The Mindset Of Independent Wealth


Developing The Mindset Of Independent Wealth

What I’m about to describe is one of the most powerful things you can do to attract and keep clients. If you are successful at it, you’ll create a palpable aura around you that is enormously attractive not only to clients but to anyone with whom you have a business relationship. It doesn’t cost anything, and the implementation is entirely up to you. Sound easy? It is–sort of.

Here goes: One of the secrets of building long-term client loyalty is to behave with clients as if you’re not getting paid. You need to exude enjoyment and enthusiasm for what you do and treat clients like a friend. No matter how skinny your bank account, you have to convey a mindset of independent wealth.

The opposite of the mindset of independent wealth–let’s call it the mindset of greed or scarcity–is repugnant to clients, and smart ones can sense it a mile away. A friend once described to me the training program he went through many years ago at a large brokerage firm. When cold-calling prospective clients, he was taught to envision, just before picking up the phone, the yacht or expensive sports car he would buy with his year-end bonus. When I told this story to a well-known financial advisor I know, he exclaimed to me, “My God, this fellow was being taught to visualize greed!” Well, yes, something like that.

Developing your mindset of independent wealth is an excellent way to cultivate selfless independence, which is one of the foundational qualities of great client advisors that I mentioned in my December newsletter. Arguably, the Enron debacle has its roots in a systematic lack of independence on the part of virtually everyone involved: the professional service firms hired by Enron, its senior management, and its board of directors.

So how do you cultivate the mindset of independent wealth? The truth is, it’s not easy, at least not in the context of our western culture. We live in a society that on the surface worships wealth and the trappings of wealth–a trophy home, new cars, and exotic vacations. Furthermore, we want to win at any cost and we have instilled this in our children (in a recent study of 4,000 teenagers, 75% of them admitted to cheating on a test at school). All this runs counter to building the inner confidence and strength that underpins a sense of personal rather than monetary wealth. That said, here are some suggestions to explore:

• Make sure you are doing work that you love. In his book, “Making a Life, Making a Living,” Mark Albion talks about having finally found work that is so rewarding and enjoyable that he cannot distinguish between “work” and “play” anymore. When someone asked him recently how many hours a week he works, he replied, “How many hours a week do I breathe? I don’t count my work hours because I can’t really distinguish between those hours and any others.”

• Think often about the people who are most important to you, and reflect on how wealthy you are in terms of the relationships in your life. I remember being thrown into an absolute panic, years ago, by an incident with a major client that occurred while I was living in Europe. My mother happened to be visiting at the time, and she quietly watched me reach the boiling point and almost collapse with anxiety. One evening we went for a walk, and she said to me, “You know, in ten years you won’t even be able to recall why you were so upset this week. But your family and close friends will still be with you. They are what counts.” And you know what? I can in fact barely remember that incident today, and I deeply regret the turmoil I imposed on my family during those days.

• Rationally evaluate the importance and impact of losing a client or missing a sale. I ask myself two questions when confronting news that could potentially shake my sense of independence and my confidence: First, does this event pose a physical or emotional threat to my family or me? Second, will it have a serious, long-term effect on my career and professional life? If I cannot answer “Yes” to one or both of these questions, then it’s simply not worth getting agitated. How often does a setback with a client pass this test? You guessed it, it’s never happened to me even once.

• Spend more time developing your physical and mental self in ways that are unrelated to your client work. I play guitar, for example, and find that my late-night sessions help create a very healthy distance between my inner self and the ups and downs of my professional practice. Physical activity, be it just a walk in the foothills around my house or a day skiing with my wife, also “unhooks” me from work and contributes to a sense of centeredness that gives me an independence vis-a-vis my clients.

There are many other activities, including meditation and religious observance, which can help you to cultivate this mindset of independent wealth; these are just a few suggestions.

For those of you feel this approach is a bit “soft,” just recall the words of a well-known CEO I interviewed for Clients for Life: “I wish all of my professional advisors were independently wealthy. They would then be objective, independent, and less likely to be pushing their own agenda.” Although few clients could articulate this concept as well as this particular executive, they all recognize it when they see it. It boils down to having complete intellectual honestly with your clients, which means always telling them the way you see it, and putting their interests and well-being ahead of your personal financial gain. If you do this, you will in fact experience a true abundance of monetary wealth over the long term.



Although a recent edition of this newsletter talked about independence and Sir Thomas More, the recent Enron scandal compels me to revisit this subject from a historical perspective.

Throughout history, we have enormously admired individuals who are truly independent. The legendary Cincinattus, for example, was the Roman soldier who took a few days off from his farm to lead the rescue of a besieged Roman army in 458 BC. He then refused entreaties to become emperor for life and instead returned to his pastures. More recently we might think of the story of Eliot Richardson, who was the attorney general under President Nixon. In the midst of the Watergate break-in scandal, Richardson refused to fire special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox when ordered to do so, and because of this refusal was himself fired by Nixon. Our admiration for this quality applies to every field: in sports, for example, the boxer Muhammad Ali took on the establishment with a independence of spirit that initially enraged entrenched interests like the Mafia (which ran boxing in those days) and the boxing regulatory authorities. When the Supreme Court finally overturned his conviction for draft dodging—Ali had refused to be drafted and go to Vietnam on religious grounds—he quickly became a national hero and today is the most famous and widely recognized American outside the US. Unfortunately, the independence we admire in these heroic figures is today a dwindling commodity.



The author Victor Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II, wrote that “Nothing is more likely to help a person overcome or endure troubles than the consciousness of having a task in life.” A mission orientation not only helps you overcome difficulties, but it will give you great strength in exercising selfless independence with your clients. All of the great historical advisors I’ve studied had well-developed personal missions. For Thomas More, it was fulfilling God’s work in this life; for Niccolò Machiavelli, it was creating a stable, unified Italian state; for J. P. Morgan, it was establishing an orderly financial system in the absence of regulatory agencies.

For most of us, our personal missions are perhaps more down-to-earth but no less sincere, sacred, and important to us. When you ask great professionals what drives them in their careers, you will hear phrases such as “making a difference to my clients’ business,” “enriching management practice through my ideas,” “being a teacher–teaching and explaining the importance of people’s rights,” “educating managers so they lead more successful, effective lives,” or simply, “helping others by practicing excellence in everything I do.”

Fred Brown, who descends from the famed Brown Brothers Harriman banking family, is an example of an extraordinary advisor who has a clear mission that drives his daily behavior. A highly successful personal financial consultant, Brown has authored several books on financial management and he also writes a biweekly newspaper column entitled “Money and Spirit.” He could well afford a trophy house and late-model luxury cars, but his relatively modest home in the Pacific Northwest and his utilitarian Subaru suit him just fine—he prefers to live his values of moderation and balance rather than flaunt his achievements through flashy possessions. Brown has consciously made a decision to charge an hourly rate that is a fraction of what the market could bear. “By charging what I do,” Brown tells us, “I am able to serve a very broad clientele–I get the millionaires but also people who are scraping by and desperately need help just to survive financially month to month.”

The opposite of a mission orientation is the strictly material orientation. Your main focus becomes money, title, promotion, or publicity. When a professional has no sense of mission, he or she risks becoming a mercenary–someone that Machiavelli cautioned against five hundred years ago when he wrote, “Mercenaries are disunited, thirsty for power, undisciplined, and disloyal.” Machiavelli urged the creation of national militias–citizens’ armies with an overriding purpose and an intense loyalty to their home state–a revolutionary concept at the time but now the accepted norm.

Something worth thinking about for a few minutes: Do you have a mission orientation, and if so, how do you articulate it?

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