The last number of posts, dubbed “The Endgame Series,” are in many ways integrally tied to this post. While not technically a part of that series, this is not disconnected from them. As one looks at the scenarios of “Familial Preservation” and “Growth”, each requires a certain kind of developmental mindset within the family. This article is an attempt to unpack what that looks like and how it comes to be.
This should be divided into two posts, but since this is likely the last post for awhile, it is going to be a single long post. It will not be for the faint of heart, but hopefully, it will be useful and worth the time it takes to move through it. If it helps to peak your curiosity, this takes a very hard poke at the notion of “preparation” and argues that looking at family transitions through that lens, at best, misses opportunities and, at worst, dooms the generational transition process to failure.
Family Culture as Social Software
One way to look at family culture is to view it as the “software” that drives family dynamics. When families engage in any collective economic activity – a business, a philanthropy, a trust structure, a set of common investments – the cultural software is running in the background. It remains largely invisible to the participants and yet touches everything they do. If the outer activities and behaviors are cross-wise, the software comes to the fore, and one can almost always trace some of the root causes of the evident issues back to cultural “software glitches’ running in the background. Conversely, families that flourish have good cultural software. Whether you agree or disagree, it has been my core contention that the success of family transitions hinges on the resilience and adaptation of family culture. Good cultural software – good results. Bad software – bad results.
When the culture software is “glitchy” it seems that many families take one of two basic approaches. The first is to try to control the effects and dynamics of the culture by imposing structures to contain it. This is the default of most first generation family leaders and professional advisors. The approach seeks to moderate an unwieldy culture through a kind of rationalization of process. In this view, the family is nuts, and you should be able to squeeze out the problem by imposing rational systems to supplant the problematic family dynamics. In our software analogy, this is like buying a new computer in hopes that it will fix the bad software.
Structures are often imposed in non-participatory fashion on the family system – one person creates the structure, and the rest are expected to tow the line. These brute force solutions rarely work. They either fall apart (the culture eats the structure for breakfast) or there is a great deal of drama and acting out (as players push boundaries they never wanted nor agreed to). The use of structural solutions to address cultural problems frequently leads to families flying apart – often in ways that do great damage to both human and economic value. (This is not to say that structure is bad or should be ignored – they are essential and absolutely necessary – but in good situations, the structures are well-suited to the family culture.)
A variation on this theme of imposing structures is to create “fail-safe” planning approaches. This is a favorite of advisors and consultants. Here plans presuppose a single desired outcome – typically results driven by the desires and concerns of the plan-makers. Often people look to successful families and attempt to reverse engineer that sort of outcome for themselves. This is the world of vision, purpose, plans, best practices, and so on. Unfortunately, the planning horizons are so long and the groups so complex, it is almost impossible to anticipate accurately the future conditions in which the plan must be executed. Not only that – but every family that is now studied as a paragon of success actually muddled their way to get to that point. Families don’t function well with “fail-safe” approaches.
With this kind of predetermined outcome approach to planning, what seems like a good idea in the moment is shown to have been a woefully inadequate solution set twenty years on. Often it turns out that there has been very little solid work between the planning and the execution with a result of more or less catastrophic failure arising from failures of competence, communication, and collaboration. Here the family is not fractious; it is just woefully inept.
I call this gap between planning and execution The Chasm. The costs of failing to bridge the Chasm are also high – they are however typically not as pyrotechnic. Plans are insufficient to cross it. Here we have a slow erosion through entitlement, failures to launch, drift, substance abuse, spinning, over spending, speculation, and a long, slow dissolution of the family and its wealth.
Apart from failures of capacity, plans often fail because the people expected to follow the plans do not create flexibility or authorization to adapt the plan to changing circumstances (what we called in our last series of posts Advisory Preservation scenarios). Inflexible plans can deny the family the power to adapt the planning to fit the circumstances – the plan is inapt and falls apart.
Because family cultures are complex, they are often not amenable to what most might call “rational” solutions. Mere analysis and the application of expert solutions or “best practices” are not enough. What is required in place of structures and planning are adaptive interventions that change patterns of behavior in ever deepening cycles of transformation.
