Successful fiduciaries put their oxygen mask on first

Part two of the blog series, “Five Disciplines of a Successful Fiduciary,” focuses on personal leadership. Danielle and Rob explain.

The client always comes first. True or false?

Fiduciary legislation aside, for nearly 50 years financial advisors have been taught that the best way to build and sustain their practice was to put their clients’ interests first. And as such, practice leaders and their teams have worked long into the night and on weekends, driven down icy roads to get to client meetings, skipped meals, missed birthday parties—generally ignoring their own needs and those of their families and teams if that’s what it took to best serve the client.

As many advisors have learned the hard way, however, these behaviors were actually damaging in the long run, and no matter how well-intentioned, almost always ensured the positive momentum would falter, not just professionally, but personally as well.

Why? Simply put, it’s nearly impossible for an advisor to provide every client with top-notch service if the advisor isn’t properly taking care of his or her own needs first. Just ask yourself, after a full day of back-to-back meetings, did you bring the same level of physical and intellectual energy to your 3 p.m. client call that you did to the meeting at 9 a.m.?

Take a cue from the airline industry. When you fly, should your plane’s cabin air pressure change dramatically and oxygen masks fall from the ceiling—the epitome of a life-or-death situation—the airline would insist that every adult, parents traveling with children included, put on his or her own oxygen mask first. Even though this goes against every instinct of a parent, you have to be safe in order to help others. The same logic applies to advisors. Despite the desire to put clients first, you need to be in tip-top shape to lead your team and clients to success. This is what we call “personal leadership.”

Here are some tips on how you can lead yourself and your teams to success:

1. Manage your energy to be at your most effective

We’ve all heard this advice before: Eat well. Get enough sleep. Take breaks between meetings. Exercise. But do you? If not, this is where you can start. Clients and team members can tell when you are tired or distracted, so carve out some “white space” at the office to recharge your batteries. Take a short walk, or leave the office for lunch.

2. Consider having personal “non-negotiables”

Best practices are all about habits. If you go to the gym at lunch, then go to the gym at lunch. If you need 30 minutes to read up on industry news or try out the latest portfolio scenario tester tool, take 30. If Tuesday nights are date nights, or you need to spend more time with your children, create a hard stop to your day. Don’t worry too much about missing work, since you will probably be much more productive when you’re properly energized.

3. Set the right behaviors

Establish personal goals and objectives that are relevant and aligned to the right behaviors. Accountability starts with you. If you are hungry and cranky, barking orders around the office, it’s hardly an incentive for anyone to do their best work. Irritability opens the door to poor staff morale and disruptive turnover. It’s important to lead by example; energy is contagious.

4. Live your vision with your team

Clearly articulate your vision and embody it. Encourage those on your team to follow in managing their energy and setting their own non-negotiables. They will feel more engaged, more emotionally connected, and you, your clients and your practice will be better off for it.

5. Live your vision with your clients

Clients can sense when you are in the moment with them, fully present and focused. That means active listening, which includes reading between the lines, to grasp what’s really being said. When conversations turn sensitive or difficult, being well-rested and engaged puts you in the right mindset to create a safe space for a deeper, and maybe quieter, dialogue. After all, this is the reason you became an advisor in the first place—to advise in ways and at times when only the personal touch will do.

So, the client always comes first. True or false? In the end, it’s both.

Rob Kron is the Head of Investment and Retirement Education for BlackRock’s U.S. Wealth Advisory group. Danielle Papandrea is the Head of BlackRock’s Affinity Group. They are regular contributors to The Blog.

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