Outside voices and views for advisers

7 essential leadership traits for 2016

With more regulation coming, adaptability and other strong characteristics will be critical

Dec 28, 2015 @ 10:35 am

By Don Trone, Mary Lou Wattman and Steve Branham

If you've ever seen the movie “Apollo 13,” you may recall the scene when the aeronautical engineers are instructed to meet in a board room. A person comes in with a box of parts, and dumps the pieces on the boardroom table. The leader of the group explains that all the parts are from the Command Module, and that the engineers have to design a CO2 scrubber from the pieces. The leader then delivers the famous line: “We have to figure out how to take a square peg and fit it into a round hole.”

2016 looks like it's going to be a very challenging and disruptive year, in large part because regulators are going to dump complex rules and regulations on the table, and leave it to the industry to figure out how to put square pegs into round holes. With the prospect of increased uncertainty and complexity, there are seven essential leadership traits you'll need to demonstrate in 2016:

Courage: This is first on the list because if you're not courageous, the other six traits are meaningless. To succeed in the coming year, and the years to follow, clients will need to be reassured that you're a selfless leader and not self-serving. Our challenge is that we work in an industry where it takes more courage to do what's right than wrong.

Purpose: When your first grade teacher asked you to draw a picture of what you wanted to become when you grew up, what did you draw? Chances are you drew a selfless servant: a teacher, doctor, fireman, nurse or police officer. Guess what? That's exactly what you've become. When you do your job right, you are part nurse, part firefighter, part doctor, part police officer and part teacher. You “get” the concept of placing the interests of others ahead of your own; it's part of your DNA. In the New Year, reconnect with your sense of purpose.

Passion: You need to be passionate about your sense of purpose. To paraphrase Simon Sinek, the well-known leadership guru, people don't care about “what” you do, they care about “why” you do it. In turn, regulators are focused only on “what” you do, and never on “why.” In the coming year, make a resolution that you won't let regulators suppress the passion you have for your work.

Alignment: MRI (mission-related investments), SRI (socially responsible investing) and ESG (environmental, social and governance) are globally recognized imperatives associated with effective portfolio management. In the New Year, you should expect that more of your clients are going to want to see evidence that your investment process is aligned with their values. If you're not knowledgeable about mission-based investing, make a resolution to become more conversant.

Adaptability: How are you going to apply the 17 practices associated with an ERISA fiduciary standard of care to individual retirement account rollovers when the median account size is $25,000? Don't wait for the DOL to tell you, because the regulator doesn't know the answer. As a leader, you're going to have to demonstrate the ability to adapt new technology, products and services so you can provide fiduciary services to micro accounts.

Accountability: In the animal kingdom, the leader is the one who demonstrates the greatest capacity to be equitable in meeting the varied demands of the herd or pack. So too, you'll need to demonstrate that you can do more with less because of your ability to collaborate with team members who have diverse talents and ideas.

Resilience: The best predictor of long-term success will be your ability to adapt and learn from experience. You will need to focus on issues that can be controlled, and not get hung up on missed opportunities. You also must have the courage to pass through uncertainty and complexity to be the selfless servant you drew in first grade.

Don Trone, Mary Lou Wattman and Rear Admiral Steve Branham, USCG (retired), are the three co-founders of 3ethos. Their research and training programs are focused on the interrelationships between leadership, stewardship and governance. Don and Mary Lou are the co-authors of “LeaderMetrics: What Key Decision-makers Need to Know When Serving in a Critical Leadership Role.”


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