Last September I attended the Insiders Forum conference in San Diego.
One of my favourite sessions was a panel discussion with four second-generation CEOs, that is, successors who had taken over from the original founding advisers in their firms.
As they talked about their own experiences to date, I thought there were some great learning points for all leaders in financial planning firms.
Here are some of the best takeaways.
1) Start building your own successors early
All panel members agreed it is vital to start work quickly on developing the next generation of leaders within the business.
One of the panel described what she called ‘the dumbbell effect’: experienced older heads in your organisation at one end, and lots of very inexperienced people at the other.
This leaves no developing leaders to support the middle of the organisation. She advised developing some of the inexperienced talent quickly to give the business more depth and balance.
This is a great point that many firms I know could latch onto.
Even for founding CEOs, developing your own future leaders and successors is essential and something that takes some time.
If you’re a second-generation CEO, it’s important to have an early focus on this area, which could easily be overlooked as you adjust to life in the hot seat. However, spending some time creating a development plan for key people should be part of your first 100 days plan.
Building depth of leadership as quickly as possible allows you to be better supported on your own leadership journey.
2) Spend a lot more time thinking
One thing I’ve heard from different people over the last 12 months, which was reiterated strongly with the second-generation CEOs, is that once you are the leader of the business you need to spend a lot more time thinking.
Every organisation needs:
CEOs need to spend more time at the thinking and leading end of that spectrum.
Almost all of us, whether we’re the founding or second-generation CEO, have come from a place of ‘doing’.
When your business was small, or if that's the still the case, then you get your hands dirty regularly. However, as you grow it’s important to take a step back and help your growing team develop the skills they need to get things done.
A senior executive I was speaking with recently here in the UK told me about a conversation he’d had with his coach. The coach was teaching him to ask ‘who, not how’. Don’t ask “How do I get this done?”, take a minute to pause and think “Who could do this job for me?”
It’s good advice for all leaders, new or old.
As Henry Ford said:
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason so few engage in it.”
Your job as a leader is to spend more time on thinking than you probably feel is reasonable. This ensures the business has everyone and everything pointed in the same direction, removing the most important blockages to business growth.
3) Get everyone in rhythm
Angie Herbers, a leading US consultant to financial planners, made the point that everyone in the organisation needs to be in rhythm.
Her tip for achieving that was for the CEO to focus on getting themselves in rhythm first. This means getting your own house in order, with visibility and control of the major issues in your business.
One CEO on the panel explained how he put up a large 12-month wall calendar, so he had visibility of all the meetings taking place in his business, daily and weekly.
This was his first step to understand what people were meeting about, to ensure they were focusing on the right issues and that they were solving problems as a result of their meetings.
When he got that right, the rest of the business fell into step pretty quickly.
What do you need to get a handle on as the leader in your business? Take a look at:
- Your financials
- Your clarity
- Your weekly leadership team meetings
- Your quarterly priorities
- Your own personal time management or workload
Get your fingers on the pulse of the business for yourself first. It’s the fastest way to get everyone else in rhythm with you.
4) Keep the focus for everyone
What is the purpose when you hold meetings in your business? How about the purpose when the people on your team perform their tasks?
Every time a meeting is held, or you and your team are working on a task, it’s important that the real objective of the organisation is front of mind.
For example, if your big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) is to become the best financial planning firm in your region, then every time a meeting is held, this should be the guiding principle.
Is this meeting helping us move toward our BHAG?
Is this task I’m performing helping us move toward our BHAG?
It’s highly unlikely your team thinks in this way. However, as the leader you can shape and influence their thinking, reminding them of the mission and making it real for them in their day-to-day work. Help people see and understand that everything they do is part of the bigger picture.
5) You don’t have to have all the answers
Another point the panel agreed on is that as the leader, you do not have to know all the answers.
There’s a common misconception with leadership - that you have to know it all and be infallible. Many of us try to carry this off when we’re in a leadership role.
Panel member Tracy Kuntz, president of Towneley Capital Management, explained it beautifully:
“Your job is to give everyone in your business a voice. From what they say, you will hear the answers.”
Is that something you could incorporate more effectively into your leadership style?
The last important point encompassed several ideas, all with the emphasis on self-management.
Have a servant-leader mindset
As one CEO described it, she says to her team: “I will take care of you, but I will also challenge you.”
It’s important to be able to ask for help
All CEOs agreed that, although the role is fantastic, it’s also very lonely at the top. Often you’re not 100 per cent sure what you’re doing. So being able to ask for help is a positive quality.
They all described how they had, or were looking to assemble, a range of mentors around themselves that they could lean on for a chat or guidance.
Limit your decisions
This tip came as a quote from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Apparently, Bezos limits himself to three big decisions a day. He delegates all the others and avoids getting involved in smaller decisions someone else could make. This means he is focused on the bigger decisions that will have the most impact on the business.
I really loved the last self-management tip from Buck Olsen, CEO of Foster Group. He said:
“Know who you are. Accept who you are. And be who you are.”
You’ve gotta love that piece of advice.