Wealth Shift: The Decline of Ethics in America
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Action Plan Item #2 – Commit Your Legacy To Paper And Then Follow Through With It

When I say “commit your legacy to paper”, I don’t mean for you to run to your corporate handbook and start revising that Mission Statement you drafted years ago and haven’t looked at since. Most companies’ Mission Statements are a lot like their Code of Ethics – neither one is an accurate reflection of the company’s true beliefs. They are merely self-aggrandizing press releases meant to lull customers and shareholders into a sense of well-being while the company goes off in an entirely different direction.

When I say “commit your legacy to paper”, I am talking about a document that nobody but you will ever see. I am talking about a very personal contract between you and the person you would like to be remembered for being.

Make a list of all the people who you spend time with. Add to that list the names of people you wish you had time to know better. Try to include on this list not only people you wish to be inspired by, but also people you wish to inspire. Try to think outside the box. Cross boundaries and rank.

Once you have your list, write down your legacy goals for each of these people. Forge on paper your new code of ethics, and then, once you have done that, develop an action plan for your ethical involvement with these people for the rest of your life. Your can not allow your ethics, and goals, and action plans to be compartmentalized. They will cross all kinds of boundaries – work and personal, social strata and age groups. And the actions you take to be who you most want to be will be like pebbles in the water rippling on and on and on….

Add to the list as people come into your life and subtract from the list anyone who fails with the passage of time to “get it” or “fit”. I guarantee you will be adding far more people than you will be subtracting, because once a person has someone like you in their life, he or she would be a fool and let that friendship go. And in our new world we aren’t going to waste our precious time on fools. If they are uninspiring and incapable of being inspired then you must let them go. If they are willing to let you subtract them, then they are either not ready for, or not capable of, inspiration -so don’t waste your time! Move on to someone more worthy.

Someone who does not make the list can’t be in your life. The rule is that you can only surround yourself with people who you want to either inspire or be inspired by. This will result in significant change in your life as you jettison hostile, unproductive relationships. You may have to fire someone who works for you. You may have to leave a job you already quit in your heart years ago but stayed to warm a chair. Step up to the plate and make the change for yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to make it for you.

This is hard to do, I know. Change is hard. Change is scary. Whenever I get bogged down in life, whenever I feel paralyzed and the willingness to stay paralyzed begins to creep over me, I remember this quote by the infamous and insanely free Henry Miller:

“The aim of life is to live. And to live means to be aware. Joyously, drunkenly, serenely divinely aware.”

Are you aware? Are you joyously aware? If not, why not? Are you, like the Princeton divinity school students, too busy? Are you “stuck” in relationships that don’t work? Are you too afraid of change to change?

I have to acknowledge to you that my personal life philosophies are colored by my losses of three people who meant the world to me, each of whom died too soon. I am all too aware that none of us have as much time as we think we have. I believe firmly in my heart that none of us want to die too soon, before we’ve done all the things we want to do.

But don’t we all die too soon? Don’t we all want to go out with a bang and not with a whimper? (Faulker’s words, but I wish they were mine,) I think this is why we busy up our lives so much. We want to cram everything in before it’s too late. And in the process we miss so much.

One of the things my family loved to do when I was growing up was to scuba dive. An active little squirt, I would chase all over that reef trying to see everything I could possibly see before my air ran out. Consequently, I breathed harder than everybody else and my air ran out sooner. Later on, no longer a child and with children of my own, my family and I went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This time, older and wiser, I simply allowed myself to float over the shallow reef. I stayed as still as possible on the surface, waiting and watching for the reef to reveal itself to me.

What an experience! Slowly, slowly the truth of the reef appeared. Fish that had camouflaged themselves or hidden deep in the coral crevasses came out of their hiding. Giant clams with lips striped with black and yellow and pink polka-dots contrasted brightly against the small incandescent blue fish flecked with the tiniest of stars. watched sea anemones poke their tentacles in and out, and the way the clown fish conducted their symbiotic relationship with them. And I realized that this was a visual metaphor for life. The faster we go, the less we see.