Rewriting the Code
Another option when faced with cultural “software” issues is to engage in a collaborative process of “rewriting the code” of family culture. This sounds hard, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, when done well, it often involves having a lot of fun. There are social interventions that work to alter and shift the patterns of behavior in groups. These techniques can be used in all sorts of environments where the stakes are high, the social dynamics are complex and flourishing outcomes are important. There are specific interventions for families that also tend to work well.
In examining this issue, it is worth doing a brief tour of how people have thought about this problem of cultural transformation and resilience in the business world. People in that world have spent a great deal of time, attention, and money on getting a handle on this very human set of problems around cultural change.
A World of VUCA
Many companies find themselves competing in environments of rapid and continuous change. These environments are filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. An acronym for this type of environment, coined by the military for battlefield situations, is VUCA (pronounced “voo-ka”). Some companies are relatively shielded from VUCA – they are in stable industries with stable markets. There are, however, fewer and fewer places to hide.
As this new landscape of near universal VUCA came more sharply into focus in the late 1980s, people who thought about such things realized that this almost hockey stick curve in the rate of change required different models of leadership and the development of new ways of conceiving organizations. Companies could no longer afford to be hierarchical, stable and lethargic. They had to be adaptive, innovative and empowered. As a matter of long-term survival, they had figure out how to reliably pivot on demand to meet shifting conditions. They had to learn and had to learn quickly.
Companies turned to their HR departments for help. Too often that was a dead end. HR had started out as a hotbed of innovation and intervention in the early 1970s but they were ahead of their time. By the late 1980s, they had been coopted to become moribund departments serving an ossified status quo. Most HR departments came to be focused on compliance, reviews, training, and procedure – not learning, empowerment and innovation. They served interests of institutional legacy and risk management – they were impediments to what was needed.
In the mid-1990’s companies began to turn a corner when they tumbled to the importance of organizational learning. Books like “The Fifth Discipline” (Senge) and “Adaptive Leadership” (Heifetz) inspired, fed and nurtured the trend. This shift led to a relatively widespread adoption of the Chief Learning Officer position – a C-Suite desk. It involved a conversion to a belief that people were not “resources” to be used as another input to execute strategy, but a recognition that the organization’s people represented a core strategic and competitive advantage. In a sense, the people were the strategy. It became evident that how a company learned – and paying attention to workers as a core strategic driver of performance – was mission critical to the company’s ongoing relevance to the market.
The Problem is People
There were, however, limitations to this view.
The core problem, not surprisingly, was people. Most employees tend to like the status quo – it is comfortable, predictable and often quite effective in achieving immediate results and doing one’s job with a minimum of fuss. Learning decreases efficiency. This pits long-term corporate viability against short-term comfort. (Slap. 2015.) Employees become weary and skeptical of management fads, corporate mandate,s and change initiatives that most often flounder and fade out in the face of stubborn apathy and passive resistance.
Beyond that, accelerated rates of change can be scary to people – constant VUCA is not conducive to peace of mind. VUCA is not Zen. VUCA scares employees and particularly middle-managers who view power shifts as a near existential threat. The stress and resulting anxiety shuts down brain function and basic rationality. Continuous VUCA is exhausting. And so, people being people, very much like to pretend it doesn’t exist.
So, while people were deemed “strategic” assets in theory, organizations were in fact stuck with the raw humanity of the actual people they had – not an idealized version of their workforce. The result was that change efforts and attempts to convert organizations into learning entities often floundered on the shoals of resistant corporate culture. The failure rate has been high.
In the face of this, there is the beginning of a new wave of thinking about adaptive organizations. It is in its early stages and may well be another fad or passing management fancy. Even if it sticks, it will undoubtedly partial because, when it comes to socially complex organizations, there are never silver bullets. That said, learning has been a durable corporate concept despite its imperfect execution. There is enough progress to believe that this refinement may have some legs. Even more encouraging, for once this is a trend that has a lot of well-understood science behind it– it is deeply rooted in over 100 years of study and observation of human development.
The Science of Adult Development
The basic idea behind human development models is that people thrive not when they are externally pushed to action, but when adaptation is seen as an integral part of their own personal growth and development. (Kegan, Lahey, 2016.) It turns out the human brain likes this kind of personal challenge to become better at things. We are hardwired to be challenged and to grow.
