Money & Me: Generosity is the foundation for prosperity

Liz Wiseman, the executive coach and leadership expert, says many managers let the intelligence of their employees go to waste.

The executive coach Liz Wiseman says many managers let the intelligence of their workers go to waste. Sammy Dallal / The National (w)
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Liz Wiseman, an executive coach and leadership expert, was in the UAE recently to promote her leadership manual, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. A former executive at Oracle Corporation and current president of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development centre based in Silicon Valley, she gives 10 per cent of her income to charity, a practice she believes underlies her success.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm a saver. My husband and I don't have a savings target as such, but we have a spending target. We have a certain amount of money we spend on the essentials of our life and everything beyond that we tend to save. I funded myself through six years of private school without a dime of debt, so I'm definitely a provident living/saving kind of person. My goal was to start my career without any debt.

Has your attitude to spending and saving changed during your life?

My attitude towards money has been pretty consistent. My whole life, I have been fairly money neutral. My financial goal has always been to have enough money so that it's never a worry, but not to have so much that it's consuming. That doesn't mean I can't earn a lot of money; just that I don't hold a lot of money, so it doesn't own me. This neutrality around money is probably unusual in my career. I've never asked for a raise or a bonus, or sought equity, but I've found that money has just come to me. When I was working as a fairly senior manager in the corporate world, I had a significant equity stake in the company and was able to retire with enough money that I never needed to work again. But that never was an active pursuit. My strategy has always been to do work I love to do and to do it well, to do it for the pure joy of working and making an impact. And by doing this, I've found money has come in far greater abundance than I could ever have hoped for. I have paid tithing my entire life, since I was a teenager earning money in a part-time job. I don't see it as charity, it's an acknowledgement that everything we have is a gift from God and it's simply returning back to the source of our wealth, giving back a little piece of what was given to me. I think it's this practice of tithing that has allowed me to maintain a neutrality around money and allowed me to pursue work more aggressively.

What upsets you more: wasting money or wasting time?

Time wasting for sure. To take that further, the thing that upsets me most is intelligence wasting. There are people who steal physical assets of companies and there are people who steal intellectual property, but I think perhaps the most insidious corporate crime is the manager who wastes the intelligence that sits inside their organisation. It's subtle, but I think it's rampant. And it makes me angry.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

I love to spend money on furniture. I like really nice furniture, rugs and things that have permanence. Also, my husband and I spend a lot of money, almost an irresponsible amount, on vacations. Not luxury vacations, but we are avid travellers and we take our four kids all over the world. Our seven-year-old son has his birthday in July, when we take our summer holiday. So far, he has celebrated it in Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia and Thailand. On his sixth birthday, he woke up in Guatemala and went to sleep in Belize and he spent his seventh in Honduras.

What is your idea of financial freedom?

Neutrality. I have four children and my hope for my children would be that they manage their money in a way that they never, ever had to make a life decision based on money. I hope they can pursue work they want to do and live where they want to raise a family, but that money never sub-optimises a decision. Having said that, you need a bit of money for this. Having none doesn't help you.

Do you have any financial regrets?

Not yet. There was a close call. I have an absolute love of the Maserati. I never had one, but I would love to own one. Three years ago, I had a little money sitting around and my husband said, "Liz, you need a new car". My car was fine, I had a Lexus, but he insisted and one day I saw a silver Maserati coupe. I looked at it and drove it and I thought, "Yes, that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to buy a Maserati". But after much soul-searching, I decided against it. Luckily. I had just hired my research partner Greg McKeown and a month after walking away from the car, the global recession hit. Had I bought that Maserati and used up our earnings, I would have had to say goodbye to Greg. So instead of the Maserati, I got Greg, and the year-and-a-half of research with him led to our book, Multipliers. When the book was published, he gave me a little model of a black Maserati with a note saying, "Thanks for choosing me over the car." I would choose a person over a Maserati any day.

* Jane Williams