We can’t have inspired and inspiring relationships unless we are willing to make “reef” time for the people in our lives. Many executives I know interact with a whole lot of people every day. They are on a tight schedule. They have a “give it to me quick, I’m in a hurry” mentality. They are so smart and process information so quickly, that there is hardly any point in speaking to them at all. Five words into a concept, they already have it and you are a bore. They look at everything in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version sort of way that is very intimidating to their subordinates.

For this reason, executive assistants are indispensable to the executives they serve. They gather up messages and informational tidbits and condense it all appropriately. They screen calls and limit contact. They are the true power in an organization because they are the ones who decide who gets an executive’s face time, and when. “How long do you think you will need? He can give you an hour four days from now.” Scribble, scribble.

Executives also like to kill several birds with one stone. That’s why meetings are so great. They get to chase all over the reef in the sixty minutes before their tank runs out. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever feels like they have gotten enough “reef” time with the boss.

I used to get “reef” time with my dad on the weekends when we would go to the lake. My Super Type-A Personality father liked taking a break from work by working around the lake house instead. If he sat down in a chaise or at the table for ten minutes it was a major household event. So I invented the role of “Supergirl Assistant” for myself. Build a dock? No problem. Dig trenches and install a sprinkler system? You got it. Ride into town to buy a pump? Now you’re talking.

Instead of parking myself in front of the TV and bitching that my dad was “never there for me”, I followed my father around like a Bassett hound and let him mentor me on the fly. In the days before cell phones, the car was the second greatest place in the world for mentoring (out flying the hull on the Hobie Cat being the first). In the car I always knew where we were going and how much undivided attention (UDA) I was going to get on the way. By simply being willing to follow him around, I racked up hours and hours of UDA with the biggest shot I knew.

There is a character in the video game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He is The Adoring Fan. You get him by becoming the Grand Champion in the arena. He is funny because of his bright-orange double-scoop swirl of Dairy Queen hair, and because of all the deprecating things he says like, “By Azura, by Azura -I can’t believe it’s you! The Grand Champion! Standing here! Next to me!” Well, I was my father’s Adoring Fan. Everywhere he went, I followed. I learned fast and early to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. I learned how to read his body language and the tone in his voice -the slight hardening of the eyes and the low, well-modulated voice that told me that somebody, somewhere, was just about to get it. I knew his receptive look, too. And his receptive sigh. I knew these would be the moments of greatest mentorship, and I lived for them.

I used to be able to do this when I first started out in the workplace, but it has gotten a lot harder in the past ten years. There is no longer such a thing as transition time in a car. Executives rush from one conversation to the next, from talking to someone face to face to talking to someone on the cell phone. Oftentimes, while they are talking they are also doing something else. They might be reading or returning e-mails, glancing over press releases, thinking about some problem they are trying to solve, or an interaction they have coming up at some near point in the future. There is little, if any, UDA anymore, and consequently, very little “reef” time.

In order to inspire and be inspired, you have to make yourself available for “reef” time. You have to be willing to allocate enough time to patiently wait and see the truth that is waiting, perhaps even cringing, to reveal itself to you. Do you think it is easy for someone to know you deeply and feel comfortable being completely honest with you when they rarely see you alone? Do you think it’s possible for them to be completely and utterly unguarded when the time allotted to them is so short, the concepts discussed so abbreviated, and your mind is elsewhere anyway? It is no wonder that, despite all the talking they do, most executives operate with a communication deficit.

If you are an executive, I have a question for you: “How can you possibly run a company with a communication deficit? How can you have a decent family life?”

There is a difference between “being busy” and “busy work”. The difference is in the time you allocate. If you are just running around barking orders and the orders are the wrong orders because you are ill-informed, you are not busy. You are merely filling your days with ineffectual busy work.

Mentorship is a full-on, brain-on, barrier-crossing enterprise. It is not selective in what it teaches. The only limitation on mentorship is the mental capacity of the person being mentored, and you should never try to pre-judge that. You should never assume it doesn’t matter whether someone knows a particular thing or not. You should never try to pre-judge what information will be relevant to another person and what information will not. You can’t just assume that they know what you know.

