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Leaders: Born or Made?

leadersThis question came from a participant in one of my strengths workshops.

“Are certain strengths or characteristics common in leaders?” the participant posed. Many questions along this same line have been asked about leadership over the years. What do you think the answer is?

Are leaders born or made? What are the characteristics of great leaders? Can you learn to become a better leader? These are all versions of the same question and a natural one to ask. Deep down inside we might just want to know if we have the capability to lead.

The phrase “we are all leaders” is true. Yet it does not get at the answer to what most people are attempting to ask, which is, “Do I have the stuff that leads to greatness as a leader?” Yes you do and here is what you need to know to tap it: Leadership is not an anointment, appointment or an otherwise granted ability; it is earned through the use of the gifts you were given at birth. Is it born? Yes. Is it made? Absolutely.

A few rare souls come into this world with clarity about their natural gifts and how they are to be utilized for good. Most of the rest of us get to figure it out and that is where leadership is made. Back to the question from the participant in the strengths workshop: “Are certain strengths or characteristics common in leaders?”

This is the question that Dr. Donald O. Clifton and the researchers at Gallup sought to answer as they began their research starting in the 1960’s (to read more about the research and outcomes, check out the book Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie).

Through interviews, Dr. Clifton and his team quizzed leaders across industries and occupations including political leaders. One might think after all this research the scientists would identify one strength, a single characteristic that all the best leaders have in common. That was not the case.

“A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal,” Dr. Clifton found. “What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths—and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders.”

The answer to the question you are asking “Do I have what it takes to be a leader?” is yes. Will you become a leader is the question you need to answer.

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas

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Moving from Talent to Strength to Mastery

The Masters golf tournament provides a great example of talent in action. The name of the tournament represents what it means to the sport of golf and its participants. What does it mean to be a master of something? How do we get to that state of mastery? Perhaps a better understanding comes from looking at the stages to mastery.


Stage 1
In the first stage of mastery there is talent, where one witnesses or comes to know of an underlying ability. Awareness is key in this stage. The person possessing the talent may not be able to see it and an observant coach or parent may make the first observation, “You have a natural talent for _________.” Yet without action, talent can simply lie latent. Look at the word talent; swap the first “t” and the “l” and talent becomes latent. How interesting is that?

Stage 2
To move toward mastery the talent must be developed, a raw ability transformed into strength. A strength is defined as the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance. Strengths derive from talent, which is a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving. Add to this natural talent the investment of time spent practicing, developing and refining your talents and boom, you have a strength. Think of physical development; we know that repeatedly taxing a muscle in a positive way leads to a building of that muscle.

Stage 3StrengthFinder
Mastery continues the investment in the talent through practice–both as a verb and a noun. Wearing the green jacket of the Masters comes not from just hitting thousands and thousands of shots, although that is part of it, it comes also from having a practice, a noun, describing the process of mastering. In this sense practice means having a discipline and a program around our development. A plan to help us move forward, refine our skills, develop our fitness and strengthen our mental toughness to keep us on the journey to the masters of our chosen endeavor.

To say that someone at the top of their game is “talented” undermines the effort required. We all have natural talents. What are yours and how are you “practicing” Mastery?

Discover your talents by taking the StrengthsFinder Assessment and find a coach for your practice.

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart, CFP®
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and Founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas

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The Empathetic Adviser

HighlyEffectiveIt never ceases to amaze me that after 20-plus years in the financial services industry, both as an adviser and as a coach, there is still so much that I learn as I work with individuals on better ways to increase their overall communication skills. A recent example of this would be when one of my adviser clients, who had recently played the role of a prospect during our 10-minute role play session, said afterwards, “I felt the most connected when I knew the adviser was listening.”

This brief statement was followed by a lengthy dialogue with others in the group about the value of listening. Another adviser suggested that we take a page out of Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he describes the four developmental stages of empathetic listening.

The following is an interpretive summary of each of those stages and an example of how it could be utilized when prospects state, “I’ve had it with advisers. They all promise great returns but never deliver.”

These stages are not consecutive but independent possibilities when having a conversation and should be scattered throughout your dialogue.

Stage No. 1: Mimic Content
In this stage you as the listener are merely repeating what you have heard. It is the most basic of all listening skills although be careful as this method can seem a little insulting if used too often during the same discussion. However, it does force you to listen so that you can repeat what has been said. Example: “So, you’ve had it with advisers, they promise great returns but never deliver?”

Stage No. 2: Rephrasing Content
In this stage you as the listener merely put the content you have heard from the prospect into your own words. Example: “With your experiences, you don’t believe what advisers have to say anymore?”

Stage No. 3: Reflecting Feelings
In this stage you as the listener interpret what you believe the other person is feeling. It is much more effective because you are focusing on both what is being said as well as the way you believe the speaker feels about what they are saying. Example: “That sounds extremely frustrating.”

Stage No. 4: Reflecting Feelings and Rephrasing Content
In this stage you as the listener combine stage No. 2 and No. 3 to make an authentic connection so that the speaker is feeling understood. Example: “It sounds like you are really wary of all advisers because many of them have over-promised and under-performed?”

After spending five group coaching sessions with one of my teams, I created the4 Levels of Empathetic Listening Exercise,” an exercise where we role play using a combination of the stages previously discussed. I have found that each adviser is making a much better connection with their prospects because they have increased not only their listening skills, but also their ability to gain trust leading them towards becoming a much more empathetic adviser in the eyes of their prospects.

If you read this article and are interested in hearing our audio the “4 Levels of Empathetic Listening Exercise,” email Melissa Denham, Director of Client Servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com or to schedule a free complimentary consultation. To discuss this article in more detail, email me at dan@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

Editor’s Note: FPA’s webinars are a great source of educational content, in addition to our Practice Management Blog, to help build and nurture client relationships. Click on the following related webinar titles to learn more: