Catching a great article on your twitter feed these days is the equivalent of catching a fish in a river with your bare hands. That said, I was fortunate to see and read Jeff Haden’s gem entitled Be Happier: 10 Things To Stop Doing Right Now on Inc.com.
All the self-help gurus seem to be good at telling us what we have to “start doing” to achieve something, who’s good at telling us what to STOP doing? For advisors already short on time, subtraction is preferable to addition any day of the week. And while the business of helping clients achieve their dreams can be exhilarating, it’s not like every day brings a torrent of rainbows and lollipops. Like Mae West said about aging, it’s not for wimps.
Jeff Haden’s list of sins (HT my Catholic upbringing) begins with Blaming and ends with Fearing. In each case, these habits can surely affect our personal and professional happiness. If improperly managed they’ll either detract from our ability to succeed or keep us from chasing our dreams at all. From a client’s perspective, when these traits are personified they probably confirm every suspicion they have about what’s “wrong” with us as a professional class. So with apologies to Jeff, I've adopted his outline but modified the approach to suit the financial services business. Here's to your happiness.
1. Stop Blaming. When things go wrong, take the blame. Clients appreciate that. Blaming your firm, for example, probably makes them wonder why you’re not smart enough to be somewhere else. Taking the blame is an empowering move and because you hate being wrong, you’ll do it better next time to avoid the same outcome repeating itself. When you get better and smarter you get happier.
2. Stop Impressing. Clients want to know that you’re sincere, that you’re intelligent, that you think things through, are reliable and trustworthy. Don't be flashy. New red sports car? You know they're thinking "Is that where my fees go?" Or worse, "The first advisor who shows up to my house in one of those is so fired." And not because they don’t love Porsche. It’s because if you’re that tone deaf they almost have to wonder what other character flaws you possess that they can’t see. None of this requires you to brag, boast, show off. In fact, it works against you. Warren Buffet drove a beater for years, remember? Relax. You'll be happier.
3. Stop Clinging. Speaking of firing someone, holding onto the client you think you need won't make you happier; letting go so you can reach for and try to earn what you want will. The classic case is a big client you simply cannot stand, the relationship is combative, unpleasant or downright mean. Who knows how it got that way? But it's become sand in the gears of your businesss, costing you and all of your other clients your valueable energies. Forget blame. The point is to let it go. You’ll feel like you’ve taken a shower, so will everyone who works with you. The money simply isn’t worth it. As Haden notes, even if you don't succeed in earning what you want, the act of trying to be true to yourself will make you feel better about yourself.
4. Stop Interrupting. Jeff writes, “Want people to like you? Listen to what they say. Focus on what they say. Ask questions to make sure you understand what they say. They'll love you for it--and you'll love how that makes you feel.” Stop trying to puke all that knowledge all over me. I got it. I want you to listen to me when I’m talking. Heck, you might be the only person who ever actually listens to what I have to say, my kids certainly don't. Advisors can take advice from the drill instructor who once said, "Spend less time on Send and more on Receive." Clients will love you for it and you'll do more business as a result. Destination- Happytown.
5. Stop Whining. The truth is, sometimes you need to get it off your chest. That can help. But as Haden says, “Friends don’t let friends whine.” Financial advisors really don’t have time for whining but that hasn’t stopped us from turning it into an art form. And Haden’s right, “Your words do have power, especially over you.” The real problem with whining is that when you’re done, the problem’s likely to still be there. Advisors, particularly those who are business owners with the power to enact change should spend that energy on action not agony. Get back in the game and fix what’s wrong. You’ll feel better.
6. Stop Controlling. Jeff writes: “Yeah, you're the boss. Yeah, you're the titan of industry. Yeah, you're the small tail that wags a huge dog. Still, the only thing you really control is you.” If you find yourself trying hard to control other people you’re going backwards. Clients don’t like pressure. They like objective fact-based advice. The oldest rule in the book is that no one has to do business with someone that makes them uncomfortable. Be firm but not controlling. A physician may say, “Ms. Smith, you’re sick, you have cancer, as your doctor I recommend chemo” but what she won’t say is “And I will be driving to your house to deliver you to treatment on Tuesday." If Ms. Smith doesn’t want to go, that’s her business. Find clients who want to go where you're going and then give them everything you’ve got, you’ll both be happier with that arrangement.
7. Stop Criticizing. You know how you say to prospects and clients, “I don’t want to say negative things about my competition, but…” and then you go on and do it anyway? Yeah, it turns out they really do hate that. Even if it doesn’t hit them at the moment, it ends up casting a shadow over whatever you say afterword. Jeff notes, “Yeah, you're more experienced. Yeah, you've been around more blocks and climbed more mountains and slayed more dragons. That doesn't make you smarter, or better, or more insightful. That just makes you you: unique, matchless, one of a kind, but in the end, just you.” Here’s a fact, people do not typically respond positively to negativity, and you don’t need it in order to shine before your audience. Stay positive, it will have you standing taller and your clients feeling better.
8. Stop Preaching. Who’s not tired of the sanctimonious declarations that "fee only-ness" is next to Godliness. Seriously? Believe me, there’s a reason your grocery store doesn’t charge a fee. Do I prefer fee only business, yes. But it’s not the best thing since sliced bread, which incidentally I pay for on a transactional basis. As Jeff writes, “when you speak with more finality than foundation, people may hear you but they don't listen. Few things are sadder and leave you feeling less happy.”
9. Stop Dwelling. I once saw an expert defined as someone who’s already made all of the mistakes. That’s surely the truth. There is value in the past and in the mistakes we make along the way, but only if we learn enough to avoid those mistakes in the future. If you’re sitting around hating your firm, your partners, your assistant...rather than doing business, who loses? When Springsteen sang, “you have to learn to live with what you can’t rise above…” he wasn't talking about your choice of back-office service provider. Stop dwelling on decisions and choices that no longer work. As Jeff writes, "Think about what went wrong, but only in terms of how you will make sure that, next time, you and the people around you will know how to make sure it goes right.”
10. Stop Fearing. No reason to modify what Jeff wrote here. The rest is pure Haden. "We're all afraid: of what might or might not happen, of what we can't change, or what we won't be able to do, or how other people might perceive us. So it's easier to hesitate, to wait for the right moment, to decide we need to think a little longer or do some more research or explore a few more alternatives. Meanwhile days, weeks, months, and even years pass us by. And so do our dreams. Don't let your fears hold you back. Whatever you've been planning, whatever you've imagined, whatever you've dreamed of, get started on it today.
If you want to start a business, take the first step. If you want to change careers, take the first step. If you want to expand or enter a new market or offer new products or services, take the first step. Put your fears aside and get started. Do something. Do anything. Otherwise, today is gone. Once tomorrow comes, today is lost forever. Today is the most precious asset you own--and is the one thing you should truly fear wasting."
Haden's more than on the mark here. The simple truth is, life rewards action. Financial advisors should always take action to preserve their ability to best serve their clients, maintain their freedom, their personal brand and their enterprise value. There's only one channel in our business that can provide all of these attributes. If you've been considering making the move to independence and freedom, now might be the time to take action, it just might make you happier.
Jeff Haden's full article is attached here.