PHILADELPHIA — "I remember when our firm ran sales contests with things like a BlackBerry as the prize if you sold a certain amount of whatever product they were pushing,” recalled George with a smirk as he continued to make his point. “This always struck me wrong in two ways; it wasn’t always serving the client’s best interest, and it was a sad commentary on the advisors who were motivated by these contests.”
His comments were prompted by the “Recall an Achievement of the Past” exercise we use in our symposiums to illustrate the instinctive nature of the human achievement cycle. It’s the process of committing to personal and professional goals and then doing what’s required to make them happen. The single biggest difference between an elite and average advisor is that elite advisors develop this into a habit.
People who are goal-focused are usually intrinsically motivated. This in turn makes them highly competitive as they work towards their goals. Most elite performers are continually challenging themselves, consistently venturing outside of their comfort zone, and are never satisfied with the status quo. No surprise here, as this is the profile of an elite financial advisor.
George was touching on a reality of the industry that firms are well aware of—too many advisors don’t exhibit the intrinsic motivation and competitiveness required to be great. They require extrinsic motivators, sales contests, short-term gimmicks, to create competition and fuel a burst of activity.
The positive emotions that are fueled by working towards intrinsic goals are rarely activated by these extrinsic initiatives. Like any muscle that is not used, positive emotions will atrophy when not activated. When a muscle atrophies, it takes a serious effort to get it functioning. This is why it’s so much easier for a person to exercise to stay in shape than it is for a person to begin to exercise in order to get in shape. It can be done, but it requires committing to a goal of personal fitness. If that does occur and a personal fitness goal is established, working towards that goal, as painful as it might be to get those atrophied muscles working again, will activate these positive emotions.
This is the power that goals have on the human spirit. It is also the reason why underachievement breeds negativity, which leads to cynicism and a host of negative emotions—which is exactly what happens when one is not working towards intrinsic goals.
The irony is that we’re the only species on the planet that can set goals for ourselves, which means that we are the only species capable of changing who we are. I’m talking far beyond the trappings of affluence that accompany high achievement. I’m referring to our ability to unlock these positive emotions.
Think of the most competitive people you know. If that competitive nature is channeled into meaningful personal and career goals, they’re likely healthy mentally and physically. However, if that competitive spirit is employed solely in personal goals, you’re likely to find a person unsatisfied with their career. If a person is only competitive in the career environment, burnout coupled with boorish behavior is likely to surface.
The secret is to always be challenging yourself, personally and professionally. Setting personal goals, whether it’s learning how to play the piano, writing that book you were thinking about, or climbing Mt. Rainier—the goal doesn’t matter; what’s important is the purpose it gives you: unleashing those positive emotions in your personal life. Similarly, establishing professional goals unleashes these positive emotions in your professional life, enhancing career satisfaction and the rewards that follow.
Your career as a financial advisor is a blessing in this regard. You are in the ideal environment for unlocking positive emotions in both your personal and professional lives. Not every career is so naturally tailored to goals and the competitive spirit that accompanies them.
Nobody wants to be average, yet that’s what we become when we allow someone else to set our goals rather than working towards intrinsic goals. And it seems as though society has dumbed everything down to the extent where not only is average acceptable, it’s becoming the new normal. Ouch! Most financial advisors are well aware that the average advisor will usually earn more than any member of their extended family. But does the average financial advisor really love their chosen profession? If so, that person is extremely fortunate.
It’s no coincidence our research repeatedly shows us that personal and professional goals are at the core of high achievers. And that these high achievers are highly competitive when it comes to achieving the goals they set. All of which provides a balance in their lives that is fueled with positive emotion.
Balance versus goal-focused competitiveness? When looked at from the perspective of a high achiever, they are inextricably linked—this is the essence of having a great life. So the question becomes: Are you competitive enough to set personal and professional goals and unlock the positive emotions that will enable you to live a great life? I bet you are.
Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients. www.oechsli.com