There is a common belief that most adults stop developing in early adulthood. While it is true that many people do plateau in some important ways, there is ample evidence that there are between 4 to 8 stages of development that people could traverse in their adult lifetimes. These stages can be seen as basic patterns, frameworks or personal operating systems.
While various researchers have identified greater or fewer stages, there are two things that are common to all the developmental models – the first is that the perspectives and skill sets progress in a common pattern. These capacities build on each other. Research shows that certain patterns invariably follow other patterns, and later patterns don’t become stable until earlier patterns are integrated. We don’t see the stages emerge out of order. So while I may slice the pie into four sections (stages) or you may slice it into eight, and we may disagree about where the pie is being sliced, everyone agrees they are looking at the “same” pie and at the same basic progression. The debate is at the margins, not the theoretical core.
The other stable and widely accepted aspect of the science is the universal observation that people do not permanently regress to earlier stages of development. Once a certain framework or mindset is established, people do not go back to earlier ways of looking at and interacting with the world. When temporary reversion does occcur it is in moments of stress or social mandate – that is, their current way of looking is beyond the reach of those around them and they have to revert to be understood or accepted. Each level of development involves greater cognitive complexity and each stage involves a deeper and more nuanced understanding of other human beings and social systems. 
These two things – a clear progression of skill sets and the lack of permanent regression – confirms the validity of adult development.
People Can Change
What all of this means is that the age old argument of whether people can change is largely answered. Some aspects of our basic personality traits and styles don’t change all that much That said, we are actually capable of growth and development that allows those basic personalities to adapt to new and challenging situations in ways that rather dramatically shift the structures of our individual consciousness. We can grow. We can develop. And we can change.
This grounding in well-accepted developmental research is fueling what is being seen as the next wave of organizational adaptability. There is an emergent notion that organizations, to thrive, must become hotbeds of personal growth. The days of workers as drones are fading fast. What is replacing the “cog-in-the-machine” view is a world in which those who don’t constantly develop, learn and grow will fall behind. The notion of “knowledge workers” is being replaced by “adaptive workers.”
Before now, the focus has been on developing skill sets, knowledge and capability of the workforce on the assumption that trained, skilled, capable people will know what to do and how to do it in rapidly shifting environments. This perspective on “learning” has been about molding exterior action and knowledge of the exterior world.
The problem is that tweaking at the edges of capabilities is not enough when facing VUCA. Subjecting workers to tune-ups for better and more efficient action is insufficient – all this does is better equip people for more of the same. It doesn’t foster rapid adaptation to uncertain and emergent futures.
What is required is a workforce gains the capacity to be “self-authoring”– that is to adapt and grow in response not to centralized mandates, but to the ever-evolving challenges they face. This approach is becoming a flywheel of personal growth — not set in motion from the outside — but fueled by internal engines of personal development.
Two of the more obvious expressions of this transformation in the corporate arena are “mindfulness” and the emphasis on “emotional intelligence.” More and more corporations are creating positions such as “Chief Mindfulness Officer” — which has a very different tone than Chief Learning Officer. Likewise, “emotional intelligence” is now seen as an essential component of competent leadership. Both of these are highly focused on the interior, subjective experience of the employee. These kinds of focal points are only the leading edge of what corporations are beginning to explore as horizons of internal development and personal growth.
So what does all of this have to do with families and the cultural “software” with which they operate?
Most of us think that when families are “dysfunctional” they are “stuck” and that the likelihood of getting them unstuck is low. This conclusion is often based on a particular psychotherapeutic lens that suggests that the patterns of the past are set and must be “processed,” ”worked through,” or “integrated” with “closure” for the family to move forward. In this approach, you have to dredge dark stuff up, process it and then clear it. That work is unpleasant, difficult and hard and so people will avoid it. I don’t believe that that model is “wrong” – and it is certainly remarkably helpful in some circumstances – but I often find there other perspectives or other ways of seeing that hold much greater utility and impact.
Not Dysfunctional, Just Complex
I have worked with several families that wanted me to know at the outset that they were not “dysfunctional.” In every case, I found that they had worked with other consultants who pathologized the family patterns. The families telling me they weren’t “dysfunctional” were also picking up on common cultural memes of familial dysfunctionality and saying that, while they had problems, they were not crazy like “those” families.
