Steve Luckenbach, a wholesaler for Jackson National Life with 24 years’ experience under his belt, says that over that time he’s seen some advisors excel and others fail, but not for reasons you’d think. “Those who excelled weren’t just doing things differently, they were thinking differently,” he says. “Their philosophy was based around serving, not selling,” and that philosophy came not from any professional drive, but from the personal happiness those advisors’ derived from their communities and their families as well as their clients.
“The illusion in this industry is that if you sell more you’ll be more, and that a bigger practice equals happiness,” Luckenbach says. “But these advisors were already happy, and that made them a source of abundance for those around them.”
Luckenbach, who co-authored Don’t Believe Everything You Think, a book about his experiences and his blueprint for success, says he learned that lesson the hard way. When he entered the industry, his goals were to produce more than anyone else and to win a Wholesaler of the Year award. He achieved that goal, but found the experience empty. “I’m now more engaged than I ever was, but I’m less focused on the financial reward,” he says.
That doesn’t mean Luckenbach eschews the monthly and annual goals that drive the industry, but he doesn’t fixate on them every day. “That’s a classic mistake,” he says. “You’re either down on yourself because of yesterday or hyped up about a big sale you won’t match today, which will make you feel bad tomorrow. That’s why I only look at my production numbers once per month.”
The problem with focusing too much on the numbers is that advisors focus too much on how they’re going to make their goals. Rather, the key to success is to think about why the advisor does what he does, and that’s what separates the service provider from the salesman. “If you take care of the process, you’ll get the results you want,” Luckenbach says. “We’re so focused on what we’re doing sometimes that we don’t ask why we do it.”
Luckenbach’s methodology might sound a little fluffy, but he swears it has worked for him and for the scores of advisors he’s coached over the years.
The first step is to read. A lot. “It’s imperative for a leader to remain a student, and not just of industry materials,” Luckenbach says. “You can’t serve from an empty cup.” Luckenbach reads as much as he can about psychology, philosophy and history in particular. “You can’t help but think when you read,” he says. “It engages the part of the brain that’s creative, and that will inspire you.”
The goal of reading is to get the grey matter going. “Observe your thoughts and focus on the negative ones that are the cause of your limitations,” Luckenbach says. “Realize that not everything you think is true.” The problem, he says, is that the human brain is wired to retain information: It’s pretty useful not to have to relearn how to drive a car every morning. However, it means that negative beliefs and misconceptions are tough to shake. Luckenbach found himself short-circuited by his parents divorce when he was 11 years old. The split was acrimonious, and Luckenbach’s father cut off communications with his family for 33 years. Luckenbach did everything he could to stand apart from his father. “I thought he was a loser and I worked my tail off so I’d be better than my dad,” he says. Luckenbach married at 36 but the union hit the skids because he says he was too hard on himself while not focusing enough on his new family. Luckenbach took his own advice, did a bunch of self-analysis, picked up the phone and called his dad. “Now I speak to him every day,” Luckenbach says. He’s now much happier, and that spills over into every personal and professional relationship he has.
Luckenbach’s opening line when he speaks to a group of advisors is “Who agrees everyone should have a financial advisor?” All hands shoot up. At the end of his presentation, he poses another question: “How many of you use a financial advisor?” The response is predictably meager. “The entire industry believes everyone should have a financial advisor except for everyone in the industry!” he says, and that’s a mistake. “Financial advisors tend to think their value is their knowledge, but really it’s in helping people manage their behavior, not panic, and to stick to their financial plans. Top prospects believe they don’t need a financial advisor either, which is why advisors should lead by example.” Teaming up means you get more done. Luckenbach says he was planning to write his book for three years, but only got the thing written when he teamed up with professional writer Tim Vandehey. “It wouldn’t have come together if I didn’t reach out for help,” he says. “People think independence is the mark of maturity, but really it’s interdependence.”
Luckenbach maintains that advisors who follow his model will be happier people and that, in turn, will make them more successful advisors because they’ll want to help their clients as opposed to focusing on the eventual paycheck. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. “There are no radical shifts here,” he says, “but success will create success and that will propel you into the future.”
Luckenbach’s book is available at his website.