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Leadership Perspectives

I have always been fascinated by the impact of great leaders and thoughtful leadership on individuals and companies; however, I have never written on the topic. Perhaps it’s because I have been both successful and unsuccessful in roles that allowed me to lead others. Perhaps it’s because I felt that everything that could be said on the subject already has been said. Maybe I just didn’t feel qualified to offer a perspective on the subject. Recently, I was speaking to someone that I admire very much. We were talking about leadership and this person said, “You have so much experience and exposure. You should really share your perspective”.

That was the affirmation I needed to begin the journey on leadership. What will follow in the coming weeks and months are perspectives from 23 years in the financial services industry. These perspectives come from my history in the industry and from my company’s vantage point as an advisor to a diverse set of financial firms. Our goal is to provoke leaders to think about their organizations, determine what’s possible instead of what is probable and move to action.

The financial services industry needs great leadership. We are facing an identity crisis, an aging advisor population and technological change like never before. It’s imperative that we begin to decide who we are as an industry and how we keep growing and evolving in a positive direction to serve a client base that is also changing and looking for more from us.

Here is an interesting example. A few weeks ago, I bumped into a divisional manager for a major financial institution. As we were catching up he asked this question, “What do you think of the independent space? It seems like every advisor wants to go independent”. I thought about that question for days. Why do advisors want to move to independence and run their own practice? What role has leadership played in this transition?

Most would answer the above question with two words…money and control. Advisors want to make more money for their efforts with clients and they want control over their environment. I think those two words reflect a symptom rather than the true answer. The translation of these two words may be that advisors don’t feel connected to their firm, its mission and purpose. They don’t feel the firm considers them important or valuable. They may believe that the “ivory tower” isn’t listening and isn’t changing to adapt to client needs. Advisors may not believe that the revenue contribution to the firm is equitable for the resources and support they receive. Maybe they just haven’t felt great leadership.

As I think back over my time in the industry, revered leaders were those who knew everyone in their branch, region or division. They were men and women who inspired purpose, passion, energy and vision. They were people who made advisors think differently about what was possible. They made advisors feel important in subtle ways like handwritten notes or calls out of the blue congratulating some personal or professional success. Leaders who were able to express what advisors were thinking before they uttered the words were beloved. Leaders who had answers and a compelling why captured our hearts and minds. Perhaps most importantly, leaders who made you feel like you were a part of something unique and special and on the greatest team in the history of the industry made a significant difference.

Just as advisors must change to more effectively serve client needs, leaders must change to more effectively serve advisors and grow their enterprises. In the coming articles, we will explore some of the ways leaders can adapt and change to lead great organizations and make a meaningful impact on the industry. Our hope is to provoke thought and to drive positive and meaningful change. Enjoy!

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