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In Troubled Times, Are You a Manager or a Leader?

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We are in a volatile moment. But character is revealed in hard times, and when volatility hits you can either be a leader or a manager.

Being a leader not only will get you through the crisis, it will make you stronger on the other side.

It may seem counterintuitive, but RIA owners can lead their teams by focusing on themselves first. The simple truth is that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t care for others.

Think of the process like a bulls-eye where you start at the center and extend outward. By caring for yourself, you can better care for your team, and they can then better care for your clients. It all extends outward in a positive wave.

Here’s how to be a better leader and think about what you’re experiencing as we move through this crisis to the other side.

First, understand the crisis and determine how to respond. A systematic crisis is one you can anticipate will happen with some sort of frequency, so you can create a plan to address it when it occurs.

For example, you buy car insurance because car accidents happen on occasion. You know employees will sometimes move on, so you have a process in place for how to replace them when that happens.

These situations are small crises, and ones you can address with a proactive mindset.

A non-systematic crisis is one you can’t anticipate or adequately prepare for before it happens; you must be reactive in the moment.

Some examples of non-systematic crises might include having your child’s school close unexpectedly and you must work from home. You must maintain your productivity, and also help them manage screen time, help with homework, and take care of their basic needs while you continue to do your job.

Many advisors are dealing with this exact situation right now (and so am I).

Your response to any crisis, whether it is one you can prepare for or not, is essential in helping your firm and your team members come through it in a stronger position than when it began.

By following these three simple steps, you can be a more effective leader in a crisis. While it may seem all focused on you, that focus is what really allows you to prioritize others throughout the process.

Steps to Follow

First, take time to breathe, stop and slow down. Use this slowdown period to assess the situation.

Once you assess, you can create a plan to deal with the crisis; you still need to sleep, exercise, and meet your basic needs. If you let your own health (physical or mental) slide, you impair your ability to lead well and put together a worthwhile plan.

Ask for help. Get insights from your confidants and mentors to make sure you are thinking clearly about the best way forward.

This process is most helpful in situations where you find yourself unprepared, but it’s a routine you can use throughout your growth as a business owner.

After taking care of your own well-being, you need to begin communicating your plan. Start with those next closest to you, your team. Serve your team first, and they can serve your clients better.

In a crisis, things can change quickly. You will have to make and adjust your plan more than once, so be prepared to adapt.

As you change your plan, communicate those changes to your team, but be aware of your core values — they will inform your response, help you stay committed to them and help you create a more productive plan.

Your clients and your team not only need to hear from you, they likely need someone to discuss their fears and worries with as well. Be a sounding board for others and lead through service.


Jarrod Upton, MBA, MS, CFP, is chief operating officer and senior consultant at Herbers & Co., an independent management consultancy for financial advisory firms. He can be reached at www.HerbersCo.com.