From the January 2009 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

In Troubled Times, Give 'Em Hope

Your job is to match hope with a concrete vision of the future.

I have been in your shoes. Everyone is telling you to be positive, to take the initiative and call your clients--but that's the last thing you really want to do. You know what is lurking on the other end of the line: angry, frustrated, and distrusting investors--some of whom have lost 30% to 50% of their assets based on your recommendations. You try to reassure them, but they are too numb to listen. They are looking for someone to blame. They hear all the "experts" calling this the biggest meltdown of the century and predicting that the era of America's economic dominance is over. Defending yourself from disappointed clients will wear on you. You have to protect your confidence and keep things in perspective. So here's a true story with a moral that may help.

During World War I, German U-boats operating in the Atlantic ran unchallenged, sinking merchant ships and leaving survivors stranded in lifeboats, sometimes for weeks, without rations or water. Inexplicably, the youngest and fittest sailors in those lifeboats were often the ones that didn't survive. For years this phenomenon remained a mystery, until it was realized that the veteran sailors survived because they had been through earlier crises. The younger, inexperienced sailors perished because they saw themselves as trapped in a hopeless situation, often jumping overboard into the cold North Atlantic.

In the 1970s, researchers tested the survival theory by immersing mice in a tub of water. They found that the mice would swim for a brief time, then give up and drown. However, if they were "rescued" and taken out of the water before drowning, when they were returned to the tub they would swim for hours. The difference was that they had hope.

You don't have to lie in order to give people what they are desperately seeking during these uncertain times. Give 'em hope!

But hope without a strategy doesn't go very far. Your job is to match hope with a concrete vision of the future and a way to get there.

I don't know what the hell is going to happen. I have been in this industry for 30 years and haven't seen anything quite like this--but then I hadn't seen anything quite like 1973/74 when the stock market lost 50% of its value, or 1979 when the American economy was on the verge of collapse, or the recession in 1982 when more people were in unemployment lines than at any time since the Depression, or when the Dow tumbled 508 points on October 19, 1987--off a record high of 2,722.24--and on and on. The biggest difference between this and other financial meltdowns is the 24-hours-a-day news coverage that feeds off events like a bevy of hungry vampires.

I do know the economy will find an equilibrium. In the meantime, there are some actions you should take: first, become a messenger of optimism and explain that while economic slowdowns are a part of life, smarter investors will look to the future.

Remind clients of how one major event--the Berlin Wall coming down--suddenly opened up the world to three billion new consumers. The global economic world has now expanded to encompass six billion people who will want to buy things. Maybe we won't make them, but we will invent them.

But you also need to take care of yourself:

o Remember how great it is to be alive.

o Exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep.

o Have a sense of purpose.

o Protect your confidence.

o Communicate regularly with clients and friends.

o Create an environment empowering you and your staff.

o Take free days and vacations.

o Finally, understand and live by the Law of Requisite Variability, which states that the more flexible a person in any group is, the higher the chances are that person will dominate or become a leader in that group.

You can be that person. Have hope and a plan.

Larry Chambers

President, Chambers and Associates

Ojai, California

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