I’m a data quality specialist. I work with wealth management firms every day to ensure that their information is accurate and accessible on the AdvisorEngine® platform.
However, it’s not all about facts and figures. As any good financial advisor knows, success in wealth management requires ‘intangibles’ such as good leadership.
Below is my perspective on what good leadership means, and how to know if your leadership is translating to the rest of your team. I apply these to our data quality team, but these ideas are applicable across a wide variety of organizations and goals. I hope you find it thought-provoking.
My favorite leadership definition
Several years ago, I watched an interview with Colin Powell in which he was asked how he defined leadership. He responded immediately: “Leadership is the ability to organize and motivate people to achieve a common goal.”
There was no hesitation in his answer. Leadership is clearly something he thinks about regularly - so it’s no surprise that he had developed his own definition, honed by years of experience.
Are you dedicating enough time to being a leader?
Successful leaders know how to define a common goal, convey it clearly to their team and ensure they have the right tools to get the job done.
Having a clearly defined team mission or specific project goal that everyone is fully informed about creates a sense of mutual purpose and puts everyone on notice about what is expected. It helps to have a mission statement that keeps all ‘eyes on the prize’.
Conveying this clearly to the team requires repetition and close contact. I use a daily team meeting to examine our daily data heartbeat and remind everyone of our primary mission. This purpose is to ensure everyone has the right tools to meet expectations; this means listening to their needs, creatively interacting to find the best solutions and mustering the resources to meet everyone’s needs.
These things sound simple, but they are not easy. They require dedicated effort and time. Many people find that ‘quiet time’ in the morning or evening is effective.
Are you carving out time on a regular basis to articulate ‘common goals’ to your colleagues? If not, are there changes you can make in your schedule so that you can do so?
Have you identified up-and-coming leaders within your firm?
You may have heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” - the same sentiment holds true for delivering sound financial advice. It’s important to cultivate leadership across ALL the roles at your firm - not just among financial advisors. From client-facing roles to behind-the-scenes operations roles, many people ‘make it happen’ for clients every day. Identify those who can help you deliver on your vision.
Have you ever considered establishing an ‘emerging leaders group?’ One best practice that leading firms adhere to is identifying up-and-coming leaders within your firm to undergo training and work on special projects. That way, you’re building your bench of current and future leaders.
Is your leadership translating to your team?
I believe that strong leadership is evidenced by the everyday actions of a team. Does your team embody the characteristics below? If so, it’s a good sign that your leadership is taking root.
Courtesy: This much-neglected virtue simply means that people will start important interactions with “hello” and end with “thank you.” Many breakdowns in team morale could be avoided if common courtesy was the norm.
Clear Communication: It’s important that everyone is on the same page – with the information in standardized form across the board. To communicate effectively, hold regular meetings (but not so often that the meetings detract from actual time to do the work). Keep everyone in the loop and keep sidebar discussions to a minimum. Say nothing to anyone that you wouldn’t say to everyone - in fact, just say it to everyone.
Information Flow: A smooth flow of information within your firm is critical to create an environment conducive to information sharing. When employees are well-informed and empowered, then they begin to share their knowledge and take ownership of the work they do. I actually wrote a previous article about the importance of knowledge sharing - you can read it here.
Collaboration: When your team is collaborating, they are learning new things from each other by working together. The word collaboration is literally derived from the Latin meaning ‘to labor together.’ In my opinion, the key to collaboration is to balance the group dynamic versus individual responsibility.
Ownership: A sense of personal ownership can result in the desire for excellence. Taking ownership is about taking initiative. Employees will take ownership when they know that taking action is not someone else’s responsibility. Empower your employees to take ownership.
Accountability: Accountability is vital in the workplace - it’s all about setting and holding people to a common expectation by clearly defining the company’s mission, values and goals. It is important to define these things and reiterate them often to ensure your team is aware of expectations.
Celebration: Celebrate your wins. Wins are what propel your business forward. They take time, effort, and extreme dedication on behalf of the entire team, as well as the individuals on your team. Celebrating successes will only create positive morale. It is this positive reinforcement that creates buy-in with your team.
Does your team’s collaboration ‘crowd out’ accountability?
Teamwork is a great thing. With that said, I think it’s important to watch out for negative unintended consequences of the “we” mentality of a team. Something that I have observed happening in highly collaborative teams is that one person bears the brunt of the work.
We all remember working on ‘group projects’ in school - inevitably there was always one person who did the majority of the work, while others slacked. What did those students who slacked actually learn?
It continues to happen today. Present-day schools, from kindergarten to college, stress educating young people how to work together in groups. While this may help students develop great social habits, help interactions and make them pleasant people - the fixation on collaboration risks training people to bury themselves in the anonymity of the ‘we’ and create a dynamic in which everybody is responsible, leaving nobody responsible. This opens the door to a couple of serious risks:
- The first is the lack of responsibility for success. Even if one is part of a team given a task, it requires individuals to assume a sense of ownership for success. It takes individuals to say, to themselves or others, “I will be responsible for this and make sure it is done right.” Ironically, if too many people step up to this responsibility it can lead to ownership conflict, but that is where a good group leader comes in, inspiring - and if necessary, imposing - the proper orientation toward the goal and away from individual egos.
- Another risk is blame and how it can shift when the outcome is a failure or a mistake is made along the way. Leaders and team members must always accept responsibility for mistakes openly, with humility - accusations are seldom productive. Other than to derive lessons to prevent future failure, excessive time and energy spent on figuring out who or what went wrong is futile. Learn from your mistakes, move on and apply that knowledge to your next project.
If you’d like help - reach out to us
Supplying leadership principles to organize and motivate your team while striving to achieve common goals is a challenging process. To do it right, define what leadership means to you, how to deliver it to your team and how best to balance collaboration and individual achievement in a positive environment. You won’t be disappointed by the rewards.
If you’re thinking about the leadership at your firm, the AdvisorEngine team is here to help. In addition to providing modern technology, we also work with firms in a consultative manner to ensure that your team is bought into your strategy and that your core business objectives are achieved.
This blog is sponsored by AdvisorEngine Inc. and CRM Software LLC. (“AdvisorEngine”) The information, data and opinions in this commentary are as of the publication date, unless otherwise noted, and subject to change. This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered a recommendation to use AdvisorEngine or deemed to be a specific offer to sell or provide, or a specific invitation to apply for, any financial product, instrument or service that may be mentioned. Information does not constitute a recommendation of any investment strategy, is not intended as investment advice and does not take into account all the circumstances of each investor. Opinions and forecasts discussed are those of the author, do not necessarily reflect the views of AdvisorEngine and are subject to change without notice. AdvisorEngine makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or representations. As a technology company, AdvisorEngine provides access to award-winning tools and will be compensated for providing such access. AdvisorEngine does not provide broker-dealer, custodian, investment advice or related investment services. AdvisorEngine and Junxure are registered trademarks of AdvisorEngine Inc.