Who Owns Your Financial Success?

End of the line

My mistake not to take last turn.

A transformational leader can utter the words “I messed up” even once seated in the c-suite. Accepting responsiblity is challenging for most, but it is particularly so for those in leadership roles. 

While working as an organizational consultant in graduate school, I saw this play out in a way that was less than ideal. My colleague and I had prepared a presentation for a prospective client: we included numbers, statistics, data – here’s how our product can impact your business. The client was in the transportation industry and, we knew they were statistically savvy given that their business ran on numbers: fuel use, on time performance, cost per pound, etc.

However, our leader didn’t think so…and got his way. No numbers were to be shared.

After giving a presentation that included a graph with a big line increasing from left to right (and…again…no numbers), the president of the transportation company thought what we were proposing (please use our psychological tests with your job applicants) was outrageous given that he wasn’t provided a single bit of numerical evidence that what we did “worked.” His language was numbers and our boss chose not to speak it. This company did not choose to work with us. Our leader did not mention his original decision to leave out numbers: clearly something else was responsible…

What would have happened if he had owned this mistake? How would the client have reacted, and how might that have impacted both of our businesses? Could we have recovered the account? And, how might I have felt about him as a leader?

Throughout the research my father collected that ultimately led up to The Millionaire Next Door among his other books, and today when we study the life experiences of Americans that span the economic strata, having ownership of financial success is a key component of one’s potential to build wealth. We’ve found this regardless of one’s age income, or how much one has received in gifts/inheritance. Responsibility means understanding that our behaviors have consequences. It means understanding the things we can control (our own spending habits, investing behaviors), what we cannot control (markets, geopolitical changes), and being reasonable about how each impacts our household’s bottom line. 

In organizations, taking responsibility for outcomes is a tricky pill to swallow in the c-suite. But, for those who want to be transformational leaders, it is imperative. Bringing this back to personal finance and leadership in one’s household, a realistic view of how we impact our economic outcomes can not only help to change our behaviors but can also instill trust in those who we lead through life. If we can accept that the behaviors we make on a daily basis can impact our financial success, from spending to saving to investing to planning, then we might feel more compelled to make changes. However, if our financial success is “owned” by someone or something else, then why would we ever change to improve it?

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