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The High-Performance Coach: The Five Types of Leadership for Advisors

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During periods of great change, leadership emerges. Arguably, through the past 22 months, the financial services industry has seen more change than in any previous period. At ClientWise, our research barometer–based on the continuous research we conduct with our coaching clients–has revealed the critical role of leadership within advisory practices. Indeed, within our coaching sessions this theme continues to surface time and again.

Take for example, Mark Tibergien’s insightful comments in the May 2010 edition of his popular Formulas for Success column in Investment Advisor– “The Dispensable Leader.” Tibergien contends that many independent financial advisory firms face a looming “crisis of leadership” as entrepreneurial founders struggle to release control of the firms they have built.

For advisors, “leadership” is a vital quality. As the stature and credibility of the largest brokerage firms has shrunk, it has become even more important that individual financial advisors demonstrate their own leadership.

We work with many such advisors who are seen as leaders within their chosen communities. What is perhaps most interesting is that, during tumultuous market periods, clients tend to gravitate towards advisors they perceive as “advisor-leaders.” Moreover, through ClientWise research, we have observed a number of characteristics that such top-performing advisor-leaders tend to share.

We’ve found that advisor-leaders:

o Are more visionary, providing their teams perspective and context while reinforcing their firm’s overarching values.

o Are more participative, engaging colleagues and clients in critical discussions and decisions.

o Are more effective coaches themselves, for both their peers and clients.

The Five Types of Advisor-Leaders

For advisors, leadership manifests itself in five different areas: brand leadership, altruistic leadership, business leadership, mentoring leadership, and community leadership. These categories are not mutually exclusive. Often, an activity will straddle two or more of these five categories.

Before we get into that, however, it’s time for some definitions:

o Brand Leadership. Under this heading we find activities that might be in the typical advisor’s marketing plan. Brand leadership activities are community outreach efforts that are pretty directly related to connecting to organizations and individuals, which in turn will lead to new client relationships. Example: Join a nonprofit board and play an active role. Coaching Question: Which activities could you initiate that would further your desired brand?

o Altruistic Leadership. In this group we include participation in activities that may be philanthropic or humanitarian in nature, but are not consciously undertaken to find, or drive, business. However, advisors who lead altruistic activities often experience benefits to their business and brand. Example: Take a “volunteer vacation” (e.g., work for a charitable organization overseas). Coaching Question: Which charitable organization or cause holds your passionate interest enough to get you more involved?

o Business Leadership. This is one area that can show results in a relatively short time. These are activities where the advisor focuses on existing clients, as well as the team that serves them. Example: Refine the roles and responsibilities of the team’s support staff in order to maximize client service. Coaching Question: What is your professional development plan, and the role of leadership within this plan?

o Mentoring Leadership. Becoming increasingly prevalent in a number of professions, this entails giving back to colleagues in the industry by coaching and developing others. Mentoring stems from a desire to share one’s expertise, and has its rewards in the satisfaction of teaching and helping others. Example: Share your level of experience and expertise by coaching someone else, possibly in the way that your mentor did for you. Coaching Question: How could you become a better mentor?

o Community Leadership. This is one of those areas that can cross over into the others we’ve been discussing. This assumes many of the same characteristics of mentoring leadership and is driven by an aspiration to larger leadership roles in your chosen community. Example: Coordinate and lead a community-focused initiative, (e.g., Habit for Humanity, cancer walk-a-thon, etc.) Coaching Question: Which communities would you like to serve, and what are the leadership opportunities that you might seek?

You, too, Can Become a Leader

In the two case studies (see below) we present for your perusal–Geri Pell, showing leadership across the board and Jeremy Paul and Bud Sturmak, showing how leadership can come through innovation–you can see that leadership for advisors can appear at many levels. In fact, the notion of “leadership” itself is such an expansive and broadly defined quality that advisors can be extremely creative when finding the “leadership” that works for them.

In summing up, we have one final piece of good news on leadership. When discussing leaders and leadership, our research reinforces the following four critical points:

o Leaders are made, not born; if you want to become a better leader, you can. (The first step in improving your leadership skills is determining where you are right now. You can assess yourself by taking the ClientWise Leadership Influence Survey at

o Leadership is a relationship between the leader and almost anyone else, such as a colleague, client, friend, or community member.

o Improvement in leadership is a process that occurs over time. It does not happen overnight, or through a single inspirational event.

o Learn leadership by leading. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, “For most financial advisors the great challenge is not understanding the practice of leadership, it is practicing their understanding of leadership.” In other words, keep practicing.


Geri Pell

Jeremy Paul and Bud Sturmak

Ray Sclafani is founder and president of ClientWise LLC (, a full-service executive coaching firm that helps its clients optimize growth, maximize revenue, and manage risk. He can be reached at [email protected].