Last Sunday, on one of the NFL pre-game shows, the panel was asked who they would rather have quarterback their team. The options were either Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos, who recently set the NFL record for career touchdowns, and led the Indianapolis Colts to one Super Bowl title; or five-time league MVP Tom Brady, who has led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning three of them. 

Bill Cowher, the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said they were both great QBs, but he would take Manning. He explained that through Peyton’s understanding of and passion for the game, he makes everyone around him better. That includes his offensive players, the defensive players, the back-up players and even the coaches. I have to admit, anyone wearing a Broncos jersey is not well-liked in my football-loving household, but despite team preferences Manning could be a great model for all of us. That includes independent owner-advisors who can make everyone in their firm better, through their knowledge, their insight, their drive for excellence and their passion for what they do.

Once a firm owner has made the decision to grow his/her firm beyond what he/she can do with some clerical help, a successful advisory firm is a team game.

Which means that (as much as many of them want to believe they can), the owner-advisors can’t do it alone.

While larger advisory firms generally do better than smaller advisory firms, our work has clearly shown that what firm owners do—or don’t—in their relationships with their employees is the biggest single determinant of the success of their businesses. 

Of course, some financial advisors don’t want many employees. In fact, some of the most successful firms we’ve seen—as measured by owner income and lifestyle—are sole practitioners, with an assistant and maybe a secretary. Still, the number of clients they can effectively service depends in large part on how much leverage their few employees can provide, by taking as many tasks as possible off the advisor’s desk.

To get the maximum leverage—the maximum income—these advisors also need to make their employees as effective as they can be. 

Here’s how owner-advisors can follow in the footsteps of Peyton Manning, to make their employees better:

  1. Lead
    Every team needs a leader. It’s one of the most important qualities that football coaches look for in a quarterback. Firm owners—whether they like it or not—are the firm’s leader. They set the tone for what it means to be a financial advisor, to be “in business” and to work at their firm. They set the standard for what’s acceptable, and what isn’t, in dealing with clients, vendors and affiliated businesses, business ethics, work ethic, how to act, and interact, with others in the firm, and that by working together they can be more than they can individually.
    For a firm to be successful, it’s important the owner(s) embody the traits that will lead to success.
  2. Inspire
    Most independent advisors started their own firms to make a difference in their clients’ lives: they believe helping people to more effectively manage their finances will help them to lead better, happier, more fulfilling lives. They believe that what they are doing is important. Yet few advisors seem to communicate these beliefs to their employees. It’s no secret that when people believe in what they are doing, they tend to it better. Successful firm owners communicate their passion to their employees, and inspire them to be passionate about their jobs, too.
  3. Coach
    Too many owner-advisors see themselves as “the boss,” issuing orders and meting out discipline as if they’re feudal lords. In our view, overseeing employees isn’t the first job of an owner, it’s the last job: if they do their other jobs right, it’s no job at all. We find it’s more effective if owners see themselves as coaches: working with their employees to help them do their jobs better. Most firm owners are pleasantly surprised at how much better their firm runs when their employees feel the owner is helping them to do better, rather than looking for things to criticize. 
  4. Motivate
    It’s no secret that employees who want to be better usually are better. While leading, inspiring and coaching go a long way toward creating great employee moral, the last step is to understand what motivates each employee. Some folks are career-oriented while others are driven to make more money. Some just love to help people, while others light up when they get praised for doing good. Great leaders know that people are different, and find the one thing that drives each employee to do their best. 

These days, succession planning is the hot topic, and the notion of creating a legacy with their firms is on the minds of many owner-advisors. We encourage firm owners also to see their businesses as a chance to pass on their passion for financial planning, for taking care of their clients, and creating a firm in which everyone is inspired to do their best, feels their job is important, and that by working together, they can be successful. That’s a legacy worthy of Peyton Manning.