What struck me about these families was that they were actually quite self-aware – they weren’t clinically dysfunctional. They were clearly challenged and they were fractious, but they weren’t riven with alcoholism, abuse, anger, splits, unhealthy patterns of domination and submission, and so on. It finally dawned on me – slow learner that I am – that what was going on was that these were normal families faced with complex problems. Their concerns were principally problems of social complexity, not psychodynamics. As such, they had simply not yet developed the adaptive tools necessary to deal with the social, governance and economic complexities they were facing. In short, their issue was not an issue of “dysfunction” but of “development”. They had simply outgrown their old, previously well-worn patterns and operating systems and had yet to develop new higher order patterns and operating systems to cope with the emergent demands of familial complexity.
So now, after a long lead-in, we get to the heart of it.
“Preparation” is a Broken Schema
I see many advisors taking about “preparing the rising generation.” In this model, the rising generation members are semi-empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge and skill to get them ready for new responsibilities. The role of the senior generation is to find ways to impart this information by “engaging” the rising generation and then conveying all this information, knowledge and wisdom into their eager minds and hearts. This model is analogous to the old corporate model that suggested we just needed to create “learning organizations” to get our workers to gain skills and, if that is done, they would be good to go. Hone their skills and they will perform. And while the demands of business are corporate, and the demands of family are tribal, the core issues are quite analogous.
This preparation model seems broken.
How do I know?
Because it doesn’t work in real families.
The rising generation truly bristles at this notion of preparation – they find it demeaning, stilted and awkward. The resent it. The older generation has no idea how to do it – so they are flummoxed and fumbling. No successful family I have ever encountered is actually doing what is advocated in the numerous books on “preparing the family.” (The families may talk about “preparation” but it is only because they don’t have the language to describe what they are actually doing – and what they are doing is decidedly not “preparation”). So, I would suggest, this schema of “preparation” is a fractured model that is not a particularly useful way of looking at the problem.
Stop Preparing, Start Developing
What is required in a family is not that one generation prepare the next. Indeed, “preparing heirs” is tantamount to fighting the last generation’s war. It too often assumes that the problems of the future faced by the rising generation will be roughly the same as those that faced their parents – and that is simply not the case. The challenges of the rising generation will always be unique to that generation and will not be the challenges faced by the leading generation many years before.
Instead of this notion of “preparation”, I would suggest a shift to thinking about this area in terms of “mutual development.” The family, as a whole, must develop together. This means that the leading generation and the rising generation are both challenged to find new operating systems. The leading generation can’t sit on its laurels – it must change and probably change more radically than the rising generation in some ways. They both have to “change their game” and they must both “level up.” In this sense, the leading generation grows and develop at least as much as the rising generation, if not more so. They are not only teachers, they are students and learning participants. Everyone in the family recognizes that they must evolv to play the challenging game of “Transition” together.
Creating a developmental family – one that takes charge of building its own capacities and capabilities at every generational level – is in a very different “game” than the one played by the “preparation” family. When you observe families that are paragons of what most advisors might call “preparation,” they are actually doing this work of mutual development and growth. The leading generation is growing at least as much as the rising generation. It is a reciprocal process of intra-generational and inter-generational development. When done well this work allows the family to create an adaptive culture that is well-positioned to meet whatever future challenges it might face.
So how might the family play this new game of “Development?” Let’s turn to our friends who are looking at this in the corporate world and see what hints there are for a more tribal solution in the world of families.
Some Clues About the Deliberately Developmental Family
I will borrow heavily from the writings of Kegan and Lahey, but also modify that work a bit so that it makes more sense in the family context. Kegan and Lahey have been perhaps the clearest in articulating this trend and have delineated one model of what they have dubbed the Deliberately Developmental Organization. (Kegan & Lahey. 2016) Theirs is only one point of view, but it is useful to consider, in part because it is an early attempt to comprehensively pull various threads together. By way of background, Kegan teaches at the Harvard School of Education, is a developmental psychologist, and one of the leaders in developmental theory. Lahey is on the Harvard faculty, focused on change leadership, and is a longtime collaborator with Kegan. Kegan and Lahey suggest that there are a few key elements that exist in organizations that are focused on the growth and development of the individuals within the organization. The three legs of their stool are, in my words, Commitments (they call these Principles), Practices and Communities (which in the family context, I call Culture).
