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Michael J. Berkeley was the founder of the Berkeley Group, a securities brokerage-investment firm on the 79th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

Leadership Lessons from 9/11

Live in the moment, because each moment can be made supremely meaningful if we choose to do so.

Michael J. Berkeley was the kind of friend who lit up a room merely by entering. When I last spoke with him, we agreed to a home-and-home golf mini-tournament with our wives in little more than a week’s time. It still wounds deeply that our rendezvous on the links was not to be. Michael and I were going to play golf on Sept. 22 and 23, 2001, but he died in the World Trade Center on his 38th birthday, just a few days before. 

I cannot golf, as I do only occasionally now, without thinking of him. I still hear the friendly but fiercely competitive taunts from him as I try to concentrate on sinking a putt. 

Sad though this may be, what’s this got to do with financial planning and/or the leadership of an advisory firm? In my view, everything.

First, consider that we tell ourselves that we work to live and not the reverse, but what does the record of our lives really have to say about this claim? For too many in our profession, this sentiment is just that. 

I have always believed and encouraged the advisors whom I’ve had the privilege to serve to realize that their life is the best example of and advertisement for financial planning. To be a role model to clients by exercising fiscal prudence and prescience while living fully into the more important aspect of life (i.e., our personal one) is likely the greatest contribution that you can make to anyone you serve: yes, the model portfolios developed and cashflow planning help greatly, but they are, in the end, just numbers on a page. What ultimately matters is how they’re lived off of it.

Second, we claim that we appreciate the power of time, and that it’s one of the greatest tools that we use in service to our clients; but do we exhibit this same reverence for its elevating and enhancing impact on how we serve those for whom we care, either personally or professionally? When you interact with colleagues and/or clients each day, are you mindful not only of what you should be contributing to them today, but also of what you could be providing them that’s resonant and impactful in the long term? 

Sure, narrowly defined, your exchange may be about an approaching RMD or the need to evolve the Joneses’ financial plan based on the new information that they shared in your meeting with them yesterday. We’ve all had these interactions and likely address them in the moment as examples of the myriad tasks with which we fill our lives on a daily basis. In any interaction that we may have we can always address the issue at hand but we’re well-advised to take advantage of the opportunity to create a more lasting contribution.

For example, yes, our job is to effect that RMD, but we could also choose to plant the seed by asking to what use it will be put. Yes, we can update the Joneses’ financial plan, but we could also choose to ensure our and our colleagues’ clarity about our client’s new aspirations (and we could also choose to connect the noble commitment to service and helping the Joneses live differently and better to our colleagues’ own professional and personal aspirations. In so doing, we can help the latter live differently and better over time, too. And, Lord knows, in all likelihood, whether or not our own or others’ children develop a filthy fastball matters far less than the opportunity to express our pride in them and our appreciation for the opportunity to help them develop not only their athletic skills but their life skills.

We always have the opportunity to make more of our daily interactions so that they become the strategic steppingstones to a life well-lived for all involved.

Finally, a reminder to avoid procrastination and/or postponement: as we celebrated painfully last weekend, we were reminded that the future is promised to none of us, so it’s imperative that we make the most of the time that we have now.

Professionally, as an executive, my stock in trade is how to maximize the present while developing the systems and people who’ll elevate that maximum continuously. Personally this is true as well: while so much of my life in the last quarter-century has been focused on being a good spouse and father—the latter commitment being one in which we’re especially prone to focus on the future—I have tried to harness the power of now: I’ve instigated many ‘family adventures’ to places both famous and unknown, not for the destination but for the opportunity to share the journey and the making of the memories that matter most. The lesson that I hope they get is not to forget to live in the moment, because each moment can be made beautiful and supremely meaningful if we choose to do so.

It’s an opportunity that my friend Michael and too many others whom we remember no longer enjoy. Of course, for each of them, those of us who love them will always wish we had more time and opportunities to live fully and joyfully with them, but life has its other, secret plans. Accordingly, I pray that you’ll choose to keep the professional and personal in your life in perspective, to be ever mindful of the opportunity to connect the tactical present to the strategic future and to live fully into the eternal and ascendant power of the present moment. In so doing, you’ll not only create an example worthy of emulation, but, more importantly, a life well-lived. What greater gift can you give to clients, colleagues and kin?

Walter K. Booker is the chief operating officer of MarketCounsel, a business and regulatory compliance consultancy for investment advisors.

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