by Jonathan Henschen, CFS and featured in ProducersWeb
Success is a journey, not a destination. Top producers live that credo because it enables them to excel while enjoying what they do, feel motivated, energized and satisfied.
After consulting with a wide variety of advisors, as I do, certain personal characteristics have inevitably emerged. And it’s typically those characteristics that differentiate top producers from the others. Now, the term top producer is relative, since advisors producing $200,000 in Wyoming can be every bit as successful as advisors producing $500,000 in San Francisco or New York City. So we’ll leave the quantitative deﬁnition of top producer open to your interpretation; instead, we’ll detail these eight qualitative personal characteristics of highly successful ﬁnancial services professionals.
Character and integrity
Hardship and difficulty do not create character and integrity – they reveal it. Among the surest signs of integrity are: always putting client needs over the desire to control their assets; and always pursuing clients’ long-term goals over your immediate reward.
Character building is a lifelong process that involves the way we’ve dealt with issues both large and small throughout our lives. Yet, if a person’s character and integrity have been neglected, that neglect tends to surface in crises. When character and integrity are lacking, people tend to blame everything and everyone but themselves.
As recruiters, we face character and integrity issues all the time, especially when working with advisors who’ve had compliance problems. For example, on the face of it, reproducing client signatures may be obviously unethical, but when listening to the rationales provided by those who do it, it is something that can all sound deceptively innocent: “I met with a client and we ﬁlled out some forms, but when I got back to the ofﬁce I realized they missed one of the signatures. Instead of driving all the way back and disturbing them for a signature I’m sure they would have signed, I just signed it myself.”
That kind of thinking reveals a basic lack of character and integrity that, in time, can drive advisors out of this business.
People skills and emotional intelligence
Contrary to popular belief, we’ve observed that people skills and emotional intelligence take an advisor further than hard work and technical skills. Being successful in this business means being able to work well with people and having the emotional intelligence to connect with others. Successful ﬁnancial advisors instinctively realize their approach must connect with clients’ emotions 80 percent of the time while engaging their logic just 20 percent of the time. Advisors who excel at storytelling, analogies and relevant illustrations that speak to clients’ emotions have less of a need for technical explanations, justifications and reasoning.
Healthy levels of self-deprecating humor
From the client’s point of view, most advisors are overly serious and come across as uneasy and uptight. Self-deprecation and humor diffuse those negative perceptions. Advisors who have a knack for self-disclosure, relevant storytelling, nostalgia and humorous insight create an atmosphere of warmth and trust with clients.
Warren Buffet is a great example of someone with healthy self-deprecating humor. He lives very modestly for someone of his means, and is quick to admit his shortcomings while incorporating humor into his market reflections. In fact, during our post Sept. 11 market correction, someone asked Buffet about the effect the bear market was having on under-capitalized technology companies. Buffet’s wry comment was, “when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked.” Classic Buffet.
Tenacious time managers
Time management means appreciating the limited time each of us has in this life, and making the most of it. For some, it takes experiencing personal tragedy before they can appreciate the precious gift of time. Successful advisors are students of time management — they view it as a precious commodity. They’re always seeking efﬁcient new ways to run their business, and implementing time-saving technologies that allow them to spend more time, both in front of clients and with their own families.
Focus on excelling, not competition
I’ve seen managers encourage competition among their advisors, and at times that can be proﬁtable; but usually competition limits successful advisors’ capacity for excellence and accomplishment. Top producers realize that continually raising the bar — excelling beyond their previous best —makes the biggest difference in their careers.
In this business, advisors’ personal victories do not have to come at the expense of their colleagues. People in competition tend to focus on the tasks at hand, with one eye locked on what the others are doing — and how they’re doing in comparison. They don’t see the big picture and are unable to concentrate on creatively meeting their clients’ needs and objectives. Under those circumstances, in-house competition often restricts learning and creativity. Competitive thoughts hinder peak performance and release damaging stress hormones. The most successful advisors not only don’t need competition, but they thrive in its absence, achieving personal fulﬁllment and professional excellence by outdoing their best.
Studies of the most successful professionals in this business nearly always have the longest time horizons. While advisors routinely prepare detailed annual business plans that include daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals, they also should address long-term open-ended goals, such as “In ten years, I want to be perceived as the advisor of choice in my community.”
The power of long-term, open-ended goals is not what we achieve (or fail to achieve), but what we evolve to become in striving to attain them.
All advisors have written short-term goals they talk over with staff and spouses, and which they review frequently to be sure they’re on track. Long-term open-ended goals, however, are dreams for the future they also think of frequently, and which drive them to excel. For instance, one of my personal long-term goals is to build a log home on our property up north by the time I’m 50, which is in three years. I look at that as an investment in family time, and is, I believe, the best investment I could ever make. A day hardly goes by that I don’t think of my plans for that cabin, and what all must be done to bring it to fruition. It’s a driving force and positive inﬂuence in my life.
Highly focused; proactive not reactive
I’m amazed at how much time people waste on things that are clearly beyond their control. Though futile and counterproductive, many advisors fall into this trap. I’ve learned that top producers have amazing focus; paying attention only to things over which they have control. This directly relates to their being either proactive or reactive. For instance, we often review advisors’ marketing plans, including seminars. When working with reactive advisors, the response we usually get is: “I’ve tried seminars in this area; they don’t work because the place has been saturated with them.”
No matter what the topic, reactive types always seem to know exactly why something won’t work. They’ve tried everything, invariably without result, leaving them feeling like failures. Proactive advisors, however, invariably focus with laser-like intensity on what works – or on how to make promising ideas and techniques pay off. No excuses – they stick to it until they succeed.
An advisor I know near Minneapolis is a top producer by anyone’s standards. He also has a large apple farm, to which he also devotes a lot of his time and energy making it a success. I’ve learned that 100 percent of the income from the apple farm goes to charity. While that sounds noble, the personal rewards he reaps from giving have been life-changing and addictive.
The most successful people are almost invariably generous givers. If a successful advisor attends a church or synagogue, he or she is usually among the few congregants who actually tithe (that is, contribute 10 percent of their income) as instructed by their faith.
There has recently been a lot of press about the ultra wealthy — people like Warren Buffet – giving huge amounts of their wealth to charities — but many more ultra-wealthy entertainers and sports ﬁgures have little in the way of altruistic impulses. In proportion to their wealth, the largest contributors are the working poor and the upper-middle and upper class. Those who give the least include the middle class, non-working poor and the ultra wealthy. And surprisingly to some, conservatives reportedly give more than liberals, and people of religious faith give and volunteer more than others.
Those aren’t value judgments, but merely statistical facts on American charitable giving — a population that also tops the list of all nations in terms of personal charitable giving. The bottom line is; giving is a discipline well-ingrained in successful individuals – financial services professionals and others. And when you give generously, it comes back to you in ways you can only imagine.