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Practice Management > Building Your Business > Leadership

Leading Your Team to the Top

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“What’s the difference between a boss and a leader? A boss says ‘Go!’ and a leader says ‘Let’s go!’” — E.M. Kelly

True leadership is a balance between taking charge and letting go. Not everyone has a natural instinct for it, and even a born leader sometimes needd help softening their approach or backing off when someone else can do the job.

Most financial advisors are independent self-starters who don’t give much thought to leadership. Their idea of success is selling, not supervising staff. “Lone Ranger” types, they excel at building relationships, meeting with clients and prospecting. (Or at least they’re supposed to!)

In today’s world, working alone is not the best approach to business. No one person can keep up with the regulatory demands, specialization and paperwork faced by today’s advisors. Nowadays, working as a team really isn’t a choice–it’s an absolute necessity.

So how do you provide the right kind of leadership to get the most from your team? Many advisors fall into 1 of 2 camps: They either neglect their supervisory obligations or overdo it by getting too involved. (Both approaches lead to frustration.) Too few advisors stop and think about their behavior to know if they are ignoring, micromanaging or truly leading their staff.

As a consultant, I have learned that leadership means different things to different people. I identify leaders by their actions and attributes. True leaders possess a clear vision of the future; insist on regular (and honest) communication; emphasize goals; and hold people accountable–all while providing direction and motivation.

Think about your own leadership style. Ask yourself, “Why would someone want to work with me?” Most of my clients would list the obvious reasons–i.e., a competitive salary, generous benefits, nice office, etc. While those things are important, the qualities I am suggesting go far beyond that.

What if people want to work with you because you are respectful, flexible, visionary and clear? What if they want a boss who has faith in their abilities and potential? What if they want a leader who makes them feel part of something interesting and important?

To be a good leader, you need to make your expectations clear so your team can meet your high standards. It is also important to make everyone feel involved in the business. This means employing teamwork fundamentals such as:

Communicating your vision of the future.

Defining roles.

Delegating tasks.

Establishing accountability and consequences.

Emphasizing personal initiative.

Using positive reinforcement.

The first teamwork fundamental involves communication. All advisors communicate to some degree, but few talk to their employees in a meaningful way about the company’s future and the employees’ role in it. Communicating a clear vision of the future is an essential part of leadership.

When you sit down to plan the next year–or the next 5 years–it’s to everyone’s advantage to include your team. Brainstorming as a group allows employees to feel part of the business and believe in future opportunities. Your team has valuable insights and capabilities that will allow you to do what you do best. When you’re free to sell–remember, that’s your strength–your business can achieve its goals.

How do you get meaningful input from your employees? Simply ask. Make it clear that the company vision is not a top-down exercise. Everyone on the team plays an important role.

Think big as a team. Get your employees’ thoughts on the future of the company. Ask if the company is missing opportunities. Find out what the team would do in your shoes. Together, consider what the company could look like in the future.

Once the company goals are defined, team members should set individual goals. An employee’s professional achievements will translate into company growth. I remind my clients that several factors contribute to staff turnover, and the top 2 are lack of professional growth and underutilized skills. If advisors reach new levels in the business but their employees don’t, the team balance is thrown off.

Eventually, the advisor will outgrow the employees. Likewise, if an employee’s skills are not used fully, boredom sets in and the employee will leave. The upshot: Goals are a fundamental part of growth and job satisfaction. By identifying company and individual goals, your employees can visualize the future and their roles in it.

Do not hesitate to readjust your goals periodically. At any time, if you hit a roadblock, sit down with your team and reassess. Are new or different capabilities needed? Do the numbers need to be adjusted? Get everyone involved to resolve issues and keep the company vision alive.

Each person is on the team for a reason. Everyone has responsibilities and plays a part in the company’s growth. Moving paperwork through underwriting, scheduling appointments, preparing for appointments, handling administrative details–these tasks must be done regularly and correctly. And the only way the work will get done properly is by defining roles and delegating consistently to the right person.

The best way to define roles is to create written job descriptions for everyone on the team (including the advisor). The job description should list an activity, such as scheduling, and spell out the specific duties pertaining to it. The objective, expectations and accountability for the position should also be stated in writing.

Once it is clear who does what, the person responsible for a specific task should always handle it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. One of the biggest frustrations for team members is when an advisor delegates randomly, on the spot, to anyone available.

Roles are defined so the right person does the job. When you give a job to someone who doesn’t have the background or skills, it not only takes longer, but the system also breaks down. Delegation should always be targeted. No matter how or when you delegate, the important thing is to let go! Don’t be afraid to relinquish control, because ultimately you and your business will benefit.

Appointment scheduling is one task that can be easily delegated, but many advisors resist. I encourage them to let go, because a well-trained marketing assistant can fill their calendar consistently with quality appointments. The same holds true when delegating referral calls, which is particularly hard for some advisors, but the payoff is real.

If you stick to one method of delegation, workflow and productivity will increase. Services like Copy Talk or WordsXpressed are excellent options. With these services, you can delegate all day long. The next day, the delegated tasks are emailed to the appropriate person, who can then put them on a to-do list.

To increase productivity, you also have to stop unnecessary interruptions. In my office, I use dictation every day. Although I occasionally interrupt my team members, I dictate as much as I can on their tapes and allow them to process their workflow throughout the day. My employees know their roles and responsibilities, and I trust them to do their jobs. Will they make mistakes? Sometimes, but that’s how everyone learns. By delegating to the right person and by using one system consistently, you will see improvements in workflow, production and time management.

Once you know where the company is headed and who’s responsible for what, you can work on accountability. Accountability involves clarifying expectations for the team (including the advisor) and making sure the expectations are met. Most of my clients have expectations, but too often they don’t share them with their team. These silent expectations (as I call them) are nearly impossible to satisfy. As a result, things aren’t done the way the advisor would like.

The best way to empower your team is by emphasizing personal initiative. When, for example, a client calls to speak to an advisor, team members can help by taking a detailed message or scheduling a time for the advisor to speak with the caller.

Another way to emphasize personal initiative is to eliminate the workflow bottlenecks in your office. To that end, staff should schedule time with you to review their work or ask questions. This way, the work walks out the door with them. The work is done, and it’s no longer your burden. More importantly, the staff has a sense of accomplishment.

One of my clients read a book I recommended, “Whale Done!” and took its message about positive reinforcement to heart. He made an honest effort to change, using positive reinforcement with his team and maintaining a calmer presence. He listened to his employees’ ideas and actually implemented some of them.

He went out of his way to recognize their work. The employees appreciated the change, and eventually they began mirroring his approach. The result was a fresh take on teamwork fundamentals and a better, more productive place to work.

True leaders recognize the value of sharing their vision, communicating regularly, building accountability, systemizing delegation and praising employees by expressing their gratitude. Whether you’ve been in the business for 3 years or 20, it’s never too late to learn the value of leadership.

Good luck at leading your team to the top!


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