October 24, 2012

Advice for Owner-Advisors: Accept Your Shortcomings to Build a More Successful Firm

I’d like to start this post by saying thank you to all my readers for the great feedback on my October 8 blog, “Advice for the NexGen Advisor: Be Yourself.” I’ve received hundreds of emails and stories from both young advisors and seasoned ones: thank you for sharing your own stories with me.  

I also received feedback from many of my own clients, which has raised some additional thoughts on the same topic. One of my owner-advisors captured the general sentiment when he emailed: “As you know, I’ve struggled with being true to myself, and still do. What you do for me is to validate my thought process and help me work with my insecurities.” This advisor is talking about an often-overlooked aspect of learning to be ourselves: recognizing and working with our own shortcomings. In my experience, this is the hardest aspect of becoming a better advisor—and a better business owner—but it is also usually the key to success. 

As it turns out, the things we’re insecure about often really are our weakest areas. Ironically, though, when we give in to our fears of inadequacy and try to ignore or deny our shortcomings, we give them more power than they should really have, thus greatly reducing our chances of success. On the other hand, if we can get advisors to face the things they aren’t good at, they can almost always get better at them, work around them or find another solution for the problem. 

Typically, the areas where owner-advisors need work include micromanaging, a quick temper, a need for all their employees to like them and obsessive perfectionism. While each of these challenges comes with its own consequences (respectively: low employee motivation, dampened employee initiative, missed learning opportunities and a loss of employee respect), these and most other owner issues can be overcome by simply recognizing the problem and looking for a solution.

For many firm owners, the “Aha!” moment comes when they accept the fact that nobody is good at everything, and that a firm’s success comes from maximizing everyone’s talents while minimizing the ill effects of their shortcomings. Admitting the things they are not good at not only makes finding a solution possible, it also enables their employees (and/or partners) to help with the solution. In fact, in many cases, the employees will prove to be the best source of workable ideas—and of providing the help that makes success possible. 

For instance, I have one advisor/owner who opens each firm meeting by saying: “Now, as you all know, I’m not a good manager…” With that said, the employees then proceed to work together to find the right management solution for every challenge that arises. Facing and acknowledging their shortcomings makes owner-advisors better firm leaders, and better “bosses”: they almost always become more tolerant of the shortcomings of their employees, and better able to find realistic solutions. And by creating a true team corporate culture, they make their employees better, too. 

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