I’ve seen a few stories in the advisory media lately talking about “The X (insert number here) Traits of Top Advisors.”
Some of these traits are okay, while others are mostly harmless, but the problem with them is that for the most part they either sound like wishful thinking or an adaptation of some business school theory. The reality is that successful owner-advisors really do have many of the same traits. Unfortunately, you can’t identify them by looking at firm “metrics” or asking them in a survey. Instead, you have to work with these folks to see what they actually do. Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of great owner-advisors, in small firms to super giants, and here’s my list of the seven traits those successful leaders have in common:
Trait 1: Successful Advisors Lead Instead of Manage
Great business owners don’t seek to manage and/or oversee the people who work for them: they take average people and make them into great leaders themselves, so they don’t have to be managed. These advisors don’t see themselves as “the boss” cracking the whip every day to get the most out of their employees, because they intuitively know that not only will that take away from making their maximum contribution to the firm, but it will also limit firm growth to what they can do. Instead, they see themselves as coaches (maybe “player-coaches”), whose job is to train, support, and motivate each employee to make their maximum contribution to the business.
Trait 2: Successful Advisors Hire People Smarter Than Themselves
Great owner-advisors are fond of saying that they aren’t really all that smart, they just hire smart people. Of course, that’s a sign of being really smart, because it’s based on the concept that to build a business that’s more than just a job with some support, you have to hire people who can also make substantial contributions to the firm’s growth and success. (This mentality also applies to outsourcing partners and strategic partners and consultants ;). )
Trait 3: Successful Advisors Operate From a Business Plan
That plan is updated every year, and reviewed at least once a month. This allows their employees (and themselves) to know exactly where they are and where they are going as a company. It also makes sure that everyone is on the same page, with the same vision about what kind of firm you are trying to build. The ability to communicate their vision is one of the essential skills of successful owner-advisors: growth is a lot easier when everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Trait 4: Successful Advisors Don’t Care What Everybody Else Is Doing