Leadership, Legacy and Life

Ellen Remmer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I recently returned from my first L3 retreat and saw the middle of a sandwich.

L3 is a new organization, standing for Leadership, Legacy and Life, whose members share a commitment  to “enjoy a life of greater significance and to enrich the lives of others…to apply their respective experiences, skills and resources to optimize their impact on family, community and their world. “ www.l3.org I love the organization’s mission and

vision and was excited to join the organization and meet with like minded folks from around the world.

Most of the folks at the retreat were first generation entrepreneurs and their spouses.  Most seemed older than me and my husband (possibly total self-deception or the one benefit of having children late in life? ).  But there were enough folks my age and my stage of life that we comprised a cohort with our own point of view.

This is what was interesting.  While everybody was, by self-selection, philanthropic, the older group consistently expressed the philosophy of “I wouldn’t want to deprive my kids of the chance to earn their own money and give their own money away.”  They voiced lots of fear about fostering entitlement if you included your kids in a family philanthropy or passed on wealth outside of a family business; and lots of agreement that role modeling a productive life is the best way to transmit values and character.

And then there was a group of us who had benefited from inter-generational wealth transfer, in business and often philanthropy too.  We also believe that role modeling is the best way to transmit values and character and that “lectures have zero impact.”  And because it didn’t harm us to become co-stewards of shared family wealth - in fact it helped to strengthen our family ties and values and encouraged us to become move civically engaged - we are doing the same with our own children.

We had an impasse on this conversation.  And then during one breakout session a younger entrepreneur said, “You know, I have come to recognize that none of us is truly self-made.  We all had friends and help along the way.  I have also come to appreciate that context changes and so should I.  I wanted my kids to pay for their own college, just like I did.  But then I realized that it was going to cost them $50k/year vs. my bill of $2.5k/year.  Why would I burden my kids with that? And now I’m wondering about this notion that it would do them harm to help me invest back in community.  I didn’t have that opportunity with my parents and it could have been a really meaningful thing to do.”

Both cohorts share the goals of giving to our communities, living meaningful lives and raising a new generation of vital, contributing citizens. It’s great news that most of us think that our parents did right by us and so why not replicate their formulas?  It takes a real openness of character, a curiosity for new thinking to peek into the middle of the sandwich and think differently.