Pygmalion by JeanBaptiste Regnault 1786 Museacutee National du Chacircteau et des Trianons

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons

The Self-Applied Pygmalion Effect for Advisors

When an “elite” manager pushes the right buttons, people can usually perform at significantly higher levels.

Boston:  “After listening to your speech, if I’m honest with myself, I need a burst of motivation,” confessed Keith as a segue to asking, “Could you give me a couple of tips on getting motivated?”

What we’ve learned over 20+ years might appear as common knowledge – elite performers are self-motivated – but what isn’t common, is understanding how to activate your own self-motivation.

Our research led us to uncover the simple fact that when an “elite” manager pushes the right buttons, people can usually perform at significantly higher levels.  The typical advisor needs an “elite” manager (or the right coach) who knows the right buttons to push.  But these individuals are a rare breed.  Elite financial advisors, even if they got their start with the help of an elite manager or coach, have mastered the art of pushing their own buttons.

How?  By learning how to believe in themselves without proof, which is essentially being able to internalize Sterling Livingston’s classic July/August 1969  Harvard Business Review article Pygmalion Management.  Full confession on my end, it was Dr. Livingston’s work that inspired my ongoing study of human achievement.  A quick historical flashback, in classical Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who hated women until he fell in love with a statue that he made of a woman.   After praying to Venus to find such a woman, the statue came to life.

George Bernard Shaw popularized the term with his play Pygmalion which was later adapted into the musical My Fair Lady.  It’s from these roots that the terms Pygmalion Effect and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy have become synonymous.  None of this is new – but the Oechsli Institute has over 20 years of empirical data on high-achievers which has enabled us to teach financial advisors how to activate this all-powerful Pygmalion Effect.

The following seven steps are doable by any financial advisor – who accepts the DARE to be great.  In effect, follow these steps and you will be self-applying the Pygmalion Effect

  1. Create high expectations – top quintile in your firm, Barron’s 100 List, Leading a $10 Million Wealth Management Team, and so on.
  2. Commit to ambitious goals – $50 million of new assets from new clients per year, or some other stretch goal that is linked to your high-expectations.
  3. Communicate your expectations and goals to family, friends, and colleagues – not only are you putting yourself on the line by broadcasting – you’re forming your self-image accordingly.  Always communicate as an affirmation – remember you’re Professor Higgins programming yourself.
  4. Create a critical path of daily, weekly, and monthly activities that are directly linked to achieving your ambitious goals – sourcing names of affluent prospects in your top client’s spheres-of-influence, socializing with top clients and CPAs over lunch or dinner, getting personally introduced to the affluent prospects you’ve sourced.  The key is to be specific in the activities and the frequency with which you’re going to execute each activity. 
  5. Be 100% accountable: become highly self-disciplined, form a working partnership with another financial advisor who also strives to be an elite advisor, engage your spouse or significant other, get follow-up support from your manager, hire a coach.
  6. Purge yourself of nonbelievers and naysayers; colleagues, friends, family members (not suggesting you get a divorce), etc.
  7. Affirm, communicate, and visualize your high expectations daily; self-talk and visualization are critical components of the Self-Applied Pygmalion Effect.  If you can see yourself as an elite financial advisor, you’re then programming that image into your subconscious mind.  Whenever you affirm (self-talk) I’m an elite advisor, I’m a Barron’s Top 100 Advisor, I’m a Rainmaker, I’m leading a $10 million Wealth Management team, and so on – you’re also programming those affirmations into your reality.  You will begin acting in a manner that reflects your self-talk.

In the 10 minutes I spent outlining these Seven Steps for Self-Application of the Pygmalion Effect to Keith, his eyes were visibly glazed over by step five.  It was obvious this was too much for him and I knew that wasn’t going to be held accountable.  Without accountability, there’s no discipline, without discipline, visualization is just a pipe dream and positive affirmations become a foreign language.  That said, accept the Pygmalion Dare – follow the seven steps and your dreams will become your reality.  


Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.

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