One of the defining characteristics of the most successful advisors I meet is that they consistently aim higher – in almost all aspects of their lives. It’s in their DNA and it applies in equal measure to their business lives, their personal relationships and their health. I suspect that they apply the same discipline to doing the dishes, but that’s pure speculation.
And it’s not that that process of aiming higher is without failure or challenge, simply that they are hard-wired to ‘hit reset’ when they are knocked down and refocus on their goals. As part of an on-going journey to understand more about the things that drive the most successful advisors, we recently polled 250 advisors. It was a fairly simple study with a fairly simple goal – to understand something about how advisors – particularly the most successful advisors – define, drive and sustain growth.
Based on that research and, in fairness, a healthy dose of observation over the last 20 years, we identified six characteristics of uncommonly successful advisors. For the purposes of this study, we isolated a group of advisors who personally manage $250m or more in client assets. I know this won’t be the best point of reference for everyone, so no need to write. I’ve found assets to be a good proxy for success across a variety of different business models. Directionally, the results of this segment were similar to advisors with $500m+ or $1b+ (the other two segments we studied) however keeping it here gives us a more robust sample.
1. Great advisors have CLARITY around business and personal goals.
Eighty-three percent of advisors said they have a clear vision for their business, jumping to 95% for larger businesses. In my experience, the most successful advisors don’t just define the size of the business, but the kind of work they want to be doing, the clients they want to serve and the team they want to build.
There are, of course, challenges. On a personal level, the challenges are all about time management and balancing work and family life (which is another way of saying time management). Professionally, respondents still see growth as the single biggest challenge however that switches to focus on team, differentiation and succession among the larger businesses.
Q: Which of the following do you consider the biggest challenge for you professionally?
2. Great advisors see the POSSIBILITY of great achievement.
While most advisors can speak to a vision of the future, the most successful tend are more likely to see the possibility of achieving those goals more clearly. You can see this reflected in the data, with 100% of larger businesses indicating they are confident they would meet their business goals. Great advisors don’t question what is possible. In a recent interview I conducted with Caroline Miller, she talked about ‘grit’ as one of the best predictors of success. When discussing the characteristics of ‘gritty’ people she commented that when faced with the potential of setting a big goal, most people ask ‘why’ whereas gritty people ask ‘why not’.
3. Great advisors INVEST in personal development.
Ninety percent of advisors say continuing education and development are somewhat important or critical…and they pay. The largest firms simply invest more in the process.
Q: How much did you invest in professional and personal development in the last 12 months?
4. Great advisors focus their energy on specific activities, including TEAM AND CLIENT ENGAGEMENT.
In this study and in a previous study we conducted on the drivers of success, a focus on client and team engagement were paramount. Team development is among the top challenges and great advisory firms appear to be meeting the challenge head on.
On this point, one of the trends I’ve observed is a focus on institutionalizing mentoring within firms. While mentoring is a part of how many firms operate, the process tends to be informal. Among the larger firms, who are embracing mentoring, we’re seeing more formality and structure to define objectives and measure success. If you are thinking about mentoring you can click here to access an overview of three different types of mentoring, s created based on a conversation with Rebecca Pomering as part of our first Spotlight Program.
5. Great advisors MEASURE success for themselves, their clients and their team.
Measuring success for clients or for the team might include a formal feedback mechanism. What was more striking in the research, however, is the fact that more successful advisors are more likely to use some form of personal strengths assessment. Nearly three quarters of larger advisors had used an assessment tool and were most likely to have used Gallup’s Strengths Finder. I’ve used all three noted below (I’m not sure what that says about me) and found them helpful in different ways. Strengths Finder was the easiest for me to interpret without the help of a professional, for what it’s worth.
Q: Have you assessed your strengths using any formal tools?
6. Great advisors find SUPPORT by leaning on other advisors or experts to guide and motivate them.
This was perhaps the most pervasive trend we saw in the results. Simply stated, great advisors create a team around themselves to encourage, motivate, support and push them in different parts of their lives. Anecdotally I would also say that these advisors tend to apply this approach to multiple aspects of their lives. In the first Spotlight we did, Katherine Liola (President of Concentric Wealth Management) talked about having a triathelete coach (she’s an Ironman), being part of a mastermind group and participating in a study group. In our second Spotlight, Jack Thurman (President of BKD Wealth Advisors) said he has different coaches to support him in business as well as physically and spiritually.
More often than not, great advisors look to other great advisors for ideas and inspiration.
Eighty-six percent of advisors managing $500m+ say that accessing ideas from other successful advisors is somewhat effective (29%) or very effective (57%). And, ‘other successful advisors’ was rated as the number one source of new ideas for the respondents.
I was also struck by the fact that three of the top five resources, in terms of effectiveness, involved your peers. (I’ll confess I was somewhat relieved to see this as my business is largely built around the goal to help advisors access great ideas from other great advisors.)
On the subject of mastermind groups, something I think is an emerging trend among the most successful advisors, you can click here. It will take you to a 5-minute interview with Caroline Adams Miller on how to set up a mastermind group and why they matter.
You can also access the full summary of the research here. And, as always, I’m interested in your thoughts on questions on the study and implications.