If There Is a Magic Bullet, This Is It.

Aug 30, 2016

What are successful advisors doing that sets them apart? What are their secrets and strategies to get and stay where they are?

Let’s be honest, we all wonder what the top producers did differently to get where they are. What was the magic bullet that catapulted them to success? Julie Littlechild’s post below explains that personal engagement is as close as you can get and it is time that we all embraced it.

Julie LittlechildRecently, I stumbled across an interesting question posed by Jim Collins.

“What if you could wake up every day and do exactly the kind of work you love, in aid of something you considered important and with people who shared your vision?”

There is no doubt that he asks a great question. But isn’t the bigger question, why would we accept anything less?

The reality is that building the business you really want is a great joy, a big effort and, it turns out, requires a great deal of courage. More importantly, it’s entirely possible. Many have done it, some are on their way, while others are settling for something less than extraordinary.

This post is all about the single most critical driver of great success – personal engagement. I’m hoping to take you on a journey that, if done well, will make you think a little differently about the work that you do (in a good way).

I’ll walk you through a defined process that will be as difficult as it is rewarding. And while it may be tough, I believe it’s important because I’ve both experienced and observed the impact this process can have on your business….and perhaps on your life.

Personal engagement is as close to a magic bullet as you can get. It’s the secret sauce.

What Is Personal Engagement?

Personal engagement is the extent to which you are deeply and personally engaged with the work that you do on a daily basis. It’s not only about the work you do, but the clients for whom you do it and the role you play in the business. Based on every data point I’ve gathered and every interview I’ve conducted, this concept is tightly connected to meaningful growth.

And while the topic might be big, we’re going to break it down into a defined methodology that is concrete and intentional. We’ve developed, researched and refined a methodology to drive engagement, in any part of your life, and that same process can be applied personally or to your clients or to your team. The details change but the methodology follows a similar path.

Illustration 1

There are five distinct steps in the engagement model.

  1. Awareness – understanding what is most important
  2. Audacity – defining or redefining your business and the role you play
  3. Action – creating a structure that brings your vision to life
  4. Accountability – creating a process of personal accountability
  5. Renewal – creating space, in your life, to re-energize and create

Step #1: Awareness (this is where possibility lives)

Awareness is about getting real on what matters, what you want and how you prioritize. It’s a fairly obvious starting point for personal engagement but it forces you, in a structured way to look in the mirror and answer some tough questions.

Three questions matter at this stage:

  • What are your strengths? Not sure? Check out the Strengths Finder from Gallup.
  • Are you managing your energy across all aspects of your life? Not sure? Check out this assessment from Jim Leohr at the Human Performance Institute.
  • Where and with whom can you do your best work? Not sure? Keep reading.

To help with the latter, I have five questions for you. This is a deceptively simple exercise because to answer these questions in a way that supports personal engagement, you’ll need to leave the past where it belongs and banish all limiting beliefs. (No easy feat.)

  • Clients: For whom do you do your best work? Who energizes you?
  • Work: What is your vision for those clients? What do you want to help them accomplish?
  • Role: Exactly what do you enjoy doing to support the delivery of that vision?
  • Environment: Where do you want to be working?
  • Scale: How big (or small) do you want your business to be?

So Awareness is ultimately about taking stock and it’s the first step toward personal engagement. It’s harder than you think.

Step #2: Audacity (this is where confidence lives)

Audacity is about crafting a vision for your business that allows you to respond to the priorities you identified in the previous step. It’s about having the audacity to transform the things that you identified as important into a vision upon which you’ll act.

If you’ve defined an audacious goal that reflects what is most important to you, you’re in a small minority. I believe that’s because we often spend our days and our lives supporting the goals of others. Sound familiar?

Just like you, I’ve spent my life and career working very hard. If asked why, I would tell you it was for my family. I have always had a noble cause for killing myself. Then something happened and it may be a luxury of age or experience (for me it was when I said good-bye to my forties). I sat back and, with new eyes, examined what I really wanted to do. What was interesting is that the motivations were no different, but the process changed dramatically. I realized that if I really wanted to do something good for my family, I needed to help myself first. Ironically, by defining and living my biggest possible goals, I not only benefited financially, but became happier and a better role model.

The question for you is this. Now that you know what is important, will you build a business that allows you to bring that to life? Will you have the audacity to make the potentially hard decisions to ensure that you take care of yourself so you can take care of others, including your clients and your team?

Why Really Big Goals Matter

When I witness audacity in action with successful advisors, the goals are big and that ‘bigness’ is critical to success. There has been a significant amount of research into this concept, most notably by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P Latham. They had this to say in “New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory”:

So long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it, and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive, linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance.

