We've known for a long time that material stuff isn't a path to happiness. It might, however, be a path to decreased business security and success, according to researchers.

As highlighted in the September-October issue of Harvard Business Review, a study led by Robert M. Bushman found that banks with materialistic CEOs had more mortgage-backed securities, noninterest income and loans. Their institutions also had weaker risk management practices, and the CEOs were more likely to support a lax culture with reduced oversight.

How materialism hurts

On the one hand, as the study authors point out, materialistic CEOs have the opportunity to bring in higher gains if they take more risks. But even the best gamblers lose some of their bets, and in the business world, laying down the wrong hand one too many times can make it impossible for a company to recover, let alone gain industry ground. Lack of oversight also can make it hard to restructure and make corrections when necessary, as it becomes difficult to know who to hold most accountable and discipline. It also doesn't attract investors, who want reassurance that they won't be misrepresented or otherwise abused.

And that might be just the tip of the iceberg. Additional research indicates that materialism has a negative effect on morals and ethics. Drivers of luxury cars, for example, are less likely to yield to pedestrians, and upper class individuals are more likely to endorse unethical behavior at work, lie in negotiation, cheat or take goods from other people. The researchers hypothesize that these results are at least partially accounted for by more favorable attitudes toward greed. 

How to leave a materialistic mindset behind

None of this means that, as a leader, you can't occasionally indulge. In fact, you can be a good model in appreciation of quality and craftsmanship. The problem comes only when those indulgences become a requirement for you to feel a sense of personal worth, or when you are willing to compromise others to obtain them.

If you need to shake free of a materialistic mindset, these strategies can be useful:

  • Commit to open space where you live and work. Just because an area is clear doesn't mean you have to fill it. Each item in your space should have purpose and/or meaning.
  • Unplug. The less you use TV, streaming services or the Internet, the weaker marketers' reach to and influence on you will be.
  • Swap out ad-rich magazines for books.
  • Ask yourself what you want others to remember most about you.
  • Use the wait list rule. Write down what you want and then wait to buy whatever is on the list for a specified period, such as 24 hours, a week or month. The more expensive the item, the longer the wait should be.
  • Make friends with some money professionals. Talk to them often and ask their opinions when you're tempted to spend.
  • Embrace hobbies. They'll keep you from shopping for entertainment or engaging in activities where marketing efforts are full force.
  • Use a gratitude journal, the only rule being that you can't write about material items.
  • Use good comparisons. Instead of looking at the Joneses, do your research to see what the average price and amount paid are for items you want.

If you already have anti-materialism strategies that work for you that aren't listed above, don't hold back. Do companies and leaders everywhere a favor and share them in the comments.