of issues for Arab families struggling to maintain strong family, cultural and religious values while straddling the realities of educating their children in the western world. It also highlights the toxic intergenerational dynamics that frequently arise when family members don’t feel properly seen, heard and respected. Last but certainly not least, it shows how families can, even through the best of intentions, find themselves ‘stuck’ in impasses that even the best lawyers and family governance professionals can’t contract away.
I work as a family therapist to some of the world’s most prominent families to help them negotiate the types of issues I’ve outlined above. The work, while highly sensitive and nuanced, when done through a structured communication technique can provide families with lasting solutions to generational problems.
The first level of analysis is psychological:
Typically, I get called to assist a family after they find that in spite of their best intentions and efforts, they are unsuccessful in addressing the issues outlined above. While I always encourage families to attempt to work through these issues on first their own, after a series of unsuccessful attempts, families should consider bringing in an outside agent to sort through their impasse.
There are several reasons why families get stuck in unhealthy relational patterns. The first is that the family has not been properly educated in key psychological differences between family members that include what are known as ‘intrapersonal schemas’ and the interrelated construct of ‘locus of control’.
We all have what is known as an intrapersonal schema. This schema determines how we view our selves and the world around us. Related to our intrapersonal schema is what is known as our locus of control. This refers to the extent that we feel we have control over our lives. Research, including my own has found there a distinctly different locus of control between first generation wealth owners and subsequent generations. Individuals who have earned their wealth have a robust internal locus of control.
This fundamental difference in personal schemas naturally causes conflict within generations as each operate intra and interpersonally from fundamentally different points of view. These differences, when unacknowledged and unaddressed cause a host of both conscious and unconscious dynamics that play out in highly destructive ways.
As this relates to the example cited above. The first level of analysis in addressing the dynamic between Abber and his parents is to acknowledge the differences in their personal schemas and loci of control. Abber as a second-generation family member, while blessed with an abundance of external markers of success, had not developed a healthy and autonomous personal identity. This stands in sharp relieve to his father who started what became a billion euro a year enterprise. It’s also important to address the cultural aspect of Abber’s being. Brought up in a society and religion that has very clear prescriptions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors,
Abber became overwhelmed by the wealth of personal options available to him when he moved to Europe. In developmental terms, Abber, even at the age of 27, remained trapped in the adolescent stage of his development where he was compelled to act out in adolescent and passive aggressive behaviors. The good news is that while rebellious, Abber had internalized a deep love of his family, his culture and his religion. He understood his responsibilities toward all of the above, but had never felt properly seen and heard as an autonomous person with agency over his life.
Central to defusing the destructive dynamic that Abber was playing out was to give him a forum where he can be seen and heard as person of value. This forum needed to be ‘judgment free’, progressive and contained. It needed to allow him to speak his truth and most importantly to hold the consequences of his truth fully. In clinical speak, the forum needed to be structured around the technique of mirror listening. Such technique allows the person speaking to hear their own thoughts without being interrupted. It shows the speaker you respect their thoughts and are trying to understand their point of view and it encourages the speaker to continue talking. Most importantly, it provides a process that begins to defuse the destructive acting out behaviors.
*Abber and his family are compositions of clients I’ve worked with over the years and are included for educational purposes only. The identifying details have been changed to protect the confidentiality of my actual clients and the integrity of my therapeutic relationship with them.
Dr. Paul L. Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist, consultant and author, is one of the world’s foremost experts on resolving the complex, sensitive and highly nuanced issues that arise among the world’s most prominent families. He is a founding principal of the London based Drayson Mews International, a mental health and addiction treatment collective, and is listed as one of the world’s top “Problem Solvers” in Tatler’s High Net Worth Address book. In his groundbreaking book, Fragile Power: Why Having It All Is Never Enough (Hazelden, 2019), Dr. Paul sets forth a new standard of culturally competent and clinically effective care for UHNW individuals and families who struggle with mental health, personality, relational and addictive disorders.
Read the full article in the printed version of Middle East Business News & Magazine