Building lasting family legacies: The role of values and social fitness

True family legacy transcends achievements and assets; it's about relationships, collective knowledge and creating a culture to guide those who follow. Simple Expert, Alex Kirby breaks down social fitness, the importance of values and advises how family offices can integrate these services.
family office social fitness

What you need to know

  • True family legacy focuses on relationships, collective knowledge, and creating a culture based on values and principles rather than rules.
  • Social fitness emphasises building meaningful connections, especially within a family. Integrating values into family life fosters mutual understanding and strengthens family bonds.
  • Multi-family offices are shifting towards a more well-being-focused approach to support their clients. Adopting proactive strategies in family governance leads to stronger bonds and better preparedness for discussing and working through complex family issues.
Governance Updated on January 21, 2024

The term ‘Social Fitness’ draws inspiration from the Harvard Study of Adult Development that began in 1938. The groundbreaking research shared in ‘The Good Life,’ distilled a vital truth: “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.” This simple yet profound principle should form the cornerstone of family governance, focusing on principles and culture instead of rules.

Investing in social fitness

Social fitness is about proactive relationship-building within the family and with people important to us. However, modern life, with its myriad distractions and a notable decline in face-to-face interactions, as evidenced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, poses significant challenges to this endeavour. The survey’s findings indicate a worrying decrease in socialising and communicating since 2019, highlighting the need for a concerted effort to counter this epidemic of disconnection and loneliness.

The essence of social fitness lies in building meaningful connections by being proactive about outreach and periodically taking inventory of the quality and health of our relationships.. It’s never too late to start – relationships, like muscles, grow stronger with exercise. For instance, consider the case of a couple with five adult children and 9 grandchildren, who replaced their stressful holiday gatherings with a stress-free, inclusive family week every August. By renting a big house in a different location each year, they created a relaxed, fun environment for family bonding, emphasising the value of presence. After all, we’re supposed to enjoy our time together.

While technology offers incredible ways to stay connected, the true essence of social fitness often gets lost in the digital world. Families adept at social fitness understand the importance of setting aside digital devices to nurture real-life connections that can only happen when all parties are present, meaning not distracted. Practices like storing (or locking away) phones during family time can significantly enhance quality interactions, provided they stem from personal choice rather than enforced rules.

Legacy of values

Values, typically three to five words, provide a roadmap for what’s important to an individual, family, or organisation. These values are not just a list of good words but a prioritised representation of what matters most, even when prioritising one thing over another isn’t easy. It’s about understanding your values and those of the groups you’re a part of. While everyone in a group may not share identical values, the ability to openly discuss is instrumental in fostering mutual understanding.

Integrating values into family life starts at the individual or household level. It’s about moving from the conceptual to the real. By first identifying personal values, it becomes easier to define them for a larger family or organisation. Clients can store their values in family software, but they can also be displayed in kitchens, discussed at family retreats, used to support New Year’s Resolutions, or even printed on stickers. The key is to keep them visible and central to daily life; values should not be hidden.

Discussing values can significantly ease intergenerational conversations within families. Unlike discussions centred around money or property, values focus on core beliefs and principles. Many clients express a wish that their parents had shared their values with them, highlighting a missed opportunity to strengthen family bonds and understanding between parents and children. The power of well-defined values is evident in companies like Patagonia or Costco, which have successfully integrated their values into their corporate identity. Imagine the impact on family legacies if they paid similar attention to values. Again, this doesn’t mean that every employee of Patagonia has values identical to those of the company, but it means that it respects those values.

The primary challenge lies in the commitment to defining and living by these values. While everyone likes the idea of values, the actual work of determining and adhering to them is often overlooked and many times omitted by family consultants. Starting with just one value and dedicating time to understanding and integrating it can set the foundation for a robust value system.

Proactive family office strategies

The role of family offices is evolving beyond traditional estate, trust, and financial planning. Vision, encompassing purpose, values, and shared goals, is becoming a foundational practice akin to a comprehensive needs assessment. More family offices are seeking partnerships in governance and dynamics as a means to offer deeper support to their clients, making all aspects of planning more cohesive and meaningful. Using a governance partner is no different than bringing in a tax or estate expert.  Family needs are growing more complex and rarely can a firm be fluent in every area of support.

Adopting proactive strategies in family governance leads to less regret, stronger relationships and culture, more effective governance, and the ability to tackle tough issues. Just as regular, incremental improvements in physical fitness yield long-term health benefits, small but consistent investments in relationships and values can significantly strengthen family bonds and governance.

For family offices looking to integrate these strategies, authenticity is key. If the commitment to values and social fitness isn’t genuine, the effort will fall flat. This white paper, which includes a list of beneficial values for families, is an excellent starting point. Family offices unsure about facilitating these changes can turn to trusted service providers for guidance, leveraging experienced family coaches and software for a comprehensive solution.

In conclusion, the path to building lasting family legacies lies in prioritising relationships and values. By investing in social fitness and defining clear family values at multiple levels, families can not only enhance their current dynamics but also lay a solid foundation for future generations.

About TFM
Total Family Management (TFM) offers a turn-key family office solution for governance and dynamics, supporting clients beyond the financial balance sheet. TFM’s coaches and proprietary software help individuals, households, and families find alignment, build trust, and improve communication.

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About the Authors

Alex Kirby

Alex Kirby

Governance & Succession Planning

Alex Kirby is the founder and CEO of Total Family Management (TFM). A visionary leader based in the Washington DC-Baltimore area, he established TFM in 2021, driven by the belief that family is central to everyone's life.

Connect with Alex Kirby