I’ll give you an example. In 1991, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, my husband, Bob, went to Russia. Tired from the flight and wanting nothing more than to get to his hotel, Bob hailed a cab at the airport. He hopped in and away they went, speeding off into the night, running red lights and ignoring speed limits with abandon. Terrified by a close call with another vehicle behaving in the same manner, Bob screamed at the driver to stop.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” he said.

“What do you mean?” replied the driver.

“Didn’t you see that red light back there?” Bob asked, gesturing frantically.

“Red light? Oh, sure.”

“Then why didn’t you stop?”

“Oh. Don’t you know? We’re a democracy now!”

You see? You can’t go around assuming that people know the rules. People can’t possibly play the game well unless you teach them the rules. You may think a particular game (like the concept of Democracy) is intuitive, but it’s not. What is intuitive to you is, quite often, brain surgery for someone else.

In our world today, we have put the most dangerous kinds of weapons in the hands of the common man but have not taught him how to use them or monitored his usage. Debt and derivatives have turned out to be loaded guns in the hands of children. While we would never have handed a small child a gun and told him to go play with it, we were perfectly comfortable with handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars of credit to modest-income people who have never been taught money management skills and then telling them to go away and spend it.

We have two choices. The first is that we can load up our country with a ton of rules and turn it into a police state. Every time someone gets the least bit out of line we can put a new rule in place. We can put down rules to stop Wealth Shift. We can put down rules to qualify borrowers and tighten credit to the point where nobody can get a loan who doesn’t already have plenty of liquid assets to cover it. We can illegalize the use of derivatives. We can implement government-sponsored universal health care plans and all sorts of other kinds of socialistic programs to take care of this country’s infantile people who can’t seem to take care of themselves.

Or we can teach. And if we decide to teach, we cannot abdicate the responsibility to people who are less qualified than ourselves. The place to teach important financial lessons is in the workplace and in the home, not the school or the courts.

You may not want to take the responsibility for teaching someone else good financial sense. You might prefer to leave them to their own devices – to sink or swim as they may. But first consider this: people who are sinking rarely make effective workers. What they make are desperate workers. Distracted workers. Wealth Shifting workers. One way or another, as we have already discussed, these people’s problems are going to splash over onto you, too. So why not be proactive, instead?

Let’s say your company is headquartered in California. Do you know how many of your workers have mortgages in default because of interest rates that are too high for them to handle? Do you know whether these people are now chewing through their credit cards in advance of declaring personal bankruptcy? Do you know how many of them are stuck in the paradox of not being able to afford to drive to work every day but also not being able to afford to stay home? Do you know how many of them are letting their work slide because they are too emotionally distraught to concentrate?

Do you care? Are you afraid to care? Are you more concerned with keeping the lid on this particular can of worms than you are with lending your people a hand? Are you afraid that if you ask these important questions your workers will expect you to pay their debts for them? If you give them help, are you afraid they are going to sue you for it?

Once again, we think we are doing the smart thing by letting sleeping dogs lie. But these people are not sleeping dogs. They are human beings and they are in crisis. They need your help. They need your mentorship. Don’t believe me? Then here are some alarming statistics you need to be aware of:

1) The bottom 20% of wage earners spend only 2.4% of their income on insurance and pension contributions.

2) The personal savings rate in America has been 1% or less since 2001. In 2005 it dropped to a negative .04% and in 2006 it fell further to a negative 1%. There have been only four years in history that the savings rate has fallen into negative territory. The other two were 1932 and 1933, during the Great Depression.

Our people are insolvent and we don’t want to see it! Why? Do you really think some external credit counseling agency is capable of giving your people better advice than you can? If so, which credit counseling company would that be? The one who told your employee to max out the equity in his home to pay off his credit cards? Was that good advice, or merely the advice the debt counseling company had to spew to get a fee from the credit card company for turning an unsecured debt into a secure one?

Who better than you to figure out ways to help your company – your business family? The courts? The politicians? The sleezeball predators out to make a buck on their misfortune? Who better than you to benefit for being there for them in their time of need? Do you have any idea of the kind of loyalty you have an opportunity to engender here?

