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Four Traits That Set Elite Advisors Apart

Here's what goes into the total package.

SAN DIEGO — “I love your presentation on the parallel research projects your firm conducts annually on affluent investors and elite advisors,” Brandon gushed as a prelude to his question, “But what is it that actually makes these great advisors different?”

To put this question in context, I’d just finished delivering a talk where I outlined the actual relationship management and relationship marketing activities of elite advisors, but Brandon wanted a peek at their inner qualities.

There was a line of advisors waiting to ask their questions who were also listening to all of my answers. So quickly, off the top of my head, I outlined four qualities. Obviously this is an incomplete list, but as these traits are applied concurrently, they form a solid core of what makes great advisors different.

Four Traits of All Great Advisors

  1. Life-Long Learners — This goes beyond being book smart — which great advisors certainly are — and into the realm of having an insatiable thirst for knowledge. These advisors are dialed into their profession and are at the cutting edge of every new development. They are open minded and are willing to make changes, provide additional (often out-of-the-box) solutions for clients, embrace new technology, and possess a depth and breadth of knowledge both inside and outside of financial services.
  2. Empathy Focused — Great advisors have an uncanny ability to naturally see themselves “walking in another person’s shoes.” In other words, they are able to see things from the viewpoint of the other person. Whether it’s a client, prospect, referral alliance partner or a team member, their people skills are exceptional. When actions are fueled by empathy, sincerity is front and center of everything great advisors are involved with. This makes them naturally client centric, which has a direct impact on the entire team. Empathy rules the day. That said, this doesn’t imply that great advisors have much tolerance for team members who aren’t doing their job. In such instances they will career counsel, but do so with empathy. They don’t rule by fear, rather they empower others, but they inspect what they expect.
  3. Strong Work Ethic — Nobody is going to outwork a great advisor. This is one of the qualities that’s been an ingrained habit from day one. Regardless of their level of success, these advisors are usually the first in and last out, and it’s not unusual to find them dropping into the office over the weekend. However, they’re not simply putting in hours, they also work smart. Great advisors prioritize and spend the lion’s share of their time on those high-priority, $1,000-per-hour activities. Because they empower others, they are very astute delegators.  
  4. Internally Motivated — True and long-lasting motivation always comes from within. Great advisors have never needed a sales contest — although they’ve won many — to spur them into action. No outside force can set goals for them that are anywhere close to the big dream goals they’ve set for themselves. Because of this internal ambition, great advisors create a natural "critical path" on which they’re always working towards their goals. No Pavlovian Dog stimuli for them, which keeps them from falling into the trap of pushing firm-sponsored, but inappropriate, investment vehicles on their clients.            

There’s a synergy created as these four traits work in unison. Dream goals without a strong work ethic yields a dreamer, not a great advisor. Empathy is a wonderful personal trait, but without internal motivation and a strong work ethic yields a sincere and caring person, but not a great advisor. Similarly, life-long learning without the aforementioned traits yields a knowledgeable underachiever.

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

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