As financial planning practitioners, we may not always consider ourselves leaders. Yet we lead our clients towards better financial decisions through the financial planning processes. We lead our staff and collaborate with outside professionals. Many of us are leaders in local communities—either in pro-bono initiatives or community-based organizations.
Our ability to lead can often make a real difference in our client’s financial outcomes. But with the tomes of data on research what really matters to us?
Our firm has worked with a number of industry experts to better understand what drives successful leaders. What we learned is that admired leadership is not just a matter of our DNA, life experiences, formal training, or designations/titles. It fundamentally comes down to behaviors.
- They’re authentic: Authentic leadership isn’t something you turn on and off. It must be woven into how you live and who you interact with—professionally, personally, and even within your family. Successful leaders are comfortable in their “own skin” and lead as themselves.
- They listen—really listen: When working with others are you truly giving them 100% of your attention? Have you turned off all distractions both internally and externally? In this attention-deprived world, the most precious gift you can offer is your time—be present for everyone in your conversations.
- They’re in touch—consistently and often: I remember attending a meeting in late 2008 when the financial world was “collapsing.” There was a panel of key leaders in our profession discussing how they were addressing client’s concerns. The key takeaway was consistent with what great leaders do. They proactively communicated to their clients—and more frequently. They didn’t hide from the drama—they got in front of it.
- They’ve “got your back”: Simon Sinek’s recent TED talk on leadership captures the essence of this concept. His recent work focuses on the importance of creating a “safe” environment for those around us. We can’t control the economy, the markets or other outside factors. But how might we create a “safe” environment for our clients in other ways?
- Great leaders want feedback: We can’t improve if we don’t know where we’ve fallen short. And our clients, employees, and allied professionals generally want to help us too. But how do we ask for it? Rather than asking for how you’ve done in the past, be specific about where you can improve going forward. Top leaders are looking to make incremental gains—even if they’ve done a great job already.
- They recognize and reward: Michael Kitces’ FPA Norcal 2014 presentation on the future of our profession touched on this topic. In the not-too-distant future there will be a mix of real-time rewards and technology, enabling us to recognize and reward clients for good financial decisions in real-time (e.g. not buying that $4 latte). As practitioners, how might you more frequently recognize and reward your clients for good decisions? Or your staff?
- They’re accessible: Research shows this is critical for the advisory profession—it’s often cited as a top quality that prospective clients want in an advisor relationship. Great leaders ensure they’re available to those around them and are always a phone call or email away.
So where to begin? I’d suggest picking 2-3 areas above and focus on them over the next 12 months. Even small changes can have a big impact on the lives of your clients and those around you.
Great leadership is a skill and disposition that needs to be understood, practiced and honed over time. With 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, it’s incumbent upon us to lead our clients through retirement while empowering our teams to reach their potential along the way.
Being an admired leader is not solely an altruistic pursuit. Most of us became planners because we wanted to help others. By more effectively leading others, we ultimately make a real difference in the lives of those around us.