Let’s say I am Suzy’s boss. I pass by Suzy every day and she is always on the phone arguing with someone. I see Suzy’s work is slipping. What do I do? If I care about my legacy, I give Suzy “reef” time. I help Suzy find help. I have my personal CPA meet with Suzy and her family to discuss Suzy’s options and an action plan to get Suzy’s life back on track. I pay the CPA’s bill, and from time to time make special eye contact with Suzy to let her know I’m secretly on her side. I make sure she knows she can come to me if she needs anything – anything at all.

Do this and I promise you that Suzy will not abuse the privilege. You are still the boss. She still respects the lines of demarcation between the two of you, only now she would walk through hell for you before she’d ever think about Wealth Shifting from you.

Once again, I have a prime example from my own life. One of my clients, a founder of one of this country’s biggest Fortune 500 companies, moved mountains to help me when my husband, Bob, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Upon hearing that Bob had a tumor the size of a lemon in his head, my client didn’t just wave a hand and say, “I’m sorry.” Not hardly. Instead he called in favors and got one of the top neurosurgeons in the Southwest to perform Bob’s surgery. While Bob’s cancer was the worst kind and, therefore, incurable, our family had 18 months together thanks to the surgical skills of the doctor my client contacted for me. How can I, could I, every repay such kindness? Not by Wealth Shifting, I can tell you that!

Would you do the same for someone who worked for you?

There are so many ways executives could engender loyalty between themselves and their employees. They could teach their workers how to better manage their finances. Maybe during your company’s seasonal downtime you could host a lecture series run by a financial planner you trust (perhaps one who will not try to talk them into buying a whole-life policy when a term-life policy would suit them better)? Think of ways you can help employees get more bang for their tax buck. You do it for yourself, why not for them?

Understanding how the tax laws affect your employees can often save them money and costs you very little to implement. Think about reimbursing your employees for business expenses like cell phones and internet access that might not be deductible to the employee because of threshold limitations. Microsoft does this. It reimburses employees for a portion of their cell phone and home internet access, which is like giving an employee a non-taxable raise. Microsoft also allows many of its employees to work at home at least part of the time, thus saving these employees the time and expense associated with commuting (not to mention eliminating altogether many of the Wealth Shifting behaviors we discussed earlier by focusing on performance rather than presence). These kinds of hidden bonuses are worth a lot more than money to Microsoft, because it shows Microsoft cares enough about its employees to try to figure out very personal ways to help them out.

I know I’ve said a lot in this book about the responsibilities that executives have to lead by example and kindness. But that doesn’t absolve anyone who is not an executive from taking the responsibility to stop Wealth Shifting, right here, right now. Stop waiting for someone else to Go First. If someone accuses you of being a Dudley Do Right, holier-than-thou martyr, just remember this (my mom told me this one) – there will always be someone, somewhere, who will want you to get down in their mud hole with them. People in mud holes are not nearly as interested in climbing out as they are in sucking you in. Don’t be a mud hole sucker. Stay clean and scratch that uninspiring and uninspirable person right off your legacy list.

Find the people you want to be your lifelong accountability partners. Share with them. Tell them who you most want to be and confess to them who you are now. Ask them to help you set goals and action plans for kicking your Wealth Shift habits. And then stay on the path. Find a talisman to keep with you at all times - something like my father’s poem -to hold on to when you are tempted to do something that hurts your legacy.

Regardless of whether you are a Mr. Bigboy or an Average Joe or Jane, do the hard work to develop your ethics and live your legacy. If you do, it will pay you back and bring you riches of spirit that will mean far more to you in the long run than one more piece of gold, or house, or car, or boat, or pad of pastel-colored post-it notes ever could. You will walk taller, speak softer, and have more power than you ever thought possible if you will only work hard to be the self-actualized person you were born to be rather than the self-loathing Wealth Shifter you have let yourself become.

Instead of wasting your tremendously creative talents Wealth Shifting, start thinking up ways that your company as a community can make this home – this home where you are all going to spend the majority of your waking lives - a better, more satisfying, more worthwhile place for everyone involved.