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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Peak Experiences Are 6/7 of the Way to Sainthood

by Shel Horowitz

Albert Ellis is 91 years old and no longer travels even the short distance from New York. But Ira brought in the next-best thing: Dr. Michael Broder, a close disciple of Ellis, addressed the March meeting at the Log Cabin.

Ellis is considered the second-most influential psychologist of the 20th century (by the American Psychological Association), and he still lectures at his Institute in New York every Friday. His theories are based on "how to control your emotions by selecting your attitudes and challenging your beliefs." For instance, if someone threw a glass of water at you, "Ellis would say it wasn't the act of throwing the water, it was your belief about it that would cause you to feel anger: what an idiot, what a jerk, I didn't deserve that." But if it turned out you were on fire, the act hasn't changed, but your belief about it has. "It could be reframed to “he saved my life.” So instead of feeling anger, you would probably feel gratitude. For family businesses, the most useful part of Broder's talk was his outline of seven stages of human motivation (the subject of his forthcoming book, Stage Climbing). "We all have hooks somewhere in every stage."

  1. Stage 1, Dependency: Family members in the business operating at this stage, expect only to be nurtured, not to necessarily give anything in return for their rewards. Normal for infants; problematic for adults in the family business.
  2. Stage 2, Delinquency: B Motivation is to get what you can with no regard for others, as toddlers do. "Criminals are fixated in Stage 2. In a family business, they may be there simply to steal or to deceive. They fear no real consequences except getting caught."
  3. Stage 3, Kids Learn Rules. "To The extent you're fixated in Stage 3, you become rigid, authoritarian. In prison, the inmates area at stage 2; the guards are at stage 3." Stage 3 family members who waltz into managerial positions can be quite dictatorial.
  4. Stage 4, Adolescence: "Love and approval, fitting in, focus on being something. You want to get respect, not for what you do but for who you are. If you're fixated there, chances are, you're doing this with the motivation of pleasing the family rather than developing and fulfilling your own goals. You may believe that in order to change that to any significant degree, you'll lose the love and affiliation of the family."
  5. Stage 5. Normalcy: It's about averages, not fulfillment. "80 percent of the people you pass on the highway don't like their work. Does that make you cry? The normal adult in our society does not operate out of passion. They need the money or role, they generally ‘t want to risk, or they may be burned out. That's staggering. For most people, work is simply a role. Most normal adults are good at balancing roles. In therapy, we often see people who are losing a job, going through a divorce, or some other difficult role change that triggers anxiety or depression. As long as they can balance their roles, they're fine. Normal is not necessarily to strive for; it just falls within the bell-shaped curve. For example, "If one partner wants sex daily, and the other once a month, they may have problems” but, interestingly they're both within normal range. "People who enter family businesses from stage 5 usually do it because it’s a job: perhaps secure, easy, doesn’t present conflict. Not bad, but not necessarily fulfilling. You can be operating out of one thing at work, another in a relationship, and still another as a parent."
  6. Stage 6, Fulfillment: Rising above your roles to achieve integrity. "Very few adults in our society truly live their lives that way, statistically. To the extent that you’re governed by passion, that you’d do it without the money, without any extrinsic rewards you are operating out of stage 6. To the extent that you’re operating there, you‘re in good shape." Passionate people stuck in Stage 5 will often be depressed, he warned. "At Stage 6, you don’t want to be something anymore, you want to do something. I don’t think there’s a better gift that you can give yourself than to find what brings you to stage 6."
  7. Stage 7, Sainthood: Focusing on the needs of the wider community, beyond yourself. "There are almost no pure 7s." In many family business situations, a Stage 4 or 5 faces a Stage 1 or 2, but perhaps that person is just feeling stifled. "Is there some payoff you get for keeping that person down? Most people can rise to the higher stages, but many need to be somewhere else to reach their potential."

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