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Mastering Generational Rivalry

September 21, 2015, 1

Two farmers standing by equipment.LegacyConnection

Kevin Spafford, CFP®

By the sound of his voice, he was sincerely stressed, to the end of his rope, as parents often declare. In trying to explain the situation, he began with phrases like ‘difference of opinion,’ ‘personality conflict’ and ‘lack of respect.’ Those terms quickly gave way to ‘intolerant,’ ‘insubordinate’ and ‘defiant.’ But, from my point of view and in working with this family, it was simply a case of generational rivalry. Not unlike sibling rivalry, contention across the generations is real and, left unchecked, it may destroy the business and divide the family.

For this family, it was the challenge of transitioning from the parent/child relationship to partners that had gone awry. You see, it doesn’t matter who‘s sharing their story or where they fit on the family tree, there will always be a variety of opinions, but that’s not necessarily defiance. Each generation may attempt to solve a problem differently, but that’s not insubordination. A respective generation may object to the actions of the other, but that’s not intolerance. Differences are good; it’s how we handle those differences that matters.

Generational rivalry is a big challenge in the succession planning process and in the transition from one generation to the next. Learning to function as partners rather than parent/child is difficult at best. It takes practice and a concerted effort to overcome a lifetime of natural and learned behaviors. It is challenging, if not impossible, for a parent and a child to change behaviors and overcome cultural norms around respect and authority. But, that’s exactly what we must do to achieve a successful outcome and grow the business forward.


Like everything else in farming, multigenerational success is the result of planting the right seeds, nurturing an appreciation for farming and then guiding the next generation through a defined transition process. Your plan must contain provisions for the ownership transfer, leadership development, financial security and estate taxes. Beyond that, everything else is a measure of leadership. It all depends on the capabilities of people involved in the process. This self-assessment can help you gauge where you stand. (eLegacyConnect tool available for public access - with no login required - through October 22, 2015.)  

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Note: We also invite you to follow Legacy by Design's company page on LinkedIn, highlighting a new succession-related topic each month.

Have questions specific to your family?  We’re always happy to schedule a complimentary phone consultation to discuss your family’s succession objectives, review potential next steps, and determine how we can help.

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