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8 Skills That Make Great Leaders

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Independent advisory firm owners must wear many hats to grow a successful business: leader, boss, CEO, manager, mentor, teacher, coach, and usually financial advisor, just to name a few.

Consequently — and understandably — most owners tend to focus their time and efforts on areas that they are most comfortable with and, in their view, that are most in need of immediate attention. This approach works out fairly well, as long as they also keep on top of what’s going on in other aspects of their business and stay abreast of changes in the financial industry, especially those that might require some shifts in their business plans.

To do that, owner advisors must keep growing and improving their skills and the skills of the people they manage. Here are eight areas that enable stronger results at any level — including owners and advisors — and that can have a significant, positive impact on an independent advisory business.

1. Business Focus. To maximize their contributions to the success of the business, everyone in the firm needs to know the purpose and direction of the company and to understand how their jobs, tasks and assignments contribute to the overall success of the firm. This includes wisely spending money and prudently using other resources.

2. Client Focus. Everyone in the firm has to contribute to the creation of a positive client experiences by ensuring that their work is of the highest quality, meeting client expectations of “on-time” delivery, adapting their work processes to meet clients’ changing demands and better serving clients by finding creative solutions while using the firm’s resources efficiently.

3. Results Orientation. This means employees consistently get their jobs done, deliver outstanding results, anticipate and overcome obstacles before they become a crisis, and take personal ownership for results, which includes taking timely corrective action for unsatisfactory performance.

4. Leadership. Successful firms tend to have good leaders at the top and throughout the business. But training the next generation is important, too. Good leaders accept responsibility for problems rather than blame others, maintain a high standard of personal conduct even when pressured to compromise, and manage stressful situations well without becoming uptight, tense or too reactive.

Leaders motivate team members to cooperate and help each other. A good team leader leads by example and will improve results and increase moral in any part of a business.

In addition, good leaders accept constructive criticism with appreciation rather than feeling personally attacked. They provide candid feedback without offending or patronizing others, address conflict and/or disagreement without insulting or offending others, and ask for diverse views before making important decisions. They allow others to disagree, share their best thinking and pay full, undivided attention to what others are saying without interrupting them.

5. Initiative. Good business leaders both allow and encourage their employees to take initiative. That is to make decisions, come up with solutions and identify opportunities for improvement on their own. Of course, it’s important that employees understand the limits of their authority and when to run an idea by their boss and/or the owner. But it’s equally important for firm owners to carefully listen to their employees’ ideas.

It’s tempting for an owner to believe they have all the answers, but they don’t. Quite often employees will know their jobs a lot better than an owner does. After all, they are on the front lines, doing their jobs day in and day out.

6. Planning and organization. We find that the most productive employees tend to approach their jobs in an organized fashion. They prioritize their work so more important tasks are completed first. They also work toward increasing efficiency, eliminating wasted time and resources.

Planning usually results in an even distribution of one’s workload and minimizes wasted time. The result is usually better, more precise work based on greater attention to detail.

7. Decision Making. Businesses run more smoothly and efficiently when employees have the authority to make key decisions within their areas of responsibility without unnecessary approvals.

It’s important that the employee and their immediate supervisor (usually the firm owner) work together to clearly articulate the regularly occurring decisions to be made by the employee and those that require approval by their supervisor.

Businesses run the most successfully when key employees are given fairly broad authority within their work areas, along with the responsibility to regularly report the outcomes of their decisions to their supervisor.

8. Interpersonal skills. Despite what you might think, have heard or perhaps come to believe on your own, people in organizations like businesses tend to be much more successful when their colleagues like them. We would all like to think that life isn’t a popularity contest, but it is.

In an advisory business, this “likeability” factor comes in many forms. At the top, owners and managers need to know that they can trust their employees to represent them and can act according to their wishes when the owner/manager isn’t present.

In the trenches, teams tend to be much more successful when they all like and respect each other. Being part of a team is motivational, particularly when the members feel they “are all in it together,” helping each other to work toward the same goal.

The downside is that the success of a team can be adversely affected when one member doesn’t work well with others. Bad team players come in many forms, from those who don’t help out other team members when needed, to those who constantly criticize others or who take credit for other’s work or achievements.

You get the picture (and probably have experienced working with people like this). Often, some people aren’t aware of their bad behavior or of its effect on others. And when it’s brought to their attention, they feel badly about it and then make a genuine effort to become a better team member.

The takeaway here is that while an advisory firm obviously needs lots of top-notch expertise in financial services to provide top-level financial advice to its clients, it also needs to emphasize and focus on the key skills that cultivate leaders to succeed on the business side of the firm’s operations, too.

Angie Herbers is an independent consultant to the advisory industry. She can be reached at [email protected].


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