For the past several months, I’ve been marveling at my 12 year old daughter, who has been passionately fighting against the XL Pipeline project here in the state of Nebraska. Winning 1stplace in last year’s State Championship Science Olympiad for Aquifer Science, she is very concerned about the pipeline’s long-lasting effects on the Ogallala Aquifer and the 2 million people and myriad of farms to which it supplies water.
Last week, she had the courage to travel with her aunt to Lincoln, Nebraska to testify at the State Department’s hearings on the pipeline and to plead with President Obama not to approve the pipeline. By far the youngest activist, and surrounded by pro-union supporters of the pipeline, she gave an impassioned speech about the environmental effects of the pipeline and how it would impact her, her children and her grandchildren.
My husband and I are not political activists or true environmentalists. But God gave us a scientist, an environmentalist, and an activist to raise and her perspective has caused us to look at the world and our roles differently. I can see that part of my role as a parent is, and always has been, to support my children in their development and often put my interests aside to ensure that my children will be better off – or at least not worse off! – in the future.
This relates to a significant challenge I see firms facing in my work. Firm leaders make important leadership, governance, and financial decisions and those deciding often are those whose time left on the job is relatively short. These leaders often choose solutions based on shorter-term benefits they personally will receive while they’re still around. The “opposition” — the young up-and-comers who often don’t have a voice — are disappointed because their leaders either don’t seem to consider the consequences of their decisions to their future successors, or worse, they don’t seem to care about those consequences. Too often, the views of the young are not solicited, or if they are, not heeded. This leads to disenchantment and cynicism on behalf of the young, divides the teams within firms and can cause a firm’s long-term viability to become less certain.
I’ve studied and written a lot on the subject of selfish interest. We all have it and we all work to protect it. It’s perfectly acceptable to want what is good for you – but not at the cost of what’s best for the greater good. For example, some firms make decisions that maximize income now, only to find that those decisions alienate those who would buy the leadership team out, so that their retirement is reduced or in jeopardy. Some choose to stick with a buy/sell or retirement plan that, when modeled, calls for revenue growth far greater than they’ve achieved in the last five years while others see the wisdom of renegotiating it, accepting less than they’d hoped, but securing new owners and a financial model that ensures the well-being of the firm in the future.
These are the tough decisions I help firm leaders grapple with each day – and they aren’t pretty and their answers are never easy. But denying the effects of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s leaders is a mistake I don’t want my clients – or my family – to make.
So, back to the XL pipeline and my activist daughter. In her testimony, she acknowledged the difficulty of the decision for President Obama by saying, “Oil and jobs are important, but they are not required to sustain life. Clean water is. Don’t sacrifice it and cause me and my generation to have to suffer the consequences in the future and join the billions of others who are struggling to find safe water.” Her testimony was picked up by many news sources because it was novel – coming from such a young person. But the young shall inherit the earth – right?
What decisions are you facing that place your best interests against the best interests of the younger generation in your firm or at home? How do you justify choosing your best solution instead of theirs or theirs instead of yours? Is there a middle ground that might be better for you both? If you have to choose a “side,” whose should it be – those closer to retirement or those coming up? I’d love to hear your thoughts!