Much has been written about leadership and efficiency. Some have suggested that leadership should be systematic and "disengaged" from process (Financial Advisor, March 2007, Editor's Note, "... worked on his practice, never in it"). Yet, day-to-day activities form the lifeblood of a financial practice. Therefore, the challenge for leaders (managers) of a practice is to determine to what extent they should play a role in those activities without crossing the line to micromanagement. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the strategic leader, who eschews daily responsibility in favor of a visionary role.

Typically, the financial advisor who runs his/her own practice wears a number of hats: manager, analyst, sales person, marketer, public speaker and family person, to name a few. Depending on the size of the financial practice, staff may assist with some of these roles. This places emphasis on the role of manager. Yet, the same financial advisor also may be active in technical roles within the firm. Possessing both technical skills and managerial skills is daunting, to say the least. Add to that the skills of a public speaker, and you have a near impossible combination of skill sets.
Given that challenge, it might be prudent to consider more efficient ways of carrying out the various roles demanded of the financial advisor. First, the role of leader/manager should be considered. Albert Einstein once said, "Creativity is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." (The same or similar quotes have been attributed to Thomas Alva Edison and others.) The same can be said of leadership. It also can be said that 90% of a leader's activities are in the realm of communication and 10% constitutes everything else. If we accept this notion, then it suggests that a small improvement in communication skills could lead to a more efficient advisory firm.

The reality is that leaders must possess the chameleon-like ability to assume all four of the above communication styles when appropriate. No one style may be perfectly appropriate, though. The fact that this chart appears like a target is not by accident. Where a leader may find his point on this target may be due to a blending of two or more of these styles, and in consideration of the task at hand. Workflow should be handled within the larger context of the vision of the firm. In addition, protecting the firm must be balanced against the needs (and risks) associated with achieving firmwide goals. Ultimately, this chart illustrates the delicate balancing act a leader must follow to be successful. Efficiency is driven by how well the leader can function in this environment without being bogged down by the details.

Communication is not a one-way street. Thus, leaders must not only understand the leadership communication styles, but also be able to respond to the social styles of the listener. Consider Figure 2.

Charts such as this have been written about for years (Non-Manipulative Selling by Tony Alessandra, Ph.D., Phil Wexler and Rick Barrea, Prentice Hall, 1987). Yet, on a day-to-day basis, it is often a neglected aspect of management communications. For example, a "driver" social style may work in communicating with an "amiable," but not necessarily with another "driver." Thus, recognizing what social style the listener displays can help a leader adjust his or her style to effect better communication with those who are led.

To be most efficient in your role as a leader, leadership must be shared with those who are led. Delegating tasks is one thing; delegating responsibility is quite another. In order to be most efficient in accomplishing the goals of your financial practice, eventually you will need to embrace the concept of delegating responsibility. To be consistently successful in this, three steps must be accomplished:
1. Matching responsibility to the appropriate person-assessing readiness levels;
2. Holding that person accountable for the expected results;
3. Following up and providing feedback.

Assessing readiness levels is a skill unto itself. Often, staff members may feign proficiency to prop up their value to the firm. Do not assume that just because someone says they know how to do something, they actually do. A manager must be capable of cutting through the hyperbole and ascertain the specific readiness level of a staff member prior to assigning tasks and/or responsibilities.

This might be accomplished by simply asking questions like, "When you say that you know how to do this, perhaps you could briefly take me through the steps involved," or words to that effect. Assigning responsibility also involves motivating that person to do a good job. Placing the importance of the task or set of tasks in the larger framework of importance to the firm or clients can accelerate completion and efficiency over top-down commands such as "because I said so."

Accountability is another key step in delegating responsibility. Holding people accountable for their actions speaks volumes about the importance of setting high standards in a firm. Those of us who are parents understand that the first time we let children get around a rule is the last time we can enforce that rule. Though it would be folly to suggest that you treat your staff like children, there are those inevitable comparisons.

While we are on the subject, what is accountability? Accountability should mean that there are consequences to one's actions. This can mean good or bad consequences-reward vs. punishment. Rewards can come in many forms: additional privileges, bonuses, etc. Punishment can be as subtle as the removal of authority (responsibility) or as overt as withholding bonuses or reduction of pay, or worse. The degree would be determined by the egregious nature of the situation. To work, the criteria must be objective, fair and consistently applied. It must also be discussed well in advance.
Follow-up is the third step in delegating responsibility and perhaps the most important. Yet, it often is the most neglected step. Ironically, it could be the easiest to accomplish using technology. Most CRM software packages, scheduling software and calendars offer the ability to track tasks in one way or another. Scheduling a follow-up with a staff member should be a habit that is done the same time a task or responsibility is assigned. Some advisors have developed the additional habit of having the affected staff person place the follow-up on their calendar as well. In this way, that person recognizes the importance the advisor (manager) places on follow-up and feedback.

Following up on task and/or responsibility delegation is as important as what is being followed up on. Do not overly complicate the follow-up communication. Keep focused on the issue and simplify the communication as much as possible. Even though it may be dated material, consider using the One-Minute Manager (HarperCollins, 2000) style of feedback by pointing out the strengths of the individual in the task and the areas for improvement going forward.

Consider the value of introspection. Hold yourself accountable for your tasks and responsibilities. Ask what consequences you will suffer for not accomplishing those tasks or fulfilling those responsibilities. In addition, determine what rewards you are due for meeting or exceeding your own expectations. Recognize that you are being judged not only based on how efficiently you manage others, but also on how well you manage yourself.

David Lawrence, AIF  (Accredited Investment Fiduciary), is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates (, a practice-consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla. David Lawrence is a much sought-after public speaker on a variety of leadership, financial and technical topics. For details, visit