Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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Getting it

Q: Do financially successful people have an obligation to help those in need? Are Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given away hundreds of millions of dollars through their foundation, encouraging others to step up to the plate? How much should people who have made millions be expected to give?

Many who make millions reach a point where they "get it." The drive behind their financial success continues to urge them toward higher achievement -- and that leads many of them to "giving back."

David McClelland's research points to those who reach "mature power," realizing that real success is not in gaining power over others, but getting things down through others. This leads successful people toward a path of wanting to create something beyond themselves, something that lasts and engages the human spirit.

It is that sense of community that causes millionaires to reach far beyond the walls of their individual success and corporations. That longing for connection, high performance, engagement, and learning begins to reach out to the surrounding city and across nations.

Social commentator Frances Moore Lappe said it well: "Our true nature calls us to connect deeply to our community and to find larger meaning in what we do there ... Making a contribution becomes a mutual exchange, rather than a one-way transaction."

Thus, rather than asking whether millionaires should give away money, the more important point seems to be that truly successful people are driven to do so. The notion of "servant-leadership" emphasizes the need to serve not only personal needs but also the needs of the greater good of society, building the capacity of the next generation.

Millionaires realize that we live in a complicated society and government agencies and other initiatives cannot resolve every social problem. Successful people are not afraid to take on the responsibility of how their success has influenced society as a whole -- and how they can then turn around and target money to fill the gaps.

Many successful leaders I work with have said that by giving to others, they have learned more about themselves.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  November 23, 2009; 8:41 AM ET  | Category:  giving Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It's clear that the poster of the previous comment, unlike Dr. Bianco-Mathis, doesn't "get it" - perhaps this is for a lack of the personal wealth, or at least personal capital, needed to reach an understanding of "mature leadership."

I think this point, too, is instructive - do we need to feel adequately secure in the understanding of our own wealth before we are willing to help others?

The debate over a millionaire's "right" to amass wealth rose to national attention during the Gilded Age and became heated in the early 20th Century. Andrew Carnegie, who once wrote that one should stop adding to his personal fortune once he was receiving $50,000 a year (worth much more in his time), went on to earn much, much more, and is perhaps the emblem of modern Republican thinking on the topic - he would end up giving away much of his estate, and justified his initial wealth as he clearly could "manage money more efficiently" than others. Of course, he began a trend that forgot the denouement, Robber Barons catapulting the nation into destitution once the Roaring 20s came to an end.

I think Carnegie, though, was on the right track - he perhaps realized that he didn't deserve his wealth any more than anyone else - he was born with a gift, and the standing to amass a fortune, and though he put forth his own effort, perhaps he had caches for that effort, too. Thus, he was to use his skill to manage money, and once he had enough capital, redistribute it to others who had not the ability to manage such money on their own.

Posted by: Nzarat | November 23, 2009 10:29 PM
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and who is going to do the driving; you?
no one has the right to demand the benefit of labors of someone else.
im sure you have more money than i do - so cut me a check!
people like you are always telling OTHERS to do things they dont do themselves.
how much did fat teddy give to the poor in his will? i dont remember any - do you? and dont tell me that his giving away MY money was HIS contribution.
what we need is a government that limits its demands so that people can spend their own money.
and when you talk about the poor and rich tell me how many people the poor employ?
rich people spend money and make jobs - they dont hide their money in a strong box in the dirt.
you leftists have to get out of the 14th century! you are not progressive, you are regressive - you want a new king - called the president and the royal counselors are the people in congress.
well i know how that ended, do you?

Posted by: infantry11b4faus | November 23, 2009 4:07 PM
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