It’s easy to dismiss the idea of connectedness — the feeling of being part of something important that’s larger than yourself. It is, frankly, one of these topics that can look soft on the surface. But it can be a major driver of your success in business — and in life overall — and it’s a strategy that many smart entrepreneurs use to achieve better results.

If you look at people who are both successful and deeply fulfilled, you will see that they cherish their connections every day. They fully appreciate their chance to serve clients and work with their teams — and that appreciation drives them to come up with new ideas and new approaches to work.

The trick is to build connections that really count.

We’ve been teaching advisors three key elements of connectedness, based on the work of psychiatrist Edward Hallowell: Internal connectedness, and connections with staff and clients.

KNOW THYSELF

As a successful advisor, you may tend to focus more on your negative traits and perceived shortcomings than on the positive characteristics you possess and display to the world around you. This is a normal habit of highly successful professionals — however, it’s one that can sap the joy out of life at work and at home.

The remedy is to build a stronger connection with your own positive traits. Try doing the following exercise:

  • Make a list of 12 adjectives that describe you. Draw a rectangle around the one that you’d like to change or modify. Draw circles around the three that you are most proud of. Then write down one thing you did in the past year that makes you feel proud of yourself.
  • Write one sentence addressed to your favorite teacher or mentor, telling that person how he or she helped you. Just bringing that person to mind will help create a sense of connection and strengthen your ability to feel and show appreciation. (You can enhance that feeling of connectedness even more if you actually reach out to share the sentiment.)

Ultimately, what you write isn’t as important as simply doing the exercise, which will increase your connectedness with yourself.
TEAM STRATEGY

Well-connected teams have members who trust one another deeply and who communicate with openness and candor — not with secrets and backstabbing.

They also, believe it or not, have conflicts. Push-back and creative tension are signs that team members can speak their minds freely. That’s a healthy way to operate, as it encourages creative thinking and achieves consensus in ways that cause team members to pull together once a decision has been made.

Some advisors we coach have regular group meetings with their teams to discuss strategies and plans. At these meetings, everyone is encouraged to speak up and provide candid feedback — with no judgment.

Connected teams also share a growth mind-set — a belief that, no matter what, you can acquire the skills you need to achieve big things. One truism of Henry Ford captures it best: “If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Elite advisors engage in lifelong learning — such as studying and implementing best practices in terms of client service and internal operations, and staying up to date on wealth management strategies (often through expert contacts such as CPAs and attorneys).

You need to lead the way. Encourage team members to give you feedback on your performance — if they see you making mistakes, tell them to let you know about it!

Here is one way to start building team connectivity:

  • Write a description of your team. In five bullet points, describe three key strengths and two weaknesses; focus more on the positive than the negative.
  • Then write a congratulatory sentence to your team and share it with them. It might be as simple as “Great work landing the Wilson account last month — you all pulled together to present us in the best light possible, and it worked out great.” 

One financial advisor told us that his team had had a lot of big wins lately, but that they hadn’t taken time to celebrate those wins as they should — and that he would rectify that right away.
CLIENT OUTREACH

Deep connections with clients offer huge payoffs, of course. The deeper the connection, the more successful you will be at creating client loyalty, getting qualified introductions to clients’ friends and associates, and ensuring that clients act on your advice.

Deep connections mean that clients will stick with you — even if you make a mistake or fail to light up the charts with your investment performance.

You can’t build connections without paying attention. That sounds obvious, but let’s face it: In today’s world, it’s tough to get anyone’s full attention. (You know that clicking sound you hear when you’re on the phone with someone? That’s your contact typing an email while talking to you.)

Your job is to get rid of the devices and distractions that block you from connecting. Close the door, turn off the screen in front of you and slow down. Many of the most successful advisors we coach wear a headset and walk around their office so that they can focus entirely on the call — not the computer and other distractions on their desk.

And one good client meeting isn’t enough. You need regular face-to-face meetings with your clients. Bring them in or, even better, go see them. Meet their children — even their pets. Connect on Facebook so that you can see what’s happening in their daily lives.

Showing curiosity and interest in their lives will amaze them, because they don’t get that kind of attention from most people in their lives — especially their professionals and service providers.

We recommend that all advisors conduct discovery meetings to inquire about financial and non-financial issues alike — how the clients dealt with money when they were growing up, how they met their spouses, why they chose to live where they do, what their favorite restaurants are and their financial hopes and dreams.

Then, at your regular progress meetings, check in with them about any new developments in their lives. Ask them about recent fun activities they’ve done, or any that might be coming up.

The upshot: Be a student of your clients. Don’t present them with performance reports and fancy investing technology and call it a day.

Your clients will never ask you to do this, but they will appreciate the connection; they will almost certainly tell you how thankful they are for the experience.

What’s more, these casual conversations often lead to identifying new opportunities.

When you combine attention over time with curiosity, you end up feeling empathy with your clients — and they feel it with you. The result, of course, is a shared connection that is deep and lasting. And it makes your clients far less likely to leave you just because the stock market has a bad quarter.

Perhaps the greatest thing about connectedness is that it’s both powerful and free for the taking. You just need to tap into it.

Talking about interest rates and staring at a Bloomberg terminal might be easier and more familiar. But if you truly want to feel fulfilled in your career and achieve great results with your team and clients, you’ll start spending more time on building the deep connections that pay tremendous dividends.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.

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