Developmental Commitment 1: Key Principles
The first developmental commitment is that these organizations operate out of key principles. There is a subtle but important distinction to be made here between “values” and “principles”. Principles can be seen as the operational expression of values. Principles, in this sense, are “negotiated values in action”. To highlight this, you and I may be committed to common principles even if we don’t share the same values. For example, I may support freedom of speech because I believe deeply in the right of self-expression for every individual. You may support it because you believe the collective well-being of the nation requires the ability to express divergent points of view. One is an individual value of self-expression and the other a collective value of multi-perspectival inclusion. We might argue until the cows come home about who is philosophically “right” at a values level. However, we can agree on a principle that will allow us both to protect freedom of speech – our core common interest – despite this underlying personal difference on the level of values.
I have seen that families that spend less time agreeing on their supposed common values (which can become a morass of ambiguity and semantics and generates weak force motivation) and more time on committing to operating principles and accountabilities they want to implement together often get quicker, deeper and more lasting results. Families that focus on common interests rather than common values tend to make more progress. Of course, in arriving at principles, conversations about values can and should be part of the discussion, but the focus in these conversations is about gaining a common understanding of principles that the community can agree to as “negotiated values in action” designed to identify and further common interests.
These negotiated operating principles create what I refer to as a “moral” fabric for the functioning of the relationships in the familial community. In my experience, families members do not truly share similar values – they are too socially and personally complex and diverse for that – but what they can do is agree to operating principles that will allow that diversity to exist in an interdependent web of committed relationships. When done well, the development of principles (and the moral fabric of relationship those principles express) actually builds resilience into the family system.
Developmental Commitment 2: People Can Change
The second commitment Kegan and Lahey point to is the belief that adults can grow. This is what makes their model “developmental.” This means that the principles in play are not just any principles, but rather principles that foster individual and collective growth. They ensure that people are sharing (within boundaries) their own personal aspirations for growth. These organizations pay a great deal of attention to “growing edges”.
To ground this, the role of the principles discussed above is not to lock behavior in place and to control it, but create a platform for learning and development. The principles above are not rules to be followed – they are not a collection of “Thou shall nots”, but rather a collection of “We shall strives.” Good principles do not exist to regulate behavior, but to open possibilities for individual and collective growth.
A weak principle would be “We will be respectful.” A better principle would be “We will continually seek to be ever more respectful of one another.” The first principle shuts down growth with a series of “gotchas”, the second invites growth through deepening dialog and practice. In the first, accountability looks like punishment. In the second it looks like learning. The first sets up a finite game of “Respect.” The second, an infinite one.
One family I worked with adopted the principle “We will seek to be more professional.” The family used this principle as a guidestar to change many things it was doing that had previously been embroiled in what they perceived to be more “unprofessional” practices. It became a call for personal and tribal maturation and as such it worked very well. When it was violated, there were often conversations about it and when there were tough decisions to be made, people would ask the question of which approach to resolution was the more “professional.” People were committed to this principle from very different values sets and even different positional interests, but their agreement on the operational principle was effective to foster both individual and collective growth in an environment that was not punitive, but developmental.
Developmental Commitment 3: Error Offers Opportunities
The third developmental commitment is a belief that weakness is strength and error is opportunity. In most organizations and families, people seek to preserve or enhance their personal standing. This results in hiding weaknesses and protecting a status quo. Collective weaknesses are shoved in closets and personal weakness are shameful and hidden. Conflict is avoided and elephants in living rooms are ignored.
In developmental organizations (and families) there is a more open embrace of failure and a willingness to attend to weakness. In practice, this looks like a simple, direct statements of observation. With practice, these statements don’t come across as emotionally “loaded” – they are simply offered and accepted as “data.” In this sense errors, weakness and mistakes are not opportunities for self-judgement or condemnation by the community, but rather practical feedback to be acknowledged, addressed and used as grist for personal and collective development.