So Audacity is really about applying this concept to your business. It’s about drawing a line in the sand and saying “this is what I want to create and it’s big – really big.” You are more likely to get there than if you plodded along growing at 5 or 10 percent a year. More than that, you’ll be igniting a passion that will act as a catalyst.

The Whiteboard Moment

You can take action on this with something I call the whiteboard moment. In this exercise you map out your ideal. Do it literally or figuratively, but acknowledge the blank slate.

During a whiteboard moment, we map out a business that truly reflects what is most important to us. All truly successful advisors I’ve spoken with had a moment during which they sat back, honestly assessed what they wanted personally and began to take action. That moment was pivotal because it provided the fuel to make sometimes difficult changes, to work extremely hard and to stay focused. That moment, they will tell you, was one the defining moments in driving their success.

While I’m talking about crafting a vision for your life and your business and about having the courage to change, I don’t want to suggest that the outcome of this vision requires dramatic change. Few of you will look at the whiteboard and realize you really want to become a yoga instructor; rather you’ll begin to see what you love to do.

At that point, you begin the real work of creating the process and infrastructure to allow you to spend more (or most) of your time doing the things that will drive the greatest fulfillment and growth. Of course if you want to become a yoga instructor there’s nothing wrong with that, but the pivots I’ve witnessed have been more refinements than complete change.

Step #3: Action (this is where courage lives)

At this point it’s all about action and this, my friends, is where courage lives. This is the biggest chasm and most don’t make it across. This is where engagement lives or dies.

Every audacious goal requires an infrastructure to support it. It might mean re-defining your target audience, adding more team members or bringing someone in to manage the business.

Here’s an example. Let’s assume your audacious goal is to work exclusively with a narrowly defined niche. This was the case with Randy Gerber, founder of Gerber LLC and Chris Moynes, managing director at ONE Sports + Entertainment Group, both of whom I interviewed about the process.

If that’s the goal, at a minimum you’ll need to:

  • Craft or update a new ideal client profile
  • Change your client acceptance criteria (and stick to it)
  • Update how you segment clients
  • Alter your on-boarding process
  • Cull your client base
  • Change your marketing messaging and process
  • Update your skills and those of your team

Many talk about having a niche (the audacious goal) but few do what it takes to build a business around a niche (the action).

Step #4: Accountability (this is where commitment lives).

So now you’ve set big goals and taken action. Unless, however, you’re on a big team, you may not have the constant pressure to sustain that activity. We all need to create pressure on ourselves through some form of accountability.

You might work with a coach, which is a great idea. I’ve done that for years and it’s worth it. The other tactic that I’ve seen used increasingly is to participate in a mastermind group.

A Mastermind Group is a group of professionals who meet on a regular basis to share their experiences and ideas and create accountability to support mutual growth and development. Meetings are held in person or virtually and typically each participant is given time to check in and share a specific issue or challenge with the group. At that point all eyes and ears are on that person. The power of the group is focused on each individual at some point during the call.

There is incredible power in bringing small groups of people together with a similar goal and creating some structure and accountability.

Step #5: Renewal (this is where creativity lives).

The final piece of the puzzle is what I call renewal. Let’s face it, this is hard work – all this awareness, audacity, action and accountability. And we can’t engage if we drive ourselves into the ground. It’s not simply because we get weak and tired (and we do) but because we lose our creative edge.

Something more and more great advisors are doing is setting a big goal for renewal and taking regular sabbaticals. Renewal might be also be something less dramatic like taking time to read, exercise, focusing on your health, committing to time with friends or being present with your family.

But if you are thinking about something bigger and want to learn more about sabbaticals, consider listening to this TED Talk with Stefan Sagmeister. It’s a really powerful talk about someone who shuts his business down for a year at a time. You may not need to go to that extreme, but it makes the point.

Why We Are Our Own Worst Enemies.

Each of the five steps to engagement is critical to achieving the momentum we see among the greatest firms. Personal engagement really is a magic bullet.

It seems to me that we sometimes (and for big chunks of our lives) take greater care of our clients’ dreams than our own. While that feels noble, it actually creates a ceiling; because true, profound success start with you. If the work you do for your clients – who you work with, your offer, the people you surround yourself with – isn’t aligned with what you really want, you’ll get to good but maybe not to great.

The opinions and views expressed herein are those of Julie Littlechild. SEI bears no responsibility for their accuracy. Julie Littlechild and Absolute Engagement are not affiliated with SEI or its subsidiaries.

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John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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