Career development for financial advisors, Pt. 4: moving from sustainability to significanceArticle added by Brian Mann on December 9, 2009

Brian Mann


Joined: June 25, 2008

In the first article of this series, I mentioned that in the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow studied exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass. Maslow concluded that there are five stages of human needs, and he found that while most people wallow in the lower stages of needs, focusing on survival and safety, successful high achievers progress beyond those basic needs and fulfill the highest level of needs by achieving confidence, respect and serenity.

Let's suppose that you have built a sustainable business. This means that you are achieving an income well in excess of the industry average, most of your income is coming from referrals and repeat business from existing clients, and if you chose, you could continue to achieve this high income while only working in your practice on a part-time basis. You did this by maximizing your customer relationships and maximizing your time with customers, by doing the right activities and by building the right team to augment your efforts.

You now find a new need emerging within yourself -- the need for significance. Since your income is both high and secure, your major motivation changes. Now you strongly desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. You have reached the pinnacle of success in your business, but you still feel a certain emptiness. So how do you now achieve significance in your career?

Stories of significance

Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of knowing a number of people who have achieved this stage in their career, and so I can share some stories with you. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

I know a financial advisor, we'll call him Rob Reynolds, whose business netted him over $1 million per year. Now, of course, there's nothing wrong with that! But Rob had a desire for significance. He had a vision that he could develop a piece of financial planning software that would help other professionals to be successful and that would help clients around the country to become better served.

Rob pursued that dream and was very successful at it. He enjoyed his "second" career so much that it seemed he was always giving seminars training other advisors to use his software. He truly loved it, and he sustained that enthusiasm throughout the rest of his career because he knew he was making a difference.

Some advisors similarly achieve significance by building a marketing organization around the sales method that made them successful. I know another financial advisor, we'll call him Dan Smith, who was a master at selling life insurance off of a particular lead system using mailers. Dan was personally very successful, but he, too, had a desire for significance, as well as a vision of how this lead system could be improved, expanded, and perfected.

Dan pursued that dream, and amazingly he became considerably wealthier than he was before, but here's the rub -- remember that his motivation was to make a positive difference in the lives of others. And he did that in a major way! He made hundreds of other agents successful, and now many thousands of families that would otherwise lack basic life insurance protection have that protection due to his efforts.

Sometimes, significance comes by making substantial contributions of time and money to causes you love. My wife and I have two adopted children who have brought tremendous joy to our lives, and of course our children's lives are dramatically better than they otherwise would have been. In an adoption, everyone wins. My wife and I have become so passionate about promoting adoption that we started a foundation that gives financial aid to help people adopt children.

So, you can see that some ways of achieving significance actually make money for you, although that is no longer your major motivation, since your income is secure. And while my passion for promoting adoption doesn't make me money, I have found that it actually gives me the motivation to make as much money as possible, because the more money I make, the more I can give away and benefit the lives of others.

Find your passion

So, find out what you care about. Try volunteering in your community, getting involved in your religious organization, or participating in causes that benefit children, such as scouting. After you have built a sustainable business, you can sense that something is still missing. That's when it is time to find out what really motivates you, and typically it will be in making a difference in the lives of others.

Let me suggest one last idea to you: mentoring. The fact is that it's difficult to achieve success in our business. There are not many mentors out there helping new advisors to reach success.

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