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Lessons in leadership and management for financial advisors

August 10, 2023
clock 5 MIN READ

Strong leadership and management are the key to maximizing your team. Incorporate these best practices for developing leadership skills and managing a team in the advisory business.


This is the final blog in our “Scale with Talent” series. So far, we’ve explored best practices for hiring, onboarding new employees, and compensation design. In this “Ideas from the Lab” blog post, we’ll focus on how to effectively lead and manage your people to build a high-performing team. 

According to Capital Group’s 2021 Advisor Benchmark Study, "Pathways to Growth", the highest-growth advisors spend 81% more time on team management than their peers.

Your people are an investment—they can drive capacity and growth, enhance your business value, and help you adapt in ways that you couldn’t do alone. In order to do all of this, they need leadership and management. Let’s explore exactly what that means in an advisory business.


Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.

Peter Drucker

Management produces order and consistency through:

  • Day-to-day direction
  • Accountability
  • Feedback

Leadership produces change and movement through:

  • A clear vision
  • Clarity of what success looks like for the business and individuals
  • Inspiration or purpose

High-performing teams don’t happen by chance; they are a result of strong leadership and management.

What if you don’t want to lead or manage?

Many advisory firm founders and partners are de facto leaders and managers but aren’t doing the job (or don’t want to do it). If this is you, there are three options:

  1. Don’t do anything about it and deal with the challenges of little or no leadership and management (not ideal).
  2. Find or promote someone who can and will lead and manage. Are there any employees or next-generation leaders on your team who have the will and skill to step into a leadership or manager role? If so, empower and support them to step into an expanded role, and get out of the way.        
  3. Commit to leading and/or managing

Strong leadership in action 

Chris Cousins is the President and Cofounder of Financial Architects, a more than 20-person RIA firm in Farmington Hills, MI. Chris knew that he’d eventually build his own RIA, but on July 13, 2021, he found out that due to a fundamental change to one of their key partners, they had to make the transition to RIA a lot more quickly than they expected. They had 27 days to move over 700 accounts to their RIA!

How’d they do it? As Chris shared, “It's a story of teamwork. The team saw that I was completely distressed, and they rallied and said, ‘Let's do this.’ And so we started. It happened because of a team effort.”

What they accomplished is incredible, and I believe the team’s response and collaborative effort is a result of a high-performing team and leader.

I asked Chris for key lessons over their transition to RIA—what he shared is a masterclass in leadership,

“I learned to pay more attention to the pressure that our people are going through. That's a big takeaway for me that I've really just got to keep that in my mind for the rest of the time I'm helping to run this company.”

He continued to share sage advice as it relates to navigating change and moving your business forward, “Is your direction clear? Do you have a vision for the business? And can you clearly articulate it to your team? Because they're about to go through a lot of changes that they don't really want to do. And can you articulate that direction to get them through the forest?”

Throughout the transition to RIA, Chris understood his role as the leader, and he led. If you want to be a leader like Chris, it starts with the decision to lead. Leadership is a skill. If you’re looking to develop this skill, check out the book Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute, highly recommended by Chris. He credits it to positioning his mind to understand, “how to lead and really get people to where you need them to do.”

Strong management in action

What about strong management? In a recent advisor breakout, I presented “Scaling with Talent: The Building Blocks of a High Performing Team.” During the session, an advisor in the audience asked, “Once I onboard staff, how often should I meet with them to make sure they are on track?” The heart of the question was, “How do I manage my team? Do meetings matter?” Of course. However, if you want to lay the foundation of strong management before throwing a team or individual check-in on the calendar, start here:

  • Clearly communicate (ideally in writing) your expectations for the team and individuals
  • Understand an individual’s professional aspirations and goals (what matters to them? How do they prioritize what matters? For example, compensation, flexibility, growth, title, or something else? Guide that not everything can be a top priority.)
  • Let everyone know how you will have important conversations such as their performance, development, and compensation (ad hoc, twice a year, once a year, etc.)

Based on my experience working with advisory firms for many years, these are best practices that I’ve observed from high-performing teams:

  • They meet as a team weekly (and the meetings are highly structured and productive, not a round-the-table check-in)
  • Have at least once-a-year individual performance reviews based on understood success metrics, which inform incentive compensation and promotion opportunities
  • Managers check in with their direct reports regularly (such as bi-weekly or weekly)
  • Performance issues don’t linger, they are dealt with quickly and directly
  • They respect and trust each other at all levels, which contributes to more productive conflict, collaboration, and adaptability
  • Individuals and leaders are held accountable
  • Individuals and the team get acknowledgment for a job well done
  • Managers strive to achieve win-wins between individuals and the business

If you have a team, congratulations! You’ve likely done a lot right to grow your business to require staff. Providing leadership and management can turn a group of individuals into a high-performing team. Leadership and management are skills that anyone can develop—and the impact can be compounding.  

The information provided is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an opinion by SEI. SEI Investments Company (SEI) is not responsible for the views and opinions expressed by Chris Cousins. Chris Cousins and Financial Architects are not affiliated with SEI. SEI cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information and assumes no responsibility or liability for its incompleteness or inaccuracy. They should not be regarded as legal opinion, advice or a recommendation of a specified course of action.

Shauna Mace, CHPC

Head of Practice Management

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