The Essential Quality that Sets Top Performers Apart

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Ask industry veterans about what really sets top producers apart and you’ll get lots of suggestions.

Dan Richards

Intellect, discipline, work ethic, people skills and focus would all be put forward – and a case can be made for the importance of all of these.

What undermines the argument for any one of these qualities as being absolutely essential is that you can point to top performers who are only average on each of these qualities, yet have still excelled.

There is one attribute, however, that every true top performer has in large quantity.

That quality is resilience: the ability to bounce back quickly and constructively from setbacks, disappointments and crises.

The role of resilience

The reason that resilience is so critical for financial advisors is the number of setbacks that typify this industry’s path to success.

That’s obviously true in the early stages of building a client base when lots of promising conversations with prospective clients don’t pan out and you need a thick skin to survive.

But disappointments aren’t limited to advisors starting up – even veteran advisors encounter regular market hiccups: clients leaving for reasons beyond your control and key team members parting company to pursue other opportunities.

And what makes these doubly difficult is that they’ve often beyond your control.

As just one example, I talked to a successful advisor who had been courting three large prospects for over a year, felt close on them all and yet had all three fall through.

In one case, a prospect’s son got engaged to a financial advisor at an investment counseling firm and the account went there.  In a second instance, the prospect’s accountant strongly recommended another advisor. And the third prospect’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and he put any discussions about moving his account on indefinite hold.

The key to resilience

It would have been easy for this advisor to become discouraged – instead, he approached the task of identifying additional potential clients to approach with renewed focus and energy.

An article in the January 2010 Harvard Business Review titled “How to bounce back from Adversity” provides a new framework for resilience. While directed to managers in corporations, the framework is just as relevant for entrepreneurs and financial advisors.

The authors are Joshua Margolis of the Harvard Business School and consultant Paul Stoltz. They begin by pointing out that when suffering setbacks of any kind, it’s easy to fall victim to negative responses, such as fear, anger, self-pity and confusion. In particular there’s often a temptation to assign blame, whether to someone else or yourself.