The Art of Self-Leadership

Journal of Financial Planning: June 2013


Financial advisers are faced with the enormous challenge of building and maintaining a business that offers monetary and emotional rewards. And although many advisers may have mentors and peers who motivate them, success comes down to an individual being fully committed to their own success-this is practice of the art of self-leadership.

If you cannot or will not lead yourself to be inspired, continually educated, and consistently dedicated to your advisory business, you should not have the expectation that you will succeed.


One of the most vital qualities of a self-leader is being able to motivate yourself every day. Without this ability you will not accomplish the activities that lead to success. Those without self-motivation do just enough to get by. To kick-start or maintain your motivation, here are some ideas:

Turn everything into a game. Most advisers have a competitive streak. Competing against others is fine, but what happens when you can't find a friend or colleague interested in competing with you? Instead, compete against yourself by turning your daily activities into a personal game. You can make the rules of the game as simple as call 10 contacts before 10 o'clock, or as detailed as counting every dial, appointment set, and any other tasks that make up your day. Be sure to create your game so that you actually have fun playing it. Then, get skin in the game by setting up a daily reward or punishment system.


Give yourself a prize or punishment. The game of self-motivation is only as important as the reward or punishment associated with winning or losing the game. If you have no consequences, you will not take the game seriously. So at the end of the day, tally up your score and give yourself a prize or a punishment. It may sound too simple to work, but rewarding or punishing yourself can keep you on track and ultimately will have a lasting impact on you reaching your overall business goals.



Our business is a business of change. Everything is dynamic-the stock market, the economy, market sectors, even the addition of new investment products, not to mention any personal changes that you may be experiencing in your life while you are trying to manage your practice. That is why it is so important to stay up to date on things that affect your business. Here are some ways to increase your knowledge:

Update your technical expertise. Technical expertise-investment, insurance, and financial planning knowledge-is the foundation needed to run your financial advisory practice. Most advisers get some type of training when they begin in the business; most states require that you have your license(s) before you are able to offer any financial advice. However, to become even more proficient in our field, you need to constantly challenge yourself to increase your technical knowledge.

Clients deserve an adviser who knows how to help them. One way to ensure this is to continually learn as much as you can about the products and services you provide. Conversely, advisers who become complacent with their technical expertise find that their clients may go elsewhere if the competition can prove they have better solutions for their investment needs.  

In addition, centers of influence will typically only refer you to their clients if they believe you have a strong working knowledge of varying products and services; it is the adviser who has increased levels of expertise or specialization who gets the important introductions.

Get real world experience. There is no substitute for real world experience. You can study, take a test, and get a credential, but to truly help someone, you need to roll up your sleeves and find those who need your help. In other words, technical knowledge only goes so far. Combining that technical knowledge with real world experience brings an entirely new level of benefit to others.

Whether you are a brand new advisor or a 30-year veteran you can still learn from your mistakes. Take for instance Joe F., a 30-year veteran who realized he was making more statements than asking questions. He came to the conclusion that having a process for asking better questions would have made his career much easier as most of the time when he did not get the sale it was because he was going on-and-on about the features and benefits of his products followed by him asking for the sale. Had he learned from his failures, he would have realized that prospective clients want to buy rather than feeling sold to.

So, why would a 30-year veteran want to learn how to have a better sales presentation? Because he realized that getting additional training could and would help him get to the next level.


Managing your activities takes confidence in your abilities, decisions, and recommendations. People look to you as their financial adviser to help them solve complex financial challenges with your investment knowledge and expertise. So what happens when you start second guessing yourself? Or, what if you don't know how to solve your clients' problems or your own business problems?

Knowing what to do is essential in leading yourself to building a better business. Let's take a closer look at two very important concepts:

Separate problem-solving from challenge management. Advisers are faced with continuous issues to manage-clients, compliance, and market issues, as well as a host of others. In the midst of all of these issues, ask yourself the discerning question, is this "issue" a problem to solve or a challenge to manage?

A problem is a bad thing. This is something that cannot keep re-occurring. An example of a problem would be buying the wrong security in a client's account.

A challenge can be a good thing, because it helps you determine that something needs attention. A challenge does not just go away; however, knowing how to manage a challenge is a solution. An example of a challenge would be constant interruptions throughout the day. It is a challenge to manage because we will never solve others needing our time. Using a tool to prioritize interruptions so you can get back to the most important and urgent ones is a solution.

Once you fully understand the difference between problem-solving and challenge management you can view any situation in one of two ways: do I solve this problem, or do I manage this ongoing challenge? This increases your ability to make better decisions.

Now that you have a better understanding of what the art of self-leadership involves, determine in which areas your practice may lack direction. Do you need to get motivated, educated, be more reliant, or all three? Next, decide which specific areas you need to work on. Then, take action. Over time you will become proficient as a self-leader.

Daniel C. Finley is a former adviser and current president of Advisor Solutions Inc., a business development consulting and coaching service. He is the author of 101 Advisor Solutions: A Financial Advisor's Guide to Strategies that Educate, Motivate and Inspire. Contact him at


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