How advisers can overcome the success paradox

Why is it that many advisory firms that once grew so fast have slowed down?

By Joe Duran

Jan 9, 2014 @ 9:11 am (Updated 12:29 pm) EST

We meet with hundreds of financial services firms every year and routinely find that after 20 years of existence, most of them have plateaued and now derive their growth from stock market performance and occasional referrals. Some are happily where they want to be, but more frequently, it has “just happened.” Why is it that these firms that once grew so fast have slowed down?

The challenge for most advisers is that they are trapped in what we call the success paradox. Simply put, this paradox states that whatever has made you successful is also what limits you from being even more successful. Think about that for a moment. Many of us continue with our old habits because we assume that our past behavior has led to the success we have — but what if those same habits are limiting our future? Here are some tips on breaking free of the success trap:

1. The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle.

We are the driving force of whatever success or failure we have in this world. The person at the top of any organization will determine the culture and future. Most importantly, they will decide on two key areas of the business: how decisions are made within the organization and how adventurous (or risk-seeking) they are willing to be.Your approach to these two areas really is the core driver of your future success.

2. The“what” versus the“how.”

The single most important role of any manager is to establish clear direction about what needs to be accomplished. Unfortunately, we are often at the center of every minor decision about how to do things.That means we take time away from what we are really great at and unwittingly become the bottleneck, the limitation on our company's growth. You need to have great people that you can empower in order to widen the bottleneck. Letting others make decisions about how things get done once you have established what needs to get done is crucial to generating lasting value within your team.That's hard to do if you aren't willing to compromise and let go of some control. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is your team taking ownership and solving problems for you, or are you telling them how to do everything?

• Is it because they aren't good enough or because you aren't trusting enough?

• What will you change in order to widen the bottleneck with confidence?

3. Change (risk) is a requirement for growth.

If you are going to grow in any area of your life, you need to stretch yourself and risk failure. Many of us become complacent when we have reached a certain level of success and are not willing to do what we did when we first entered the business: take risks in order to win big. There is a wonderful expression, “The enemy of growth is value.” If you want to be more successful, you will need to establish a workplace that encourages people to challenge the status quo, and it needs to start at the top.

• Do you feel satisfied with where you are right now?

• When was the last time you took a real business risk?

• Does your team have clearly defined goals for the business and do people know what their roles are in accomplishing those goals?

Of course many folks love the life they have and really don't want to change it. For others who want to expand, three things are required: big ideas, hard work and lots of help from great people. But, remember, it all has to start at the top of the bottle.

Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital and the bestselling author of “The Money Code: Improve Your Entire Financial Life Right Now." Follow him @DuranMoney.

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