shutterstock_599973236.jpgIt has been said that leadership is not about power, but responsibility.

Strong families are led by those who are willing to assume the responsibility of setting standards, reinforcing values, mentoring and making decisions. Strong leaders also recognize that everyone has an important role to play in protecting a family's heritage.

This is especially true when it comes to heritage planning, which can best be described as the art and science of protecting both your family's assets and legacy.

Heritage planning is a process that includes 12 important elements, one of which is identifying the "roles" necessary for the family to be successful.

Here's a look at why roles matter in a strong family structure--and why everyone has a role to play.

A role for everyone

In a sense, successful families are similar to successful businesses. Both are comprised of people willing to step into a specific role in order to complete specific tasks that keep the family or business humming along and headed in the right direction.

Some roles are better filled by people with specific leadership skills, vast experiences and maturity--patriarch or matriarch, CEO or president, for example.

These are the roles that are most obvious to outside observers. But in reality, everyone has a role to play.

In a family structure, the patriarch and matriarch typically make all of the major decisions; they're the family's CEO, if you will. But in a successful family, everyone plays a role in making financial decisions, even young children.

Involving young children in financial decision-making at an early age prepares them to contribute more to the family's overall health as they grow up. For example, when planning a family trip, you could present an opportunity cost scenario for children and grandchildren--if we do this, we won't do that...

Younger generations will start to understand where money comes from (no, it doesn't grow on trees and parents are not their personal ATMs). They'll also learn to understand your values (sometimes family time is more important than expensive trips). And they will understand the thought process that goes into making financial decisions.

As children and grandchildren grow, they can assume larger roles in financial decision-making as well as planning and communicating. Allowing everyone to play an authentic role helps ensure that the family will thrive during good times and withstand the bad.

The role of the family leaders

Making important financial decisions isn't the only thing family leaders do. They also encourage everyone to get involved, accept a role and take it seriously.

This involves helping family members to identify their strengths and interests--and then inspiring family members to put them to use for the betterment of the family. It involves ensuring that every member of the family has a voice in decisions and respecting that opinions might not always align with what others think. It involves fostering open and honest communication--always.

It's through this process of authentic communication, training and mentorship that family values are fleshed out, evolved and galvanized over time.

The process also allows the family leaders to identify those who will replace them--those who will someday assume the role of family leaders through the genuine transfer of leadership.

The importance of establishing roles

Most families have people assume roles without even thinking about it. Some people step up because no one else will. Others do it because they seek power. Some are born to lead.

The successful families--those committed to heritage planning--have leaders who help people find the roles they want to play.

Defined roles help families protect both their assets and their values for many generations to come.
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