The Quality that Defines Star Performers

By Dan Richards

April 15, 2014

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Why do so many advisors work incredibly hard to build their practices, reach a solid level of success – and then plateau? In the last 30 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of those stuck advisors and with a few who reached increasingly higher levels of success. I’ve identified one trait that separates the two groups: an internal drive to improve.

The plateauing of advisors is a huge source of frustration for firm heads, who see many successful advisors with potential for growth staying stagnant instead. Here’s how the CEO of a major firm described it to me: “Most of our top producers are fat and happy. Our number-one problem is complacency, advisors who sit on their hands and go on vacation for eight or 10 weeks rather than roll up their sleeves.”

Advisor complacency was also identified as an issue by a senior executive with Wells Fargo Advisors in this 2012 article:“Spurring middle-aged FAs (‘the average age of our financial advisors now is 54’) to grow their business isn’t so easy because, in general, they’ve become complacent, he says. The prevailing attitude is ’business is good enough. I don’t need to grow anymore. If anything, I’d like to be more efficient so I can spend more time on the golf course.’”

There’s no question that complacency is a risk for every business – my previous three columns identified some of the looming threats to advisors over the next decade. A conversation with a successful advisor provided perspective on some of the dynamics at work: “When I started in the business, I worked my butt off and so did everyone else around me who became successful. I paid my dues in those years of grinding it out, so now I come in and leave at a reasonable time and focus on serving my existing clients. It really doesn’t make sense for me to work harder to bring in new clients – my income more than supports my family, and the main beneficiaries if I put in more hours would be the firm and the IRS.”

The drive to excel

Looked at this way, low or no growth  is seen by head office executives as  stagnating and complacency, while  advisors view it as a rational response to incentives and fair payment for past effort. But in truth , the dialogue about work effort is a false argument. A bigger issue than hours worked is openness to new ways of operating and the drive to get better.

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