In my last post, I spoke of Norman Paul, MD, the man who was my mentor and friend, and how important that relationship was to me.  Everyone, including those in family enterprise, needs wise elders who serve the same functions that elders provided in both ancient and modern “tribes.”

Recently, I had the pleasure to work with two brothers with very substantial wealth that originated from the sale of the family enterprise.  Between them they have 8 children and those 8 each have spouses.  There is no history of “elderhood” in this family.  The children are confused about the money and confused about their roles as inheritors of substantial wealth – wealth that will sustain them so they never have to work if they so choose.  We created a profile of the elder this family needs and a process for the two brothers and their wives to function in that role.

Here is that family’s Elder Profile:

Elders let family members know they are “there” for them.

  • Elders stay above the fray, move to a place of wisdom and then act appropriately.
  • Elders do not succumb to “chatter” in the family; they maintain their focus on the role of the elder.
  • Elders initiate in a responsible manner.
  • In every interaction, elders treat individuals with respect and don’t make the individual feel “one down” in the transaction.
  • Elders are good judges of what and how much information to use/give in any situation.
  • Elders have wisdom, and can forecast or predict needs and opportunities.
  • Elders recognize the emotional needs of family members.

Elders have the capacity to focus on what is important and not be distracted by the “chaff” or “chatter” as indicated above.  This focus becomes a manifestation of wisdom and enables others to take “the long view” on matters.  While referred to as an advisor or consultant, I am literally serving in the role of elder with many of my clients.

Every family has a legacy that they would like to preserve.  That preservation process doesn’t happen by itself.  It requires elders to tell the stories of how the legacy began, the people who nurtured that legacy to make it grow and the positive potential that exists as a result of keeping it alive.

When a family business has been owned for generations, the family has story after story about their ancestors’ efforts to maximize the value of the asset, and thus, enhance the lives of the family.

Barry Barkan, founder of the Elders’ Guild,, has this definition of an elder:

An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential, and whose life continues to have within it promise for and connection to the future  An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure, and her or his birthright to these remains intact.  Moreover, an elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.

If you are a “person of a certain age,” then perhaps you are in a position to be an elder in your “tribe.”  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you still growing?
  • Are you still learning or has that stopped for you?
  • Are you oriented toward the future and the positive possibilities that it offers?
  • Are you actively pursuing happiness, joy and pleasure?
  • Are you making new friends as those from the past disappear?
  • Are you sharing your wisdom with others?
  • What is your legacy for future generations?

If you can affirmatively answer all of these questions, then it is quite likely you are a sought-after mentor, a wise elder and a “juicy” person that younger people seek out for conversation.  If these do not apply to you, then you have a lot to think about, for these elderhood qualities are the same profile of the person who ages with style, grace and power.  It is your call…

In future posts, I will discuss the mentor relationship in family enterprise.

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