There's nothing quite like spending two days in one room with 50 successful entrepreneurs and executives who are focused on elevating their game.

As a first-time attendee of the CEO Coaching International Summit held in Newport Beach, Calif., I walked away from the event with a head full of actionable ideas and new relationships.

After the summit, I sat down with Mark Moses, founding partner of CEO Coaching International, and discussed some of our key takeaways.

1. Power in leadership comes from the punctuation mark you use.

CEO Coaching International's Sheldon Harris devised a clever way to improve leadership skills.  He said leaders should ask themselves how many of their sentences end in an exclamation point, a period or a question mark.

His advice: Cut the periods and exclamation points and focus on asking great questions.

"Your team doesn't want to be told what to do. They want to know the broad direction, then use their skills to come up with solutions to your penetrating questions," said Moses.

  • Advisor action: Consciously focus on asking more penetrating questions instead of making declarative statements.

2. Consider the "canoe test."

As you're assessing a potential relationship, ask yourself, "Would I want to spend a day in a canoe with this person?" says Nathan Mersereau of Planning Alternatives, a wealth-management firm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., 

You should administer the "test" whenever you're acquiring a firm, adding a new executive (or even a client) or vetting a key vendor, he says.

Moses adds that "even though technology is ubiquitous, the human relationship is still paramount."

In fact, I'd say that, as technology becomes more prevalent in society, the need for deeper human connection becomes even more critical.

  • Advisor action: Use the canoe test to evaluate your existing and potential relationships. If they flunk, say, "Next."

3. Assess your management team.

Remember the cliché, "You're only as strong as your weakest link"? Well, it's true for mountain-climbing rope teams, it's true for companies and it's true for advisory firms.

The "sexiness" of your offering doesn't matter if you have a low-functioning management team, said Don Schiavone, chief operating officer of Grasshopper Group, a telecom- and business-solutions company in Needham Heights, Mass.

One weak link can bring a whole team -- or company -- down, as former derivatives broker Nick Leeson did with Barings Bank in 1995.

  • Advisor action: Rate each of your team members either A, B or C. Your As stay, and Bs need support to move up to A level -- but Cs need to be humanely moved out.

4. Compete in experience wars, not price wars.

When in doubt, it's tempting to turn to price-cutting rather than value-adding. Forget that, says John DiJulius III, a customer service consultant based in Cleveland.

People crave experiences, he notes -- so focus on experience and then turn those experiences into profits.

It works for Starbucks: The chain delivers what I think is average coffee -- but in a very pleasing, uniform way.

  • Advisor action: Think about what your clients want more of, then work on ways to turn that into a tangible experience.

Focus on being a leader who people want to follow. Focus on having the right people in the right job doing the right work. When you do this, good things will happen.
Steve Sanduski is founder of Follow him on Twitter at @SteveSanduski.

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