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The 85/15 Leadership-Technical Knowledge Disconnect

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Many advisors are quietly living in denial. Although we love digging into stats and data on the job, 85% of our success comes from our ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Only 15% comes from our technical knowledge—the details we discuss with clients that they use to make decisions about products like insurance and investments.

But if you go to any industry conference, you’ll find the numbers flipped: 85% of the conference sessions focus on technical knowledge and skill, and only 15% focus on leadership.

(Related: 3 Ways to Add Skin to the Game)

There’s an ingrained focus among financial pros that centers on the technical side of the business. We love digging into the numbers because that’s where we feel most comfortable — and there is less ambiguity. But that comfort is ultimately toxic. The more technical something is, the more likely it can be commoditized, outsourced, or replaced with AI.

More importantly, our clients don’t want technical knowledge. They want confidence that you’ll recommend the right product and generate the best results possible, that you’ll be by their side through the good times and bad. That confidence isn’t sparked by a minute technical fact.

For an example, think about when you need help with something on the job, such as with your cell phone or computer. A small percentage of us want to know how to build the clock, so to speak, but most of us just want it to tell us the time. When someone is guiding us, we want to be led with the right combination of kindness and humility coupled with knowledge and genuineness.

None of us can improve if we don’t practice. Take it from referral coach Bill Cates, who’s been helping professionals develop into better networkers to drive more qualified referrals for more than three decades now. In a recent LinkedIn referral fitness video, Bill tells the story of a manager who oversaw a producer on his team. The manager recognized the producer’s productivity, but he also noted he could be even more effective if he improved on earning more referrals.

To help, the manager approached the producer and made a few observations. The producer was an avid golfer. He regularly warmed up before hitting the links, he practiced his putts and drives, paid for a golf coach, and he was always on the lookout for the latest golf equipment. The manager concluded with a valuable lesson: The producer wasn’t a professional golfer, but he trained like one. How much better would he become at his day job if put the same dedicated effort into growing his client referrals? How many higher-revenue clients would he manage to attract?

The same principles hold true in bettering your leadership skills. One of the best advisors we know outsources the technical side to other team members so he can focus on sales. He has three coaches: one for sales, one for business, and one for advising. Like the golfer in Bill’s example, the advisor put in the extra effort to improve. The results speak for themselves: The advisor is now one of the best in the industry because he spends more time focusing on the 85% of the job that matters most , not simply what is more comfortable.

Becoming a great leader and communicator is difficult, but it’s an essential part of professional growth. The only way to improve is to continuously train and build on those skills, the same way you would on the golf course. We have to stop doing the things that are easy and start doing the things that are hard.

At the end of the day, the only one who can hold you accountable is you. You’re the one that has to take the first step in expanding your skill set to become a stronger leader.

— Read 6 Ways to Capture the Rewards Hiding in the Unknownon ThinkAdvisor.

John Pojeta

John Pojeta is vice president of business development at The PT Services Group. Before he joined PT, he owned and operated an Ameriprise Financial Services franchise for 16 years.