It is not that people in these systems seek to fail – but that there is a mature recognition that all human beings, organizations, and families mess up from time to time. It is in these points of collapse that the growing edges are revealed. These are not always easy or comfortable to confront, but when messing up is normalized – seen not as personal weakness but as an opportunity for collective learning — there is the possibility of creating collective growth that can replace the cramped and miserable world of self-aggrandizement and hiding in shadows.
What emerges is a more liberated environment in which people can be themselves. They are simply more direct and much cleaner in their communication about thier thoughts, feeling, motivations, each other, the past and the future. In its purer forms, this kind of communication doesn’t hedge, prevaricate, allude or imply. It does foster a kind of non-judgment that decreases reactivity.
This kind of clarity and matter-of-factness drives coherence. In businesses, this movement towards directness and clarity tends to create exhilarating work environments. People know where they stand because they don’t have to guess and speculate. People get honest feedback that they can trust and in fact getting difficult stuff out in the open makes the social environment far more trustworthy – trying to hide crap, it turns out, destroys trust. People are not isolated in their own thinking, but connected and thinking together. As a result, these environments are hotbeds of experimentation, engagement, and innovation. People are more cleanly honest with each other. With practice a great deal of the drama simply falls away – drama has a hard time existing in the light of direct, honest communication (particularly when it is seasoned with kindness and good intent).
For families that struggle with engagement, I would ask them to deeply explore the question of whether failure is basically punished or rewarded in their family system. Is learning by failure in that family relatively playful and light (or at least embraced and open), or is it dramatic, dark and hidden. If it is the later, is it any wonder that people want to avoid, disengage and even flee? Who wants to expose themselves to that? Developmental families are actually fun families. They have a good time together and their work together has a sense of serious playfulness about it – not that it is always easy, but it is intrinsically rewarding to be so challenged and engaged. It feeds the soul by meeting the need for personal growth and development in a trustworthy environment of candor and openness.
Developmental Commitment 4: Interdependence
The final core commitment is a recognition of an interdependent bottom line. When developmental companies are confronted with the question of whether the core priority is profit or human development, these companies suggest that the premise of the question creates a false choice. These are not trade-offs to be made, rather development and profitability support one another and are flip sides of a coin. This has been shown over and over again. Corporate cultures that are resilient and adaptive radically outperform more rigid cultures. (e.g. Kotter. 1992.) Deliberate development gives rise to profitability and profitability fuels development.
It is similar in families. There is often a false choice between individuation and family unity. Too often in our independent Western cultures we focus on differentiation at the expense of interdependence. In the United States, we often buy into a false myth of the rugged individual. In fact, the most individuated people are the ones who are fully integrated into social networks to which they contribute and from which they benefit. They are well-adjusted people – not social misfits, anti-heroes and cowboys. Individuated people are not entangled, but they are deeply engaged. To pit individualism and collectivism against each other as polar opposites is a false choice that actually degrades the quality of both. Families that succeed recognize that they are all individually better off together. Participation in the family actually makes each individual a better human being because of that participation. And as each person matures, develops and grows into that better individual, the family develops, grows and adapts as a tribe that is grateful for the contributions of its individual members.
Beyond Developmental Commitments
If core beliefs are the first leg of the three-legged stool of deliberately developmental organizations, the other two legs are developmental community (or in the family’s case – family culture) and developmental practices.
Let’s take developmental culture first. I have written extensively elsewhere on the development of family culture and I will leave it to the reader to poke around my blog to get my sense of how this work can be done. There are some operating guidelines that are worth summarizing here in no particular order. First, collaboration is key to healthy family. Anyone who can meaningfully participate should be included in a meaningful way – in planning, in designing, in learning, in deciding, in implementing. Why? We support what we co-create. (And we resist what we have been excluded from.) Second, find small changes that create outsized, leveraged results – so called “keystone habits.” Third, remember that families are tribal kinship systems that function on stories, rituals, councils, and in tribal roles. Families are tribal and we forget that at our peril. Fourth, family enterprises are not tribal – they are corporate – and therefore they require muscular operating systems that stress performance, not inclusion. Fifth, the moral fabric of the family is the starting point of real growth – though you may not be able to start there right away, you will not make real progress until these question of moral purpose are meaningfully addressed. Sixth, recognize that one useful perspective is to view what families are doing through a lens of “games” they are playing; make those games explicit and then invite the family to consider how they would like to play the game differently. Seventh, family capacity building is developmental with a number of key components to that development. There are more observations, but these are a few of the more useful tools.
