Money Addiction

In this blog, I like to offer practical ideas for coaches, mixed with challenges to experiment with thinking differently. Come to think of it, that’s what I do with my coaching clients as well. Today I’m focused on challenging some of our thinking about money.

Let me be clear. I like money. I like having enough money socked away to be confident that my wife and I will be comfortable now and later. It is calming. While we don’t have lavish tastes, we enjoy an upper middle-class lifestyle.

Further, money does a lot of good in the world. It provides safety. It provides access to good healthcare, for example, and not just by allowing people to pay for it. It allows hospitals to be able to stay in business, medical schools to be built and function, roads to be built so that we can get to hospitals, cars to be available to get us there, and so forth. And money allows us to do research so that we are not stuck in yesterday’s knowledge. Money is good.

It is the love of or addiction to money that is problematic.

How much money is too much, indicative of addiction? It is not for you or me to say how much money is enough for someone. To draw a comparison, it doesn’t work to set an arbitrary limit on how much alcohol is too much. It is different for different people. A more useful criteria is how alcohol impacts one’s health and behavior. When alcohol leads to bad health or bad behavior, it is likely a sign of addiction. (Otherwise, why would someone keep doing something that leads to bad results?) In the same way, we can define money addiction by how money impacts an individual’s or an organization’s health and behavior.

Consider these examples:

  • When a social media company knowingly, in the name of profit, engages in behavior that actively encourages thirteen- year-olds to suicide, that is money addiction.
  • When insurance companies sell products such as Medicare Advantage policies that don’t deliver on their promises and take advantage of people too unsophisticated to see through the marketing hype, that is money addiction.
  • When healthcare becomes more about profit than patient care, that is money addiction. (Currently, the least powerful person in the US healthcare system is the patient.)
  • When companies make obscene profits, on the backs of everyone else, justified by saying, “We’re responsible to our shareholders,” which of course includes top executives, that is money addiction. Shareholders do need to be taken care of. But so do our communities.

Each of us has two sets of responsibilities. On the one hand, we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. Otherwise, someone else is likely to have to step in to do it because we have been irresponsible.

But we also have a responsibility to each other, to be responsible to our families, work teams, organizations, communities, countries, and the human race. Addiction of all forms impairs our ability to take care of this set of responsibilities. When our love of money actively harms others, addiction may be at play.

Fundamentally, then, money addiction can be recognized when the pursuit of money overtakes our moral responsibilities to others.

What has this got to do with coaching? You have, or are going to have, clients who are money addicted, and/or whose employing organizations are money addicted. How will you respond? Your client and the organization are likely to be in denial. Addicts usually are.

As coaches, we have a responsibility to stand outside the client organization’s culture to avoid being blinded by it. Only then can we help our clients wrestle with these difficult issues. When we do, when we challenge thinking and challenge assumptions, we serve our clients, our client’s employer, and society.

A recent report (2023 Edelman Trust Barometer) showed that, in the US, and internationally, business is trusted more than government, the media, and NGOs. Society needs trustable leaders. When a society loses trust in leadership, toxic polarization follows. Everybody loses. War is the ultimate expression of the absence of trust.

Many of you coach business leaders. While you can’t impose your moral values on your clients, you can ask them questions and make observations that help them struggle with balancing self-interest with other-interest. Is it risky? Yes. True coaching is inherently risky. But you are in a position to encourage the companies you coach to become good corporate citizens. Turns out, that’s good for everybody.

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