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Merriam Webster defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed.”

If you’re old enough to remember, there was a time in the popular culture where greed was celebrated because of Gordon Gekko. In many ways, the spirit of Gekko remains as vibrant today as it was in the 1980’s. Last year the market broke records and lots of money was made with the S&P 500 rising approximately 20 percent, the Dow 25 percent and the NASDAQ almost 30 percent.

The reality is that greed is part of the human condition. In the arc of human history, many historic events since the beginning of recorded time have occurred because of greed. These events including wars, conquests, and occupations, have been because of the insatiable desire for money, territory or power. It’s probably fair to say that greed will be with us for the foreseeable future.

What Greed Looks Like in Business

In business, greed can take on different costumes. For instance, it can be disguised with buzz words that try to inspire the teams, such as vision, goals, and motivation. As an example, there’s a company in the education space that immerses its team members in the jargon, but the reality is the CEO only wants money. Because of the lack of authenticity around greed and money, there’s an ongoing tension and dynamic in the company because people believe in the stated claims for vision, goals, etc. until they don’t. Greed can’t be disguised for long.

Some have identified greed as an essential aspect of success. They will tell you that if you’re not greedy, you’re not good enough to be in business. The greedy people will question, how could you possibly think about succeeding without having greed as a motivating force?

They’ll say––the more the better!

The Problem with Greed

The reality is people want to be successful, and the key motivation for business success is money and profit. But greed goes beyond success. Greed is never satisfied. Greed wants to consume, and it feeds on itself. For instance, some firms are known to drive down the stock prices of companies they want to acquire, and after they do that, they will quickly break it apart and sell the assets that are more valuable than the whole group. Many companies have been torn apart, and people have lost their lives and livelihoods because of greed.

Greed does not have any cap on its need for profit, assets, income, territory, etc. It will always be more, more, more, more, more.

How to Temper Greed

As I said, there’s no problem with wanting success, in money, business and life. But, there has to be a point where you’re content with what you’ve achieved, and if there’s more to be had, it’s merely icing on the cake. A temperament that lacks greed does not have a burning and insatiable desire to have more, whatever the price to you and others.

Unfettered greed is not good. It is destructive and all about the acquisition of more. It’s harmful and hurtful. It’s cynical, unquenchable and never satisfies.

There are ways to check yourself and make sure you’re not getting caught up in the greed “death spiral.”

If you have a drive for success, refocus your energy not so much on the outcome of the money or status, but on the personal growth and positive impact you will be making in your life and that of others.

  • Focus on the wealth of spirit, meaning, take the time to reflect regularly on the positive aspects of personal development and success. Don’t make it all about the external objectives you will achieve, but also about the internal development to become a better version of you.
  • If your success means more money for you or expertise, make it a point to give some of it away to philanthropic causes. Remember, there’s always someone else that would love to be in your shoes, no matter how much or little you think you may have in your life.
  • Enjoy the ride. The reality is that the higher you climb the ladder to success, the scarier it can become to look down because of fear of loss. Instead, focus on the “view” every step of the way. Take pauses and reflect on how far you’ve come. Savoring and building appreciation and gratitude will help you keep the negative drive of greed at bay.
  • Be kind––always. If you’re looking for success, the best kind comes with consideration and thoughtfulness toward others you meet along the way.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)

© 2018 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.