The Path of Practice
The final leg of the Kegan-Lahey stool is practice. The practices that they advocate are destabilization; gap closure; growth, not certainty; and focus on the interior life. It is worth spending just a bit of time on these.
In their model, companies actually promote destabilization to combat complacency. I don’t want to opine on this in a corporate environment, but in families, I don’t find that destabilization is a useful tool. Families face enough natural instability, and the problems are usually those of safety, not complacency. That said, this natural instability in developmental families is what ignites the developmental impulse. It is often these instabilities that spark the request for outside intervention. If families are coached to embrace their wobbles as opportunities to learn and grow, then the family can create a solid platform for becoming a Deliberately Developmental Family. Families don’t need to disrupt themselves, but they do need to gain the cultural capacities to metabolize disruption. Part of this is gaining a sense of safety and trust in the family system.
Kegan and Lahey also speak of gap closure – too often in social systems gaps are not recognized, acknowledged and talked about. This is a primary origin point for what makes familial environments “unsafe” and untrusted. These gaps become “elephants in the room.” We might call the gaps performative contradictions – there are gaps between what we do and say, what we feel and say, what we say informally and formally, what we know is right and how we actually behave. When directly and cleanly faced, these gaps can become fertile opportunities for personal and collective growth. Facing these gaps routinely gives rise to a culture in which it is “no big deal” to openly address them. Gaps are seen as regular occurrences in any group and addressing them is just part of the ordinary course of the way the group functions and learns together. This does not make the family unemotional – in fact, emotions are part of it. But rather than emotional reactivity, emotions are recognized as essential and normal components of family function and are talked about as openly as anything else. Addressing these kinds of gaps allows the family to be deliberately developmental. (Here is an example of where a core principle as described above might be “We seek to identify and close gaps as a normal part of our family practice.”)
In “growth, not certainty” Kegan and Lahey are adopting a principle that the family has to “go slow to go fast”. Most often issues in families provoke a kind of anxiety that calls for knee-jerk solutions. Often these decisions a flavored with a kind of finality and “certainty.” What Deliberately Developmental Families do when faced with a challenge is intentionally slow down and not make quick decisions. They spend time poking at the problem, examining it from different angles, looking at it in different time scales, hearing different points of view. They make haste slowly. Their core goal is not to “solve the problem” but to “grow as a family”. Ironically as families get good at this, they find that they actually get unstuck much more effectively, and they stop wasting time. Issues that might not have gotten resolved for years now get resolved in months. They get really good at moving through challenges rather than having every challenge replay another version of a now well-rehearsed painful, protracted series of actions and reactions. They come to see that knee-jerk solution turn out to be costly because of failures of buy-in or shoddy thinking. As families slow down, they find out quite quickly that they are actually rapidly accelerating their development. They make better decisions that stick and that build on each other in ways that previous reactive solutions don’t. This “go slow to go fast” approach can be highly effective. It takes some patience in the beginning – and it is useful to have a consultant involved in this – but it does not take long for people to see the value it creates.
Finally, Kegan and Lahey suggest that focus on the interior life is critical. Not everyone in the family is enough of an introvert to “get” this. But managing personal reactivity, developing mindfulness and emotional intelligence is critical for family leaders. In one family meeting, a rising generation member led a guided meditation on both days that set the tone for the ensuing conversations. At the end of her first session, she gleefully and playfully stage-whispered: “I can’t believe it – the Smith family actually mediated.” One normally cynical guy told her that while it was not ordinarily his cup of tea, the meditation had really moved and grounded him. This is what paying attention to interior development looks like – mindfulness, awareness, attention, responsiveness.
All of what we discussed above requires onoing personal growth and development. It is a practice. This approach to the inner game of growth is itself another infinite game – one where practice is ongoing and never ending. When this becomes inculcated in family culture it looks like “good boundaries”, emotional intelligence and maturity. People are less entangled and enmeshed and the relationships and interactions are “cleaner.” There is a kind of directness and candor, but there is also compassion, tolerance and kindness. There is a lot of empathy and presence. Conversations and decisions tend not to leave a lot of “wake” that must be dealt with later. Of course this is the ideal, but as families practice the developmental principles, they move towards self-management, boundaries, trust and openness. And drama diminishes.
