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Ask Dave

Changing Hats

Constance is single, and her brother has agreed to be her accountability partner. What are some rules people have with their accountability partners? Dave gives Constance his guidelines.

QUESTION: Constance on Facebook is single, and her brother has agreed to be her accountability partner. What are some rules people have with their accountability partners? Dave gives Constance his guidelines.

ANSWER: Most accountability partners with someone in any area of life have a relationship with that person in addition to being the accountability partner. Very few people pick out a stranger that they have no other relationship with. I like to tell people to just change their hat.

If I’m going to be the accountability partner for my 20-year-old son in college on an issue, then I have to remind him right now I’m going to take off my dad hat, and I’m going to put on my good-friend-who-you-trust-and-checks-on-you-for-accountability hat. So I’m putting on my accountability-partner hat—not my dad hat. That’s the way this conversation’s going to go.

In your case, it might sound like this. Your brother needs to stop a second and not be your brother, meaning he forgets about you tickled him until he peed his pants or whatever. He has to take off that hat, and then he has to put on the other hat that says, “Hey, I’ve been coordinating this class. I’ve watched a lot of people do their budgets. We’ve been successfully living with our budget. I’m your quasi-financial counselor accountability.” He has to put that hat on, which would involve a whole lot less emotion and a lot less baggage to talk to you about this. And you have to take off your “I’m the sister, and I remember the time he ripped the head off my Barbie doll” hat. Take that hat off, and you’ve got to put on the hat of “I’m the student, and I’ve submitted myself to someone who is more of an expert on this budgeting stuff than I am, so I’m looking for this person’s help.” You just change the hats.

What happens in family businesses or in situations like this is people forget to change hats. It’s not that you ever forget that he’s your brother, but you’re looking at this advice through a lens that doesn’t involve the baggage—good or bad. If I were giving you advice on your budget and I said something that sounded weird, you would raise your hand and go, “Foul! Throw a flag out. That sounds weird. Explain to me why you’re saying that.” But you would do that, and I wouldn’t get my feelings hurt because you didn’t trust me because in the third grade I tore up your homework. None of that comes up. You need to change the structure of the relationship for this purpose only, and then later on you can put on the brother hat and the sister hat and throw Frisbees in the backyard or cook Thanksgiving dinner together or whatever. You just change that back and forth.

That’s how, for instance, I work so smoothly with my son-in-law, who runs our real estate, or one of my daughters, who runs our family foundation, or Rachel Cruze, our other daughter who is Dave Ramsey to the youth of America, taking out our youth message all across America—high school and college students. When I’m talking to Rachel here at the office about something she did on stage or needs to do on stage, it’s as her boss—as a seasoned, nationally known speaker who’s been on stage in front of 10,000 people multiple times. I’m not 24 years old and brand-freaking-new at this. I’m talking to her from that book of experience. I don’t have on my daddy hat. She needs to react in the same way she would react to anyone she works for. You wouldn’t roll your eyes and sigh loudly if your boss told you to do something, but you might if your dad told you to do something. You just change hats there a little bit.

When we’re at work, my kids don’t even call me Dad. They call me Dave. When you’re in a meeting with a bunch of other executives and one of the people says, “Dad,” you just threw a trump card in the middle of the table. You changed the dynamic of the meeting. We’re real cognizant about that, and that’ll help you with relationship rules and boundary rules.

He shouldn’t go anywhere across a boundary that a financial counselor wouldn’t go, and you shouldn’t let him—unless he changes his hat and says, “As your brother, I’ve got to tell you I think you’re freaking nuts.”