Published by David Scarlett on 12 December 2019 in Opinion

Stop Following. Start Leading

Stop Following The Leadership Models of Yesterday

If there’s one capacity and quality that is sorely needed as Financial Planning experiences its growing pains from ‘Industry’ to ‘Profession’…

…It is this: Leadership!

Seat of The Pants

Very few of us have received formal business education – or ongoing Executive Coaching – regarding what must, surely, be THE pivotal (complex and demanding) skill in any organisation in any business sector.

If we’re honest, most of us have cobbled together a leadership style.
And have never, ever subjected ourselves to external review, to help us understand the real impact that our good intentions have on the people we lead.

I’ve sat with enough leaders, during 15 years of executive coaching, to know that the two – intentions and impacts – can become polar opposites (which is scary, since people’s livelihoods are at stake!).

Indeed, when you read books like Rocket Fuel, you realise that the more entrepreneurial and creative the leader… the more dysfunctional and disruptive their natural leadership style can be.

Such leaders depend upon their energy, charisma, determination, goal setting and Positive Team Meetings to get them through to the future they imagine.

Yes, they may map out 12-month, 90-day and one-month goals and objectives. Just like it says in the books. Just like you’re supposed to. They might even have a Mission Statement, somewhere on the wall (or languishing in a folder).

What’s more… “We make money, don’t we? I mean, a shedload of it! We even have awards. So, we must be doing this Leadership thing right. Mustn’t we?”

The Confusion Starts Here

But. But…
The vast majority of us confuse ‘Leadership’ with ‘Management’.

We can work through years (decades) remaining blissfully unaware of the distinct differences between those two skills – differences distilled by legendary business philosophers like Stephen R. Covey decades ago in comments like this:

“You can manage projects, systems and processes.

But you must learn to lead people!”

And because we have developed a systems-efficient, squeaky-clean series of workflow processes… we act as if our team can be led in the same way: Efficiently.

(If you’ve ever tried to manage teenagers efficiently (we’ve survived five!)… You’ll know exactly what he means. Good luck with that!)

And It Stems from Here

The problem is this: the historical norm in financial advisory firms in the UK is not to encourage leadership at all.

In fact, the most encouraged model I’ve observed is The Super-Adviser.

Allow me to describe this Marvel-Brand Hero.

The Super-Adviser is beloved by their clients. Or, at least, they believe that they are, because clients keep coming back for more.

Whatever the reality, they’re fuelled by the emotional strokes provided by the inherent praise lavished within financial-planning client relationships. Focusing hard on those relationships – and gaining those ‘strokes’ is a perfectly natural (and enjoyable) development. It’s even encouraged in many Best Practice presentations, workshops and courses. I mean, who doesn’t want to be told how much they’re loved each day they come to work?

The problem, however, is this…

In my observation… the typical Super-Adviser tries to squeeze the development of their team (best achieved through their careful 1-2-1 leadership coaching) into the cracks between Discovery Meetings, Cashflow Modelling Presentations and Suitability Reports.

As a result, each member of their team languishes far too long in doing the same-old-same-old role and functions… month after month, year after year.

It took me far too long, coaching an array of these bright, skilled Directors and Senior Partners… before I finally admitted to myself what was happening.

And it was this…

Super-Advisers don’t want to develop and nurture Future Leaders (a primary responsibility of Leadership)

What they really want – and not that deep-down – are Obedient Followers!

If you’ve ever pretended that ‘Despicable Me’ was a film designed for children… you might fail to recognise that what I’ve just described is a classic ‘Despicable Me’ Leadership Model!

Jim Collins (in his seminal work Good To Great) calls this leadership pattern “The Genius With 1,000 Helpers”

Dr Carol Dweck – Stanford University Professor of Psychology – subscribes to Collins’ description. But then goes on to explain that what’s happening here is something she describes as a “Fixed Mindset”.

She points out that a leader with a “Fixed Mindset” is characterised by a behaviour pattern which looks like this:

  • All great ideas and the best external relationships must naturally come through the leader
  • They must constantly confirm their superiority and intellect
  • They don’t welcome feedback from seemingly lesser individuals
  • They believe that their success, and feeling of self-worth, is gained by proving how smart they are

Let’s Bring That All Together

We’ve looked at the all-too-common behaviour pattern which I’ve described as ‘Super Adviser’.

I’ve suggested the behaviour is beautifully displayed in the film ‘Despicable Me’

We’ve seen that leadership researchers and authors have termed this behaviour ‘Genius With 1,000 Helpers’.

And we’ve been given more detail of this well-studied behaviour pattern, which Dr Carol Dweck has termed ‘Fixed Mindset’.

The question is… What happens when this behaviour pattern becomes the norm in any industry or profession?

Well, I’ll tell you what happens:

  • The result is an industry and profession devoid of a wealth of Future Leaders
  • Five years out from exit, the exhausted founder(s) realise that the team they’ve created doesn’t (yet) have the capacity – or the financial wherewithal – to take the business into the future.
  • The outcome of that ingrained behaviour is that… flogging their client book (and their team’s future) to the highest bidder eventually becomes the only option to exit the role of The Genius.
  • The problem then turns to WHO is buying up these leaderless firms?
    And the answer is rather frightening.

Too often the buyer is an organisation whose primary focus and purpose is ‘Shareholder Value’… brought about by ‘Asset Acquisition’.
With those organisations proliferating… their purposes and intent move to front and centre of the industry.
Meanwhile  the clients’ wellbeing appears primarily in slick marketing material.

It heralds an ugly future!

But not an inevitable one.

Let’s Take A Different View

Before I point out what can happen when leadership is elevated to a priority role in a financial advisory firm…

I’d like to refer you to some brief comments made by legendary Executive and Leadership Psychologist and Coach… Nancy Kline.

Just watch what she says – in less than 2 minutes – about leadership thinking and behaviour… here:

 Nancy Kline “The Far Side of Complexity”

In the next article in this series, we’ll look at a leader who finally went against the grain.

And what happened when they did.

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