Have you ever heard the expression, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with?" I decided I wanted to spend more time with top achievers -- so I started a podcast that let me interview them about topics at the intersection of business, investing and life.
I got several star execs from the financial advisory sphere -- a couple of which are former or current clients --to join me for the podcast series, and then I used those conversations to pull out a couple of insights and action steps that could help other advisors.
Here are the five of the smartest things I heard during my conversations.
1. Make yourself less valuable to your business.
It sounds counterintuitive, but the less valuable you are to your business, the more valuable your business is, said United Capital CEO Joe Duran. If the business relies too much on you, you have no business. You have a self-employed job.
Duran recommends three ways to make your business less reliant on you.
First, he says, "Get your ego out of the way." Yes, the business needs your entrepreneurial spark and drive to get off the ground, but once it's in flight, it's time to pull back and let others shine. Don't build the business around your cult of personality. (I noticed that none of the people I interviewed put their name in the company moniker.)
Second, Duran says: "Push the decision-making down the organization." Do this by giving others the chance to prove they can make decisions as good, or better, than you. While they may not always make optimal decisions, they will learn from their mistakes under your guidance.
Finally, "Increase the degrees of separation between you and your average clients." The less clients interact with you, the more solid your business becomes.
Mark Moses, founder of CEO Coaching International, adds one caveat: As the leader of the company, you have to own and nurture the company's three to five most important relationships -- the ones that could seriously hurt your business if they went awry.
Action step: Start small by empowering a team member to be responsible for one aspect of your business that you've historically handled. Build from there.
2. Be a voracious user of technology -- both personally and at the office.
The demands on an executive at a fast-growing company are huge and the only way to manage them both personally and professionally is to leverage technology.
Several leaders I talked to swore by apps such as Evernote (for personal organization) and Slack (for team communication).
And let's not forget robo technology, which is dramatically enhancing the front-end client experience and raising consumer expectations on what an advisor should offer. You don't need to offer automated investment management services, of course, but you should definitely consider incorporating onboarding and account aggregation technology.
Action step: Re-evaluate your overall use of technology, hire a consultant if necessary, and make a point of looking into Evernote and Slack.
3. Be willing to rip up your playbook.
Without a doubt, top achievers embrace change, they thrive on it and they use it as a strategic tool to grow. Underachievers "get too comfortable and are not willing to innovate, not willing to challenge the status quo because it's working OK," says Mariner Wealth chief executive Marty Bicknell.
Comfort is anathema to the people I interviewed. Today's leaders willingly step out of their comfort zone into the realm of the unknown. They willingly change on a dime if the environment changes. They understand change is a necessity to stay vibrant and relevant.
Action step: Do something that scares you: Cold call the biggest prospect in your town, or ask your top five clients for a referral. The more often you do things that scare you, the more willing you'll be to disrupt your business when the environment necessitates it.
4. Have a compelling recruiting message.
Competition for people is tough. Your business needs a compelling reason why top talent should flock to your company and not somebody else's. That reason usually revolves around two things -- mission and culture.
Do you have a clearly articulated mission that appeals to people's core desire to contribute to society? Have you created a culture of high achievement wrapped in esprit de corps that attracts people looking to learn from and grow with other top achievers?
It's not easy. "You can take 99% of a deal process and put it on a spreadsheet and get a black-and-white answer," Bicknell says. "Culture is one that doesn't fit there."
Mission and culture may sound like touch-feely things that don't lead directly to new sales. But highly engaged staff members who are enthusiastic about what the company does, believe in what it stands for and enjoy working with their peers will go the extra mile for clients and prospects. And that in turn will result in more business.
Action step: Take the time to create a mission for your firm. Go beyond a statement on the wall to create something that inspires your team to perform at their best.
5. Don't do it for the money.
These leaders all have a driving purpose that keeps them pushing the limit long after they've reached the "set for life" level.
Moses tells me that his work "is something I get to do, not something I have to do." He and these other executives do what they do because they believe in making lives better. They're generous with their time, their ideas, and their desire to leave the world a little better than when they arrived.
Sure, they're all making bank -- but if it was all about the money they would have retired years ago.
Action step: Think long and hard about why you do what you do. Uncover a fulfilling purpose that can become infectious in your organization -- and if you can't find this purpose, get out of the business and do something different.
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