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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Leading Your Firm in Stressful Times

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My father told me once that “the captain drinks alone in his cabin.” The burden of leading a ship (a firm) is sometimes too heavy to share. There are issues and decisions that employees simply would not understand even in the most democratic firms. What should be a privilege sometimes turns into a crushing burden and I have worked with many advisors who achieve outstanding financial and growth results, yet feel little satisfaction in their success.

Success is such an elusive quality. Some of the fastest growing and most profitable firms I have worked with are led by owners who consider themselves to be “falling behind” and are constantly stressed about the their interaction with staff and clients. At the same time many smaller firms, with more modest achievement, have some of the most patient, optimistic and positive principals I can think of. So often business success comes at a personal price that I often wonder: Can the two really coexist?

‘Ability to Disengage’

It seems that one of the answers is in the ability to disengage. The business inevitably throws problems at us and the ability to forget them when we are facing the next challenge is precious. They say that the best NFL quarterbacks have no memory for the last play, they simply forget the last incomplete pass or interception and threat every new play for what it is—a new one. I often wish I had this same ability to forget the last problem when facing a new one rather than letting the emotions pile up on me and I know I am not alone in that wish.

Another big factor is the ability to remain objective under stress—how big is the problem? How important is the issue? Is it a nuisance or a game-changer? Should we let it affect how we think about the business or is it just a minor course adjustment? The ability to be objective seems to be part of our personality – some people do it naturally and others are very vulnerable to the effect of stress on their judgment. This is even a category in some profiling tests such as ProfileXT. The key is to know if you are susceptible to not being objective, recognizing the limitations and changing your behavior accordingly.

More Recreation

Needless to say, everyone needs some way of relaxing and leaving it all behind. It could be grabbing a beer with your buddies or taking the dog for a walk, it could be a run or a bike ride but whatever it is, don’t stop doing it because you are busy. On the contrary, do more of it.

A Partner

Last, but not least, advisors who have partners tend to have higher quality of life and practice. If nothing else, you don’t have to drink alone like my dad’s captain. A good partner can provide you with another perspective, help, backup and often advice (of course a bad one can cause you to start drinking).

I am no expert in how you manage stress but the last two years have made all of us keenly aware that it is a vital management skill. The leaders of a firm have to be able to stay focused and objective and even help others do that too. I feel more and more curious about how that is achieved; in fact, we at Fusion have a short survey for advisors on how you deal with stress. You will find the survey here ( If you are interested, please participate and I will share the results with you on these pages.