Tips for leading an advisory team

By Todd Humber | August 3, 2023 | Last updated on September 19, 2023
3 min read
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The best leaders of financial advisors aren’t dictators — they’re communicators, says Clay Gillespie, financial advisor and managing director at Vancouver-based RGF Integrated Wealth Management.

Barking orders doesn’t work; open discussion and collaboration at all levels does, he said. His goal is to keep his teams informed while leveraging their ideas and expertise.

“They’re smart people. The more they know, the more feedback we’re going to get — and we’re going to make better decisions,” said Gillespie, whose firm employs 60 people, including 23 advisors who manage $2.4 billion in assets. “It doesn’t mean I’m always going to agree with you, but differing opinions actually works quite well to get better results.”

Age-based evolution

Paul Cieslik, senior vice-president, advisor practice management with Capital Group in Sarasota, Fla., said there’s also been an age-driven evolution in management styles.

“The phrase I use to senior folks is don’t expect others to cut their teeth the same way you did,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean this 24-year-old, newly appointed CFP with very little real-world experience can’t crush it for your team.”

Leaders need to build a sense of community on their teams, and ensure members feel valued and part of something bigger, he said. That includes regular conversations to ensure advisors are satisfied in their roles and understand the organization’s vision.

As for the frequency of these conversations, Cieslik said they should happen at least twice a year: “When you check in with people, you’re not overtly asking them necessarily whether they’re paid enough or whether they’re happy. You’re asking them, really, do you feel part of the community called the team?”

Many managers are afraid to open that door for fear of hearing negative feedback, Cieslik said.

“I think being OK with critical feedback is a rarity,” he said, but leaders need to get over that. It’s more important to find out if someone is unhappy before they hit a breaking point and leave, he said.

The biggest job for leaders

Gillespie said the most important role for leaders is to lay the vision out and ensure advisors buy into it.

“When I first took this role on, there was an advisor we had who just wasn’t part of the strategic vision, but they generated a bunch of revenue,” he said.

They decided this person wasn’t worth keeping, despite the revenue, if they weren’t going to be a part of the bigger picture, Gillespie said.

“Lone wolves are a problem. If you have advisors going in a different direction than the firm, it’s really a threat to a firm our size,” he said. “If you’re [a giant bank-owned brokerage], you deal with it. But a firm our size, you have to have all the advisors with a similar mind frame as to what to provide the client and how to do it. You can’t have 16 people doing it 16 different ways.”

Pick your battles

One of the biggest things Gillespie has learned in managing people is to choose your battles carefully.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘What is the outcome that I’m going to get for the fight with this person?’ You want to use your personal collateral on stuff that really matters,” he said.

He’s also a fan of not micromanaging advisors and letting them work through issues — because 90% of them are more than capable of solving problems on their own.

“That means you have to let them make mistakes; you’ve got to let them do all that kind of stuff,” Gillespie said. “If you’re down on everything they do wrong, they don’t grow. You’ve got to give people the chance to grow, to make mistakes, learn from them and get feedback — and not worry that you’re going to come crush them from above.”

Pick a lane

Cieslik said advisors in leadership roles often try to do too much — managing a roster of clients, advisors, and business strategy all at once. There’s nothing wrong in seeking the team’s input on what the leader should focus on, he said.

“I’m the rainmaker, right? I’m the number one. But what do you think? Should I continue doing what I’m doing or should I just step aside and be a CEO?” he said a leader could ask. “Don’t try to be everything. Pick your lane and be really good at it.”

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is an award-winning journalist who has reported on workplace, HR, employment, legal and occupational safety issues for more than 20 years.