I’m not really big on war movies, but my (new) husband Drew is. So I’ve seen my share of combat flicks, from the “Sands of Iwo Jima” to “The Battle of the Bulge.” The Hollywood versions of combat often seem a bit contrived, but what really interests me are dramas about how great leaders manage their soldiers under some of the most stressful situations imaginable. Think Tom Hanks leading his isolated team in “Private Ryan,” and Col. Hal Moore taking care of his “boys” in “We Were Soldiers, Once.”
One of my favorite scenes is in “Midway,” which is set just after the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. America’s toughest Admiral, William “Bull” Halsey, is hospitalized, and the commander of our Pacific Fleet, Chester Nimitz (played by Henry Fonda), visits him to discuss his replacement. Halsey recommends Raymond Spruance, a brilliant but newly minted admiral.
Nimitz responds that the Pentagon will have his scalp if he picks Spruance over 200 or so more experienced commanders. Halsey responds: “Chet, one of the first lessons you taught me is that if you’re going to command, command.” Nimitz gives Spruance the nod and takes the heat, and under his brilliant leadership, Spruance’s carrier task force defeats the Japanese in the Battle of Midway, turning the tide of the war in the Pacific in America’s favor.
Those Who Can, Lead
I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary helping independent advisors to successfully grow their practices. That milestone prompted me to reflect back over those years on what separates the best firms from the wannabes. Halsey’s quote came to mind. The truest answer I can give is the most successful firms, year in and year out, are run by owners who act like owners. Here are some thoughts about what it means to have that “owner’s mentality” and why it’s so important to the success of an advisory firm.
While an owner’s mentality is important in every aspect of an advisory business–from financial to operations to marketing–it’s most critical in the human capital area. To perform their best, employees need management, and they need leadership, even in a small firm. In fact, leadership is probably even more important in a smaller firm, where there’s no corporate culture or tradition of success to carry weak management.
Most employee problems at advisory firms stem from the owner’s inability or refusal to take ownership responsibility. Yes, it’s a good thing to have your employees like you. I’d even say that with few exceptions, it’s essential to get the most out of the folks who work for you. Perhaps the only thing more important than being liked is being respected, and there’s the rub: far too many owners trade being respected for being liked, which is a bargain headed for problems.
Like other social mammals, humans are essentially “pack” animals, like wolves or dogs: We’re more comfortable–and more productive–in group settings (our pack) where everyone’s role is clear. We like to know what we’re supposed to do, where we fit into the pecking order, and most importantly, who’s in charge. Unfortunately, many owner/advisors aren’t very good at creating organizational structures, clarifying roles, or demonstrating their authority in a benevolent and evenhanded way.
Be the Alpha Dog
If you’ve ever watched “The Dog Whisperer” or worked with a dog trainer, you’ll know that most “problem” dogs are created by their owners. Dogs need to know who the alpha dog is, and where they fit into their pack. But most dog owners are more concerned that their dogs like them than establishing their leadership. Sound familiar?
Fortunately, the experts tell us that we dog owners don’t have to be cruel or cold to establish our alpha-dog-ness. Very simple actions (learned from observing wolf packs) clearly communicate to our dogs who’s running the show. Always eating first, being the first one through any door, never letting a dog sit at the same height as you, and not allowing a dog to sleep in “your” bed, all tell dogs that you are the leader. (Even if they sleep in your bed with you, staking out “your” place on the bed, sends the same message.) Once they understand who’s Number 1, dogs are almost always better behaved, and willing to take your commands.