Submitted by Northern Trust Corporation
Originally published in Winter 2023 Elevating Women Magazine
Leading By Experience
Meet Nike Anani, the woman helping families bridge the generation gap.
As a family member of Millennials or Gen Zers, you may at times find yourself worried about whether or not they are prepared to manage their financial futures.
While research shows younger generations are engaged in their wealth, many lack the tools to invest effectively. In fact, recent surveys reveal only one in four Gen Zers understand the stock market1, and only 37% of Millennials feel knowledgeable about investing at all2.
While every family has its own dynamics and should not be stereotyped, generational divides (communication styles, values, perspectives) often make it difficult for older family members to impart knowledge and empower their younger loved ones to lead financially successful lives. This challenge may be further complicated for children of wealthy families, as the success of the family legacy is often largely dependent on the older generation’s ability to equip their children to manage the many complexities of wealth.
Nike Anani knows firsthand about the importance of empowering the next generation. As the daughter of an entrepreneur, her personal experience as a Millennial successor has provided her with a unique perspective on the challenges rising generations often experience as they step into wealth ownership. Through her work as an award-winning family business consultant, speaker and author, Nike has dedicated her career towards helping families bridge the gap between generations.
Drawing from her personal experiences, Nike expounds on four ways families can work together to empower the rising generations to own their wealth.
Have Dialogues; Not Monologues
Rising gens appreciate their parents’ desire to impart wisdom and experience onto them. However, when it comes to communicating their insights, the older gen often thinks they’re doing so effectively, but from a rising gen’s perspective they’re often not. As a next gen, we want to be spoken with, not at. We want to be part of a two-way dialogue where we have the space to ask questions, gain additional insights and offer feedback. Ultimately, this can help us better understand the older generation’s perspective, including the ‘why’ behind some of their ideals and decisions. Too often, the parental dynamic becomes the default, preventing everyone from being heard. With Millennials and Gen Zers this is especially important. We want to have a voice in the matter, and most importantly, feel confident that prior generations care about what we are saying.
The book “The Quest For Legitimacy” by Jamie Weiner offers some great insights on how to encourage the younger generation to proactively communicate, explaining how family leaders are like giants in the eyes of the rising gens, making them difficult to approach. It’s helpful as the older generation to openly share your struggles, your mistakes, your failures, your anxieties, so that you can be humanized. This can help the rising gen feel more comfortable coming to you and saying, ‘I really messed up, I made this mistake.’ And in turn this gives you the opportunity to say, ‘I have been there before. I understand,’ and ‘this is what we can we learn from this and move forward.’ Sharing struggles can be challenging for those who want to protect their family from the issues and trials of life and keep them in a perfect cocoon. Parents do the rising gen a disservice when doing this because it’s really through the trials, the failures and the mistakes, that the next gen has an opportunity to learn and develop a growth mindset and grit.
Respect Generational Differences
It’s important for family members of all ages to understand and respect that different generations hold different belief systems. Each grew up with different experiences and factors that helped form their perspective. In my experience, many of my elders started their careers in environments that encouraged (and at times demanded) them to work around-the-clock. Today, they proudly describe themselves as ‘workaholics’ and judge younger generations who desire work-life balance. To me and my peers, it’s more about working smarter, not harder. It’s not that we want to work less, or lack appreciation for the dedication it takes to succeed — we just want to be more strategic about how we use our time in order to leave room for our personal lives. Many of us have watched the older generation sacrifice their mental and emotional well-being in the dogged and constant pursuit of success. As witness to this, we often do not want the same for ourselves. We believe work-life balance is a component of success — not something that must be sacrificed in its pursuit.
For example, I’m of a strong view — which is in sharp contrast of my father’s — that I don’t necessarily need to be in the field every day to add value. I can also be impactful from the sidelines as a strategic advisor, board member, serving on a committee, chairing the family council, and still significantly add value. I will then still have the time (and energy) to devote to my personal life. Because ultimately, I don’t want to feel obligated to our family business; I want to feel a sense of gratitude toward the opportunity of being integral to it.
Rather than allowing generational differences to polarize conversations, avoid judgement and respect that each generation has a unique perspective that’s been derived from their life experiences. Doing so will help multi-generational families find common ground.
Many rising gens are intimidated by their parents’ success. Some struggle with what is commonly known as imposter syndrome, asking themselves ‘Did I earn this or am I here because of my last name?’ Overcoming this struggle requires an inner journey of getting to know oneself and developing deep conviction around what one brings to the table. It is important for older generations to have empathy for the psycho- emotional dimensions of the successor growing up around a prominent, storied, successful individual.
Personally, I found that I had to develop inner strength to challenge my dad, who was a prominent figure in both our community and industry. In my culture, challenging older figures is not appreciated. The ‘daddy-daughter’ dynamic caused me to default to doing as I was told and I often felt disempowered. My father’s leadership style and strengths differed from mine: for instance he was very deeply involved in every detail of the business and tended to micromanage operations. He knew everyone from the COO to the custodian. I wanted to lead differently: I didn’t have to be my dad 2.0 to be effective. To become confident in my approach, I had to get very clear about the value I was bringing to the table given my professional experiences and character strengths. I had to be at peace with the fact that I could embrace work-life balance and still make an impact on the business by creating a collaborative environment, empowering team members and being more strategic. This enabled us to move away from the ‘daddy-daughter’ dynamic and to a ‘partner-partner’ relationship.
As the daughter of a business owner, it was also difficult for me to feel as if I earned the title of a successor leader. Particularly when all the relationships I’ve inherited, all the boards I’ve served on, all the companies we’ve invested in, all the suppliers, the customers — they still see me as the daughter. There was one particular board that I found extremely intimidating. I was the only woman, and the youngest by at least 20 years. But the Chair from time to time would stop and say, ‘Nike, do you have something to contribute here?’ ‘Nike, I’d love to hear what you have to say.’ That left a big impression on me and encouraged me to find my voice. Having empathy for the next gen’s struggle to find their identity and taking steps to reduce self-doubt can build their confidence in their ability to lead.
The next generation often plays an internal tug of war between the ‘me’ and the ‘we.’ While the desire to see your children follow in your footsteps is understandable, consider your children’s struggle with finding their place in the world. Recent data suggests that many rising gens often want to pursue a different path than their parents, particularly when a family business is involved. Some of us might want to utilize the family’s platform or resources differently — whether it be financial, social, political, or intellectual — to accomplish our dreams and build a new (and often very different) legacy.
Encouraging a child’s individual gifts and talents, and being flexible when it comes to how they want to be involved in the family enterprise (if at all) isn’t always easy. But, it is important to remember that ultimately the goal in any family legacy is engagement from the next gen — whether they follow your lead or forge a new path entirely. Being open-minded and supportive of individual aspirations can help families reach that goal.
I think about the family dynamic like a sports team. We all play our different roles: some will be the attacker, some will be the defender, some will be on the bench waiting to be subbed in, some will be the referee — but we are all collectively working toward a common purpose. Some children may be fully involved and are active managers of the business, while some have their own pursuits and are only owners. All generations should appreciate the different roles, responsibilities and skillsets that are brought to the table.
Editor’s Note: I am thrilled to share that Nike Anani will be officially joining The Northern Trust Institute this February. I am confident her unique perspective and expertise will be invaluable in amplifying the voice of rising generations and empowering them to become successful stewards of family wealth.
1. Generation Z: Stepping Into Financial Independence (investopedia.com)
2. The Affluent Millennial Investing Survey (investopedia.com)
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