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Practice Management > Building Your Business > Leadership

Are You a Leader or a Manager?

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Tolstoy said that all great ideas are simple ones. Lee Cockerell said, “If I was successful, it was because I hired the right people.” Cockerell, who was executive vice president of operations for Walt Disney World for 10 years, was speaking in mid-March to attendees of Commonwealth Financial Network’s annual Chairman’s Retreat, which I’ve had the privilege of attending for a number of years now.

Most advisors who are interested in growth and the future see their biggest issue as being able to find and hire the right people. One advisor at the Commonwealth gathering used those very words when asked what was his greatest challenge. Those people not only allow you to serve existing clients, they can help you grow your practice with new clients and new assets, and may, eventually, become part of your succession plan. Perhaps not surprisingly, Disney has an extensive process when it hires anyone as a “cast member” for any of its theme parks, including online questionnaires that precede in-person interviews. While most advisory firms are nowhere near as large as Disney, that doesn’t mean that your hiring process shouldn’t also focus on finding people who share the values of your firm. One important part of the Disney hiring process: making it very clear what its expectations are for new hires, and then continually training and testing new employees. “You can’t change people, you can only train them,” he said, but “if you do a good job of training,” Cockerell told the Commonwealth advisors with a chuckle, “you can take a nap.”

So are you a manager or a leader? Cockerell suggested that to be a good manager, you need competency in your field: management competency (including good time management and focusing on what’s important), technology competency (“Companies that can personalize and individualize will win”) and leadership competency. So what is leadership and how does it differ from management? “Management is about how to do; leadership is about how to be,” said Cockerell.

Then how should you be if you want to be a leader? It’s about how you treat your people, Cockerell suggested. “People need to know that they matter. Tell them.” He further suggested a simple change to your daily procedure to demonstrate that leadership. “Before you touch your work” and sit down at your computer when you arrive in the office each day, “touch your people” individually, he counseled. Ask them how they’re doing, get feedback and provide appreciation, recognition and encouragement. Providing those three things to all your people will yield a great return to your bottom line, he promised.

That doesn’t mean everyone you now have at your firm is a good fit. At Disney, Cockerell said they called such employees “good people who don’t fit.” Among all workers, some are “can-do” and others are “can’t-do,” so one way to determine which trait is exhibited by potential employees is to make sure that in the interview process, you ask about an obstacle they faced in a prior job. The answer will let you know if they’re “can-do” or “can’t-do.”

One other thing about building a great firm: Cockerell said it’s important to give authority to your employees to solve problems and warned, “You can’t give responsibility without authority.”

His parting words on leadership? Every day when you go to work or go into your home, “you can make it better or worse.” It’s your choice, and especially as a leader, you have that power. Use it wisely.


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