Have you ever wondered what makes people great? It's a timeless question, really, but one that philosophers and researchers (and authors like Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great) are still struggling to answer today. Over at the Oechsli Institute, we are constantly searching for criteria that separate the high performers from everyone else.
A few months ago, my research assistant emailed me a CNNMoney.com article written by editor Geoffrey Colvin titled What It Takes to Be Great. Colvin discusses a number of recent studies on the topic of greatness that have found that in virtually every field or endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly and then stop developing completely. But a few do improve for years, even decades, and go on to greatness.
The obvious question for Colvin, and the rest of us, is “why?” How is it that some financial advisors continue to improve throughout their careers, while others stop developing? According to the experts who have studied this subject in fields from sports to business to music, anyone can become great if — and this is a big if — they accept the challenge. In other words, greatness does not discriminate — it is an equal opportunity challenge.
So, let's accept this challenge and make 2007 the Year of Personal Greatness.
The following action plan combines Oechsli Institute research on high-performance advisors and wealth-management teams with wisdom gleaned from the experts in Colvin's article. I have constructed this action plan around what I call the Five Factors of Greatness. As you read each factor, process it on a personal level: How does this particular factor apply to your own approach to your business? Then you need to make a commitment to push yourself on each of the five factors.
The Five Factors of Greatness
Study Greatness — Select a great role model, past or present, watch or read about him (or her) closely to understand his style and figure out what qualities make or made him great. Then, see what you can do to follow in his steps, adopt his methods and achieve the same kind of success. Since few of us are surrounded by greatness, finding good role models may require some serious research.
Develop an Achiever's Mindset — Setting serious goals, both personal and professional, is at the core of developing greatness. You should always remain studiously focused on the task at hand, and that task should always be linked to some concrete goal. High achievers are always looking to improve their processes and results, are always open to feedback and make excellent use of any assistance they can find.
Tireless Work Ethic — Talent won't get you anywhere if you don't have work ethic. Colvin cites John Horn of USC, who says that you cannot achieve “greatness” in any particular field until you have been working at it for at least 10 years. “The 10-year rule represents a very rough estimate, and most researchers regard it as a minimum, not an average,” says Horn. And yet, many people work an entire lifetime without coming close to greatness.
Practice, Practice, Practice — Not just practice, but something our researchers like to call “deliberate practice” — or practice that is aimed directly at improving a specific aspect of performance. And that aspect of performance must play a significant role in the achievement of a particular goal. Professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University conducted a 20-year study of violinists and found that the best group averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lifetimes, the next best averaged 7,500 and the next 5,000. The same is true for any profession: financial advisor, golfer or surgeon. The more you practice, the better you perform.
Avoid the Nay-Sayers — Since most people go through life without coming close to reaching their greatness potential, they tend to scoff at the idea that greatness is accessible to anyone who's willing to work for it. You will encounter all kinds of skeptics — even some who have the best of intentions — but do not let them sway you from your path. Greatness attracts dreamers with discipline — those who are willing to pay the price of pushing ahead of the crowd.
Perhaps you've never been labeled as one of the “best and brightest” or “most likely to succeed” — but that shouldn't stop you. You too can achieve greatness if you accept the challenge. Make 2007 your year of personal greatness.
Writer's BIO: Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.