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To be a great leader, don’t clone yourself — let each team member shine in their own unique way. That’s the advice of FranklinCovey leadership expert Scott Miller, who for 15 years worked closely with Dr. Steven Covey, author of the enduring bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, Miller, executive vice president of thought leadership, discusses why good leaders are “genius-makers” and that, in the male-dominated financial services industry, leaders of either gender should “lift up” women.

His newest book is “Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team,” written with Todd Davis and Victoria Roos Olsson, both of FC (Simon & Schuster — October 2020).

The six practices include developing a leader’s mindset, creating a culture of feedback and leading a team through change.

In the interview, Miller talks about the delicate balance of being the leader when one is also the team’s coach. A leader’s primary job, he says, is to create a transparent culture where people can meet and exceed goals — versus a toxic environment workers want to flee.

Some people may be born leaders. On average, employees assume their first leadership role at the age of 30, yet aren’t exposed to leadership training till they reach 42, according to the Harvard Business Review, FranklinCovey points out.

Miller has been with the consultancy, which specializes in organizational performance improvement, for 23 years. He hosts leadership webcasts and podcasts, and writes a column for Inc. magazine.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the management expert, who was speaking from firm headquarters in Salt Lake City. He stressed the importance of empathic listening and called “idiotic” the widespread impression that strong leaders are poor listeners.

Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: What’s the difference between a leader and a boss?

SCOTT MILLER: If you believe you’re someone’s boss, you inherently think they need to be bossed — that they’re not competent or able to bring their best and require you to manage their time. In contrast, leaders think people need to be led by setting vision and direction and by helping to pull out talents to maximize their own genius. If you’re insecure about your own competence, you will boss people around. If you’re confident and secure in your own contribution, you’ll lead others to the greatness they can contribute.

Many FAs are leaving wirehouses and going on their own as RIA. That means they’re now heading a small business. Is being a leader in that scenario different from what you just described?

There are some slight nuances: When you’re the founder, creator, owner of a startup enterprise, some issues are different from being a CEO or a line leader at a large firm. [As an entrepreneur], you’re probably off the charts in terms of your energy level. You’re probably quite deliberate about bringing your vision to life — and you probably have a little do-it-my-way-or-the-highway mentality. You likely have a high quality standard and a relentless work ethic and expect others to have the same.

So should you want your partners and associates to emulate much of that? 

What you don’t want to do is create clones of yourself. Your job is to make sure you bring other people to the table that have different points of view. People can get results that are just as good or even better than yours by having different processes and talents. So be mindful that as the owner, you’re going to have a bit of a prejudiced point of view on how things should be done.

What could the downside be in that situation?

If you repel people because they don’t like you or don’t find you compelling or trustworthy, you’re never going to be able to scale, replicate and build a high-trust brand and high-trust offering. You need to let other people shine and bring their own talents and processes into play.

A serious issue in the male-dominated financial services industry is that men often disrespect and mistreat the women. How should a male leader behave?

It’s the job of senior leadership regardless of gender to lift up and build the capability and respect for females at all levels. There may be some women that show high levels of character and competence who deserve to be lifted up even a little disproportionately because they’ve been held back, disrespected or maliciously prevented from getting the respect they deserve and earned.

What else should a good leader keep in mind?

Model [the right way] to treat people with respect regardless of gender. That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally have a joke. But know who your audience is. Workplaces can be catty. As a leader, you set the standard and people watch you and replicate you.

On the flip side, some women leaders are often labeled difficult or “bitches.”  What’s your advice to people who work under female executives?

Some may be thinking, “She’s gone too far.” But maybe better understand her story and pre-forgive her a bit. People have their own journeys and challenges you may know nothing about. You have no idea how she may have been treated by her college professor or her first financial manager or first investment team.

What advice do you have for such women?

To the female leaders who might have swung a little bit far, recognize that there’s probably an eye on you and that your job isn’t only to right the wrong. Your job isn’t only to lift up women. Your job is to lift up everyone, to call out injustices that you see and built a culture where everyone thrives. Because you’ve been held back doesn’t mean you’re now going to punish all those in your way. Your job is to pave the path to the future.

What’s the most effective approach to leading a team of people in the same job function but with varying levels of experience? 

A leader can learn from someone more junior. Because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you’re the genius, the wisest, the most creative, or automatically the smartest person in the room. But it does mean that you’re the genius-maker of others and have the confidence to say, “That’s a good idea.” It’s important for even leaders to be open to learning and growing from the team around them. Don’t suffocate them but balance everybody’s skills so that everybody is winning.

How does one handle being the team leader and a producing financial advisor as well?

Many leaders are players and coaches. It’s a delicate balance. A good leader isn’t trying to show up their team and take their customers or suffocate the players by managing all their business. There might be some team members that are better with certain types of investors or managing certain types of portfolios or better with high-net-worth individuals.  It’s important to have the maturity and self-awareness to share [best] practices. This may sound Pollyanna in the dog-eat-dog world of portfolio and investment management. But don’t try to one-up.

Another situation is being branch manager of a number of FAs and FA teams. Should the leadership approach be any different? What’s the best way to retain advisors?

A leader’s No. 1 job is to recruit and train talented people who are smarter than they are. If someone picks up and takes their portfolio of clients across the street, it’s not necessarily because they’re going to earn more money but because they’re miserable in their job and hate their boss and culture. People usually leave because the culture is toxic, or they don’t trust or respect their leader.

How to prevent that from happening?

A leader’s job is to create a culture where people choose to stay, where they choose to be transparent, and meet and exceed goals. Leaders create either a toxic environment or a high-trust environment. The latter is where people enjoy coming to work.

“Empathic listening” is critically important, especially if you’re a leader, you write. It’s also important for FAs in helping clients: They need to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Why is empathic listening such a challenge for many?

This is profound. As leaders, we’ve been taught and trained to be great communicators — to talk persuasively, to always be in influence mode. We rarely have training on how to listen. People think strong leaders aren’t good listeners. That’s idiotic! If you want to be an empathic listener, move off your own narrative. If you want to manage Scott Miller’s portfolio for two years, tell me what to do. If you want to manage it for 40 years, listen to what I need. You may have to tell me what I need after you’ve listened to my fears, insecurities, irrational thoughts and how my parents managed their money. But only when you understand my money story, can you prescribe what you feel is best for me.

What quality do FAs and investment managers need to develop best as leaders?

To genuinely move off their arrogance, move off the fund they love the best or are incented to sell, to check their ego and all their solutions at the door, walk in and ask the client: “Tell me about your relationship with money.” Then they need to be quiet and not ask more questions.  Step back, and listen. Afterwards, think of the best way to alleviate the client’s fears. Build trust by listening.

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