As adults, we feel best about ourselves when we grow, change and become more whole over the course of our lifetime. It makes sense to hire someone—a coach—whose support and insight can help make this journey more successful and less lonely.
Most of us have been coached before. Maybe by Mom or Dad, by that fearsome figure in sweats blowing a whistle in gym class or by a friend helping us muster the courage to take a scary step. The coach is an iconic figure in every hero’s quest.
If you’ve never worked with a professional coach, you’re bound to have questions: What could a coach do for me? What kinds are there? How much does it cost? To help more advisors find the best kind of support for themselves and their clients, I explored some of the ins and outs of this burgeoning industry.
The Practice Management Coach
Advisor Eric Brotman believes that in business, athletics or academics, the top performers always have a coach.
Eric Brotman, a CFP who is president of Brotman Financial Group in Lutherville, Md., has been working with an executive coach for 12 years. He told me, “When we started, I was getting ready to be the junior partner in a new financial planning firm, and I thought she could help me speed up my professional development. After four years of coaching, I elected to start my own firm, and I used my coach every step of the way, from conception to design to implementation. She helped interview job candidates and was instrumental in the design of the new firm.”
But that’s not all, Brotman says. Over the past eight years, this coach has facilitated the firm’s client advisory board meetings and quarterly employee team retreats. She’s conducted one-on-one coaching for each of Brotman Financial’s employees from time to time, “and has always been a sounding board for me.”
Brotman considers his coach to be an invaluable member of the team. “She has helped our firm grow from a startup to a top firm within our independent broker-dealer in under a decade,” he says. “When a challenge or opportunity presents itself, she is the first call I make.”
To this experienced advisor, being coached can be an advantage to anyone focused on success. “In my mind, whether in business, athletics or academics, the top performers always have a coach.”
The Behavioral Coach
Denise Federer says that “Eventually, we all hit the wall. My role is to partner with my clients to help them get out of their comfort zone so they can achieve that next level.”
There’s another type of business coach: one who helps people overcome their resistance to success, personified by Denise Federer, Ph.D., of Federer Performance Management Group in Tampa, Fla. A behavioral psychologist, Federer told me that “the person who works with me wants to understand what prevents them from taking action steps that they know they need to take.” Advisory firms hire her to coach their top executives and advisors, individually or in teams. Sometimes she works directly with their clients, helping them deal with family financial issues that impact decision making.
By and large, her task is to make it possible for people to take a leap forward. “Eventually, we all hit the wall,” she says. “We keep doing what we did before, but that won’t get us to the next level. My role, as I see it, is to partner with my clients to help them get out of their comfort zone so they can achieve that next level.”
Federer coaches individuals in two phases. “In the first phase, we identify their resistance to readiness for success and the factors that are limiting them,” she explains. “We create a behavioral master action plan to help them identify their outcome goals—for example, an increase in production, assets under management or number of new clients—as well as process goals such as holding client events, doing client reviews, asking for introductions from other experts and increasing their professional expertise or areas of specialization.”
In Phase Two, clients implement their new understanding, incorporating specific suggestions from people who know the financial advisory industry inside-out. Depending on the clients’ need, Federer may handle this herself or refer them to a specialized financial coach.
Coaches Are Not Therapists
“Therapy deals a lot with family-of-origin material … and making peace with the past,” says Lynn Grodzki. “Coaching looks at the present going forward.”
Clearly, coaching entails a lot of psychology. However, most coaches don’t stray over the line into therapy. “I see therapy and coaching on a continuum in terms of personal growth,” says Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, of Silver Spring, Md. A clinical psychotherapist since 1988 and a master certified coach since 1996, Grodzki has taught coaching for 11 years and has written five books for therapists and coaches, including “Crisis-Proof Your Practice: How to Survive and Thrive In an Uncertain Economy.”
“Therapy deals a lot with family-of-origin material that may be unconscious,” she told me. “Coaching looks at the present going forward. It’s often more short-term, more focused on solutions and action, and it’s about living into a good future.”
As a business and executive coach, Grodzki usually works with the owners or CEOs of small businesses, including advisors. Before the recession and the debt ceiling crisis, she would hear mainly about general managerial and ownership issues.
Since the market crash and recession, another theme has emerged. “Advisors are doing a lot of hand-holding with their clients, and this is wearing on them,” Grodzki explains. “We discuss strategies to impart client confidence: how you talk to the client, how often, what to talk about, how to make them feel secure, how to set realistic expectations. If profits are down and everyone is working harder, how do you keep up morale?”
Burnout is a related complaint. “One of the owners I’m coaching says he never gets to go home now,” she reports. “He has to work longer hours just to keep the clients he now has. And a lot of advisors had hoped to be retiring at this point, but their own investments are down. There are health issues as they age. A big part of my job is helping these financial advisors think out of the box, because the business is different now.”