“Street Smart — Adventures on the Road and in the Markets,” by Jim Rogers (Crown, 2013).

This is a hummer, a fun read. Jim Rogers is of course the enfant terrible of Wall Street, a commodities bull, the former partner of George Soros and a fellow who rode around the world on a motorcycle in a learning adventure.

Famously, Rogers moved a few years ago to Singapore with his wife and daughters. Both daughters have learned Mandarin and are reportedly getting a terrific education. This all because the author feels the future of the world is an Asian future. That may be so, but in its incredible growth during the last three or so decades, Asia also has developed a voracious appetite for commodities, and Jim Rogers is the commodities man. Reading this book will bring you great insight into the world of commodities, now an even more important part of the investment portfolio world.

In the book, I learned that Jim Rogers interned for a firm in NYC for which I, in the early ’70s, did a small piece of consulting work. It is a small world.

Rogers’ brain is in the on position all the time: “If North and South Korea unite, Japan will be faced with a huge new competitor, much more powerful a competitor than South Korea is now. […] Among other things, the Japanese do not have a lot of cheap labor anymore.”

If you are interested in enlightened and enlightening discourses on a wide range of worldwide general and investing ideas, “Street Smarts” will be your cup of tea. You may not agree with everything Mr. Commodities says, but the ride will be great fun.

 

“Smart Leaders Smarter Teams — How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results,” by Roger Schwarz (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2013).

Schwarz works with organizations ranging from the American Red Cross to Hewlett Packard; even the U.S. Department of the Interior. He’s the father of the mutual learning, a leadership technique that works to avoid the prevalent mindset of unilateral control. Unilateral control (one of the problems is the very word control) is an approach used, in my experience, by most business leaders. In unilateral control, the idea is designing behavior based on:

  • Win, don’t lose.
  • Be right.
  • Minimize expression of negative feelings.
  • Act rational.

Look or sound familiar? Schwarz does not believe that unilateral control gets the job done. In other words, the unilateral mindset CEO or leader says to the team: “I am right; you are wrong” and “I will win.” Not much of an advertisement for team building, is it?

Do financial planners have teams? You bet. Whether your financial planning team is made up of two people or 100, the concept of mutual learning is going to change everything. I promise you absolutely that members of my team know lots more than I do about many of the daily activities of our business model. Don’t yours?

The truth is often different than we think. If you, as a team leader, adopt mutual learning, the truth will set you free. Schwarz even covers email, best practices and generally unsticking many of the things that keep us from growing and improving our practices. This is a valuable book, one that will help you think deeply about leadership and teamwork. It’s an eye-opener.

“Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success — Connect with Customers and Get Results,” by Colleen Stanley (AMACOM, 2013).

Author Stanley is president of SalesLeadership Inc. a consulting firm specializing in emotional intelligence and consultative sales skills training.

First, know this — we are all sales people. I don’t care whether you call yourself a physician, a financial planner or the mayor of Tucumcari. We “sell” every day.

Briefly, a few years back, I had a partner who could never understand why prospects almost automatically on the first visit accepted me and transferred assets to my care within minutes, hours or a few days. I told him that it had little to do with selling — the selling was getting them to visit. If they visited, my assumptions were:

(1) They wanted someone to listen to them and I listen;

(2) They wanted someone to fix their situation, to make them feel comfortable, and I work hard to do that by not promoting unrealistic goals and by stressing my work ethic and the care our team provides in developing portfolios and communicating often; and

(3) Honoring the spoken or unspoken agreement to provide overall care — my theory is that a bad physician may cause physical death and a bad financial planner may cause economic death. In other words, I figure that if the person comes to visit, he or she wants help, and without evidence to the contrary, I simply proceed to help. One other thing: if I determine that the person won’t be happy with me, I have no compunction about sending him to another advisor or broker. I am old enough and have enough years in my pay grade to try to avoid people with unrealistic expectations.

In Colleen Stanley’s words, my technique — listening and being empathic — returns what I expect. In a sense — although I don’t think of it at all — I expect that a prospect will want to work with me. Years ago, I taught a course called Counselor Selling, and it’s been wonderful to reacquaint myself with some of the listening and consulting skills I visited in that course, expressed so nicely by the author in ways that got me thinking anew.

And by the way, these emotional skills have become embedded in my personality. In my business life, I am the sum total of the skills I have learned. There’s no checklist; when prospects visit, I listen, learn and help. It’s more diagnostic than anything else.

The book is not just about Colleen Stanley — she ranges far and wide to relate the best ideas and practices. The DISC method comes from Dr. William Moulton Marston; it’s a method of identifying types of people into types: “Driver or Dominant; Influencer or Influence, Steady Relator or Steadiness; and Cautious Thinker or Conscientious.”

Here’s something on point from Colleen Stanley:

“One of our clients in the financial planning industry expressed frustration over three prospects who had expressed a desire to move their portfolios over to her company due to the average service and returns they were receiving from their exiting financial planner. Despite their dissatisfaction, all three were dragging their feet in making the final decision.

“After attending our workshop and learning about the DISC communication model, she identified all three prospects as most likely Steady Relators. They were very nice people, valued relationships and didn’t like conflict or change. We coached her to call each prospect and validate the importance of relationships and loyalty. We also coached her to avoid putting the prospects in a position of perceived conflict and offered to call their existing financial planners, thank them for their years of service, and explain that the clients were ready to move onto a different company to handle their financial needs.

“Our client showed up for the next workshop with a big smile on her face. Two of the three prospects took her up on the offer and moved their book(s) of business. Our client gained two new customers because she understood how they made decisions. She used her empathy skills to validate their feelings and also put the burden of delivering the bad news of change on her own shoulders, rather than on the prospects’”

I like this book — it gets into the nitty-gritty emotionality of things. The “money talk” part brought back a bit of Maria Nemeth’s “The Energy of Money.” This, to me, seems to be a particularly good book for financial planners.

For more from Richard Hoe, see:

The disciplined investor

How to invest like an Ivy League endowment

Charlie White’s dynamic idea