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A question we should ask ourselves

November 7th, 2009

In a couple of days I go to Las Vegas to participate in our Members Annual Conference.  I’m presenting a session I’ve called “It all starts with a conversation.”  The theme of the session is that as advisers our job is to effect change for the good by helping our clients achieve the full potential of their business.  A key element of that process is the way we construct and deliver dialog i.e. the conversation.

In the context of selling service (or ideas as part of services!) I and many other people have written lots about the importance of empathy, of getting into the skin of the other party, of refining your listening skills, of being interested rather than interesting, of using the “right” questioning techniques etc, etc.  All of this should, I believe, be taken as a given.  But I have been thinking about this issue very deeply in recent months and especially about my own experience and that of others I have read or heard about and I believe that the real key to your success as an adviser turns on whether you have a wider and deeper concern for others and that turns on who you are (and can become) rather than what you know.

Let me put that another way.  If your motive for going to work each day is to earn an income and to do that you know you need to generate fees and to achieve that you realize you need to sell your services to clients then you’ll probably be less effective than you could be, you’ll find yourself doing less interesting work that is below the value you could deliver, and your practice will not grow as fast or as far as it has the potential to.

On the other hand, suppose you go to work each day to make a difference to the lives of the people you come in contact with and that includes your family, your friends, your team members, your partners, your clients, your vendors in fact everyone with whom you come in contact.  The minute you move away from a perspective of what you do to one of why you do it I believe you’ll achieve much greater success financially, but more importantly, personally.  In short, you’ll be happier in yourself and with your life.

Now here’s the question you might like to ask.  I came across it after reading Harold Kushner’s book When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (good book BTW) – the question is: Does it make a difference how I live my life? We really need to revisit our priorities, our values and the virtues we choose to guide our behavior.  Kushner’s main idea is that if we define our success as being outside our self e.g. career, money, possessions, lifestyle, popularity or accolades our life will become increasingly self-serving, hollow and frustrating–whatever we “achieve” is never enough!

A US longitudinal study done with 1,500 university graduates tracked their wealth accumulation progress over a 20 year period.  Group A graduates represented by 1,245 of the 1,500 in the study selected careers that, in their opinion, paid good money and had the best prospects of giving them financial success and security.  The remaining 255 graduates chose careers that were aligned with their personal passion and said that they would worry about the money later. Of the 1,500 students 101 had become millionaires by the 20th year of the study and interestingly only one of them came from Group A!  This observation lends weight to the idea that when you focus on a career choice orientated towards the accumulation of wealth rather than the pursuit of a higher order personal goal that you are truly passionate about the probability of financial success is likely to be lower.

Here are some thoughts for the day: step outside of yourself for a moment and think about what you see, do you like it? Are you having fun at work, at home, at play? Is your primary motivation to make a difference to the lives of other people? Do you have “balance”? Does the way you have chosen to live your life positively impact the people around you? Does it positively impact you?

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