Finding the Balance Between Honouring the Past and Building for the Future


Intergenerational transitions are significant life events that hold the key to sustained prosperity within enterprising families. These transitions not only provide the opportunity for stewardship to flourish, but also empowers successive generations to enrich and extend the legacy of their predecessors.  

In our constantly evolving world, stewardship transcends caretaking.  

How Can We Define ‘Good Stewardship’? 

In exercising good stewardship, there is a moral commitment to balancing resilience and growth to pass on more than what was received, honouring roots without fearing change. Stewardship is not about ruling from the grave or acting overprotective, but rather it is about shaping the future and helping cultivate knowledge in the next generation to plant the seeds of future decision-making to preserve, reinvent, and innovate the legacy while respecting the past.  

It is also the understanding that sometimes, the best way to preserve the legacy is to make changes to it. When faced with the inevitable challenges of difficult business decisions, keeping financial assets together, or selling sentimental assets, establishing and understanding the dynamic nature of the legacy can empower the next generation of owners to make these difficult decisions that deviate from the traditional structures set in place in the past for the ultimate preservation and wellbeing of the family legacy.  

As industry landscapes shift and generational interests evolve at an unprecedented pace, the prospect of stumbling into common pitfalls becomes a tangible risk faced by many enterprising families. Understanding how to nurture future generations while embracing the ever-changing present will be essential for a sustainable legacy. 

Legacies: Catalyst or Threat to Stewardship? 

Legacies in the context of generational wealth are both a potent launchpad and a challenge laden with significant responsibilities. More than just financial assets, legacies intertwine various sources of capital that form the family’s wealth, fostering a connection beyond monetary value.  

They provide a platform for learning from the past and nurturing an emotional bond with previous generations. However, it’s essential to recognize that legacies are not solely about looking backward; they are equally about building the future. Contrary to the misconception that legacies are fixed, they should remain adaptive and inspiring.  

Clarity on the reasons for family unity, maintaining engagement, ensuring wealth creators in each generation, and establishing transparent rules and policies are crucial. Ultimately, the sustainability of both financial and human capital generation and growth hinges on dispelling these misconceptions and embracing legacies as dynamic forces within enterprising families.

5 Actions to Balance Honouring the Past and Building for the Future 

  1. Be intentional: Define your individual and shared goals to understand how the individual aspirations intersect with the collective ones, and to build the psychological contract of ownership within the next generation. Foster a shared understanding of your family’s unique definition of value – whether it pertains to financial metrics, core values, or the broader impact created, clarify intent for the future to avoid assumptions, and engage in thoughtful deliberation about areas where you aspire to enhance your approach or institute meaningful changes. 
  2. Educate: Facilitate smooth transitions by adopting a proactive approach that involves early and gradual onboarding and emphasizes the importance of sharing, listening, and educating the next generation. Challenge the old-school apprehensions that divulging too much information might lead to a sense of entitlement or irresponsibility in the next generation and modernize the approach by instilling a sense of duty through shared knowledge, skill-building, and distinguishing between managing and owning. Implement this approach through incremental and age-appropriate steps, fostering a foundation for informed and capable successors. This involves fostering a sense of ownership in younger generations and shifting from the “parent-child” dynamic to an “adult-adult” relationship. 
  3. Be transparent: Foster effective governance to establish a foundation of trust, facilitate informed decision-making, encourage open dialogues, and create an environment where family members can align decisions with the collective vision and values. By cultivating transparency, the family enterprise is better equipped to navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities, fostering cohesion and sustainable success across generations.  
  4. Look to the future: Honour the legacy as the foundation laid by previous generations while adapting to construct an inspiring future that interweaves the values instilled from the past, the dynamism of the present, and the aspirations of the future. This helps foster a profound sense of connection and purpose across generations. 
  5. Seek more perspective: Find your sounding board—a trusted and experienced advisor, mentor, or confidant—to gain valuable insights, fresh perspectives, and a source of constructive feedback. A sounding board serves as a collaborative partner, offering a supportive space to discuss ideas, concerns, and aspirations, ultimately contributing to the holistic growth and resilience of your family enterprise. 

By proactively taking steps to align intentions, embrace dynamism, and introduce education, enterprising families can empower successive generations to act as responsible stewards to create a harmonious narrative that allows the family legacy to evolve while retaining its fundamental values.