This paper has argued that families that frame their work as deliberately developmental are more likely to succeed. In this schema, development replaces preparation. It is undergirded with core commitments, defined practices and the development of an increasingly resilient culture. It is not easy work to move in this direction; however, when done well, it becomes its own virtuous cycle of personal and collective growth. In the end, this is about embracing VUCA and generating an environment that promotes happiness based on wrestling with meaningful challenges in community with other family members.
Families that do this well will tell you that they face challenges and hard times, but they would also say that this is intensely rewarding and even “fun” in the sense that moving through any challenge that requires growth and development is one of the most intensely rewarding experiences we as human beings can enjoy.
Post-script: As many of you know, I will be joining Merrill Lynch in their Center for Family Wealth Dynamics and Governance. This is likely the last of my blogs (but not the last of my writing). I want to thank everyone who has taken this journey with me. I have so appreciated the kind words and warm thoughts of so many of you. I hope this as truly provided “food for thought.” I look forward to crossing paths – this is no hard goodbye, merely a grateful fare-well.
 The military saw the problem in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and began addressing adaptive leadership in the late 1970s.They have evolved a whole set of practices designed to quickly adapt in battlefield situations.
 This is what differentiates developmental stage models from typologies. Typologies are not progressive whereas developmental models are.
 This is different from “intelligence.” These cognitive mindsets are a matter of complex perspective taking- or seeing issues from multiple points of view. First seeing from your own perspective, then the other’s, then from within a rudimentary system in which you both participate, then from within complex systems, them from the social context in which the system exists, then, from very broad contexts of time and space, then from perspectives of near universal holism, and so on. (Loevenger, Cook-Grueter, O’Fallon.)
 See, e.g. The Big Five (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_trait)
 There are deeper roots in this – particularly in the embedded notion that “reality” is fabricated by the interaction between the inner world of the subject and the outer world of objects. This post-modern philosophical assumption is finding pragmatic expression in these kinds of corporate initiatives. Understanding these postmodern notions helps to provide a heuristic for why internal experience is so important in creating performance. Increasingly the world is turning to the subjective to understand performance. One of the early expressions that grabbed the popular imagination was Tim Galloway’s “The Inner Game of Tennis”
 Beyond the science of development, it also seems that this is well rooted in the science of happiness. It turns out that people are often happiest in a zone where they are challenged but not overwhelmed and where they are connected with other people doing something they believe is meaningful. This is the core of developmental organizational thinking. In this sense, developmental organizations are happier or more satisfying places to work.
Of course, there are many families that are too stuck to change, but there are many who can who believe they can’t. If I could, I would expunge the notion of “dysfunction” from this work – not because it doesn’t exist, but because it is unhelpful to look at what is going on that way. It is label that all too often thwarts further inquiry and dulls the sense of compassion which is one of our greatest tools as agents of change. I have found that every family functions in ways that allow it cope with what it is facing. It might look nuts form the outside, but from the inside it makes some sort of sense. Assuming that people are doing the best they can from within the frameworks they have created and then trying to understand how that social system is working is, in my experience, far more useful than pathologizing the situation by labeling it.
 In other places I have suggested that mission statements should be burned. I am offering the same suggestion for values statements. The point is not that these are “bad” but that they don’t work. Mission statements rarely galvanize action and values statements don’t change behavior. I am supremely interested in what actually changes family culture quickly and effectively. I am not interested in exercises unless they have a high probability of actually moving the needle. I have found that accountable operating principles do effect rapid and “sticky” change far more frequently than values statements which are often too vague, anemic and sentimental to do much good. As for the argument that principles can be developed from the values statement, I ask why not cut to the chase and backfill if necessary.
 A key issue in this development is the question of “ego.” (Here I am using the term ego not in its psychological sense but in the colloquial sense of that part of us that, in Bernadette Robert’s phrase, “throws a tantrum when we don’t get what we want.” In the end, families that are growing and developing have a healthy sense of ego and the capacity to get over the inevitable patches of egoic rug-burn fairly quickly.