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Managing Your Branch's Alpha Dogs

As any branch manager or OSJ will tell you, being the "head rainmaker" isn't what it used to be, what with the ever-increasing regulatory demands devouring ever more quantities of time and energy. If that weren't enough, many BOMs face yet another hurdle: Dealing with the often-rigorous demands of their branch's top-producing reps.

As any branch manager or OSJ will tell you, being the "head rainmaker" isn't what it used to be, what with the ever-increasing regulatory demands devouring ever more quantities of time and energy. If that weren't enough, many BOMs face yet another hurdle: Dealing with the often-rigorous demands of their branch's top-producing reps.

It's a tough situation: Exhibiting aggressive, tenacious and even demanding behavior is likely what made these reps such stellar producers in the first place. (After all, many demanding FAs are just as hard on themselves as they are on others.) But, top performers who strut around the office making life difficult for those around them, why, that's not good for the branch either.

So, what's a BOM to do? We asked two experts to weigh in on how BOMs can help channel their top reps' alpha (or even eccentric) behavior into proper alignment, one that is helpful to the entire branch. (Indeed, top dogs can have a very positive impact on the smaller producers; see
"Warriors" Are People, Too

It is important to understand that you can't change these peoples' personalities, says Alden Cass, a New York-based psychologist who heads Catalyst Strategies Group, a firm that specializes in coaching Wall Street executives. You can, however, make them aware of how their behavior affects others. But, it must be done delicately, he says.

Branch managers often describe their "warriors" as being too aggressive, stubborn, quick to anger, impatient, critical and arrogant, notes Cass. "But they're also bottom-line focused, results-oriented, decisive and strategic risk-takers." Indeed, many BOMs wish their other reps exhibited some of these qualities; it helps bring in more business, he notes.

But, these characteristics come with a price. "You can't eliminate the sense of extra entitlement these people tend to feel," he says, "because that's what got them to where they are. But, if you can show them how some of their negative behaviors affect others and -- ultimately -- their bottom line, you have a good shot at getting results."

Cass suggests starting out with praise. "Give them lots of positive feedback on how they've taken the branch by storm and made it easier for you to sleep at night, knowing you can count on their productivity" he says. "Thank them for being such great leaders."

Then point out -- very diplomatically -- how, when they don't manage their anger properly, it can have a negative effect on their bottom line. "You can point out, for example, how if they need something done very quickly for a top client, but they've been yelling at or overworking their assistants, those people will be less inclined to pull things together for them," Cass says.
Stress how they'll reap the rewards both now and in the future if they learn to manage their anger, Cass says. He cites a recent example with a client sent to him by a branch manager: "This rep said virtually nothing to other people in the office, except when things were going badly. Then he'd rant and rave. So, I gave him a two-week challenge." Cass ordered the rep to visit two colleagues each day -- go into their offices and ask them how their weekends were. Then he had him take them to a Broadway show.

"That got a huge reaction," Cass says. "When this guy's colleagues got over their shock, they started going out of their way to do things for him." It made life easier for his BOM, too, he said, as he was better able to hire and retain new people.

It's also important to remember the pressure top producers are under, Cass notes. Most have high-net-worth clients who can be quite demanding themselves. The rep, in turn, may become demanding of the manager and employees in trying to keep these people happy.

Top reps tend to be workaholics, he adds, and, when they're stressed or burned out, they often focus on the external aspects of their jobs and end up lashing out. "They don't take a deep breath and say, 'I'm tired.' "

Cass suggests making these folks earn their perks. "Don't haphazardly give out discretionary funds, bonuses or freebies for clients," he says. "You're not reinforcing anything." Instead, he recommends telling top dogs how great they are and, if they give you a month without headaches in a particular area, you'll definitely want to talk about giving them something extra.
Use your funds wisely, he says. And again, it's best to start the conversation with praise. "Tell them how great they are and how you'd love to use them as a prototype around the office for their skill," he says. "Then say you'd like them to also be a model for behavior, too, and that they need to work on X, Y or Z."

The best way to manage these individuals is to be in constant communication with them. Their behavior is mostly aimed at keeping people away from them -- so be proactive and keep them talking, he says. You'll notice your office will be less volatile as a result, and you'll have time to deal with the really important issues on your desk.

Dorene Lehavi, a psychotherapist who became a business coach 10 years ago when she founded Next Level Business and Professional Coaching in Los Angeles, helps Wall Street executives, business owners and attorneys improve both their productivity and quality of life. She says managers must outline for their reps "specific behaviors that need improvement. They're often so focused on making money, that they don't see any problems at all."

When managers send reps to her for coaching, she says, "We stress that coaching is not a punishment. It is a reward for being successful. Tiger Woods has a coach because even he can't see his own swing."

Like Cass, Lehavi believes top reps are so bottom-line focused that their stress levels can become overwhelming and result in explosive behavior. "I ask them questions like, 'Who are you?'

'What are you about?' and 'How do you want to be remembered as a person?' " Such queries typically startle them, she notes, and get them thinking about achieving more balance in their lives. They learn to manage some of the issues that trigger their unruly behavior and prevent them building up in the first place."

Of course, what goes around comes around. "Sometimes, great clients are extremely demanding, but they can manage that," she says. "They can have the assistant they'd usually yell at call the client and say they'll be back to him within 24 hours. That gives them time to step back, instead of treating every situation like an emergency."

Lehavi also appeals to their bottom lines. "Studies show that people who schedule short breaks throughout the day end up being more productive. They're also calmer, more clear-headed -- and physically healthier -- in the long-run," she says.

Of course, there's no guarantee your top dog will shape up. And remember, you have to make the ultimate decision about what's best for the branch. Still, Cass and Lehavi feel that taking fairly basic steps like those mentioned above can often improve a top advisor's business, his frame of mind and the whole tone of the office.

Dr. Alden Cass, president/chief consultant of Catalyst Strategies Group, is a New York-based psychologist who specializes in coaching Wall Street brokers and executives. You can email him at [email protected], or visit Dr. Dorene Lehavi, president of Next Level Business and Professional Coaching, is based in Los Angeles. You can reach her at [email protected], or visit

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