What are the key characteristics of a leader in financial planning? Claire Mackay shares her views.

Inspire those around us

I believe a key characteristic of a leader in financial planning is building an interdependent team around you that includes the right people; is empowered to act; and who understand and believe your vision as a leader. So as leaders we must be effective and credible communicators.

We must have a vision for the future of our clients and our team that makes a true difference. For our vision to be credible, we need to have a track record of personal success; a reputation for integrity and ethical behaviour; and consistency between our words and our actions. We must “know the way, go the way and show the way” (John C Maxwell).

Responsive to challenges and opportunities

While a good manager deals with complexity, I believe a good leader in financial planning copes with and profits from continual change. Changes can include technology, deregulation, international competition and demographics in the workforce. This constant change demands strong leadership.

As leaders in financial planning, we set our team’s vision for the future; agree the strategies to get us there; align the right people; and keep them motivated and inspired through future obstacles and opportunities.

Ethics comes from the top

The most impressive Code of Ethics I have ever read is that of the US firm, Enron. Clearly this was a firm where there was no consistency between their words and their actions.

I passionately believe that if you are going to lead an ethical financial planning firm with high standards then they need to be set from the top. It is fundamental to the role of an financial planning leader to take responsibility, be accountable, know what to know (and what we don’t know), and to discuss ethics openly in the workplace.

My father advised me early on in my career that your reputation is incredibly precious – it takes you years to develop and only one bad decision to destroy it forever.

Training and education must require employees to think about ethics and give them guidance on how to incorporate it into their activities. When it comes to ethics and integrity, the bucks stops with the emerging leader.

Educate themselves and others

As financial planning leaders we must bring out the best in ourselves and in our teams. Continual professional development arms leaders and their teams with the tools to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

We must learn to recognise the potential in our team members – their strengths and their weaknesses. Weaknesses must be addressed through education and training while those with potential for leadership themselves must be encouraged, nurtured and developed.

Passion and authenticity

To inspire those around us to work together at their very best, we must show a driving passion and purpose. We must genuinely care about our team and must passionately believe in our agreed vision. Passion from a true leader is infectious throughout a team and helps create a team that wants to work together to achieve amazing things that make a difference.

However, we can’t fake it. You have to be who you are, not a different person depending on who you are speaking to or what the circumstances are. Financial planning leaders need to develop relationships with their clients and team members that are honest, open and consistent.

Empathy and self-awareness

Emotional intelligence is a key characteristic of a leader in financial planning. We must know our self first – our own strengths and weaknesses. A large part of this is humility – not lording our leadership over those who we need to perform at their very best.

If we can put our self in our team’s situation then we can lead those same people far more effectively. Teams only become high performing when the financial planning leader is on top of the important psychological and relational issues.

“Eagles don’t live in a swamp”

A person who I respect in financial planning shared this quote as one of his key leadership characteristics. In a lovely simple metaphor, it captures the requirement of a leader to soar above much of what happens on a day-to-day basis.

This concept is not meant to be an arrogant one suggesting team members are swap dweller and leaders are better than them.

Rather, it demonstrates that leaders need to keep a clear perspective firmly fixed on their vision for the future. They need to see pitfalls and dangers well in advance of them happening and to guide their team confidently and successfully through them.

There are undoubtedly times that a leader needs to walk alongside their team but it is important they also know how to soar above and truly lead.


Claire Mackay LLB LLM BCom CA CFP CTA

I am a financial planner, SMSF expert and company director. I thrive on providing independent, expert financial advice to my wonderful clients. I was recognised as Financial Planner of the Year 2015 and Investment Adviser of the Year 2014.

To contact me, speak to my team on 02 8084 0453. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter. You can also visit the Quantum Financial website.