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Your Identity Sets You Apart From Other Advisors

What sets you apart from other advisors? Are you all about the “doing” in your role as an advisor and less about the essence of your being?

As the sardonic writer Kurt Vonnegut once said, “you are a human being and not a human doing.”

Discovering your identity — the concept of who you are and who you choose to be — has impact on every choice and decision you make, including in knowing what your life goal is. Your identity helps you and your clients become more secure in yourself. And self-insight fosters a clearer “vision” about yourself and those you serve.

So what are the steps to achieve self-discovery for yourself and your clients?

1. Identity is a critical factor

An interesting theme is emerging from my “Identity Conversations” with industry leaders. Leaders want to run businesses that are known for more than just numbers on a balance sheet. Many have spent the past year reviewing their life journey and some have changed the direction of their organizations to reflect a more meaningful way of doing business. 

Interestingly, advisors who are determined to make these changes for themselves also realize that their clients want to invest differently. Clients are also modifying their life goals to reflect a more meaningful direction.

The discovery of your identity is crucial for both your personal growth and business growth. In many cases, the identity of a business is strongly correlated to the leader’s identity. And what I find is that people’s identity may be the most critical factor affecting their economic lives.

2. Decode clients and their wants

The financial services industry is full of analytical doers. There will never be a shortage of intelligent finance people who are able to analyze the markets, not to mention all the software programs they have at their fingertips to assist them.

But what is missing – and only slowly coming to the fore – is the importance of understanding behavior. There are fewer people in finance who understand investor mindsets. The ones who can analyze and guide clients to achieve their life goals are able to focus not just on returns but also on quality of life.

So this would be the differentiator for a financial advisor: be able to decode exactly what a client wants to achieve with their money. But this can only happen when financial advisors first stop and explore their own identity. 

3. Move from “doing” to “being”

Knowing and embracing who we are is the key to understanding our identity. “Doing” often means hyperactivity in our chosen careers. This often gives little to no time to understand ourselves, clouding our values, impacting relationships and causing us to behave in unacceptable ways.

Additionally, sometimes how busy we are causes us to question our life journey. This past year has caused many of us to ask, what am I doing with my life?

If you have had these aha moments, so have your clients. In fact, those I’ve been having conversations with recently have shared that it is so important to go through a self-discovery process. They said that moving from doing to being has positively affected their quality of life, and that they have been influencing and guiding their clients through a similar process.

4. Wealth management refocused

Let’s be clear, though, this has not changed the need to invest in wealth creation vehicles. What has changed is the “why” of doing it and where you are investing or re-investing. For example, there has been a renewed focus on ESG investing (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance), but that’s a story for another day.

When we know our identity, we are less likely to be influenced by unsuitable advice. We take control of our own decision-making and no longer feel powerless.

I know that’s easier said than done, but is it that difficult? When advisors know and understand their own identity (and that their intentions to clients are not just about activity but about real purpose), working with clients to achieve life goals based on a mutual understanding of identity becomes much easier. This becomes the secret sauce that sets financial advisors apart and improves client outcomes.

So work with clients to find their true identity. Communicate, not as a salesperson, but as someone who genuinely wants to steer clients through their biases, leading them to an investment strategy that meets both their identity needs and wealth creation needs. 

If understanding your identity or the concept of “doing” rather than “being” resonates with you, I’d love to hear from you. Your questions. Your experiences. Your journeys.

See Hugh’s other writings for Nasdaq here.

Business man seated at desk looking at paperwork

X-Factor: Discovery, Awareness, Then Leadership

First published on Nasdaq


I’ve been having what I call Identity Conversations with financial advisors, industry leaders and others. It has clarified for me – and for them – that the more advisors and leaders come to understand their own identity, the better they can guide others to make more effective decisions.

John Maxwell, an author and speaker on leadership, captured the essence of this: “I have to find myself before I can lead myself. I have to be self-aware before I can be situationally aware.”

He could have written that for me and the people I work with, because he sums up an exciting truth for those of us required to guide people in their decision-making, whether as financial advisors, industry leaders, parents or others: Becoming situationally aware is itself a journey.

Situational & self

“Situational awareness” involves knowing what is going on around you and with others at any given time. As a financial advisor, situational awareness relies on your ability to see, understand and analyze the life journey of your clients and the goals they want to achieve. Life is not linear; life and market events are taking place all the time, and recognition of that is essential if you are working with clients to build wealth that also achieves their objectives.

An advisor’s pre-prepared questions can’t reveal the essence of a client. Most people are presenting their best side and perhaps even what they believe is expected. Even with well-guided questions, financial advisors rarely get to know what makes clients tick at the deeper level. Add to that the fact that advisor bias (unconscious or conscious) or assumptions also come into play.

So, the starting place is not just getting the right “discovery” tool or method to uncover what you need to know about your clients. I firmly believe you can never have real success or be a significant advisor until you genuinely discover yourself. Only by discovering your own X-Factor – those talents and qualities that set you apart and make you uniquely you – can you genuinely advise, guide and help clients build wealth to achieve life goals built on an understanding of themselves.

The secret sauce of leadership

Knowing your X-Factor, which reflects your unique gifts as an advisor, is critical to understanding your identity. That understanding, and the sharing of it, is in turn critical to understanding your clients – and helping them understand themselves.

What special “secret sauce” do you have that sets you apart in the crowd from every other advisor? This is not about your “doing” in the role as an advisor but the essence of your being. The X-Factor is found by discovering where your talents (strengths) and passions combine to drive you toward doing something that is special and differentiated.

When individuals truly discover their identity, they realize the impact it has on every choice and, of particular importance to advisors and those they serve, decision-making. They become more secure in themselves, and that fosters clearer “vision” about themselves and those they serve.

Further, when advisors understand their own and that of their clients, they understand that identity is important for personal growth and business growth. And in many cases, a business’s identity and the success of the company is strongly correlated to that of the leader’s identity.

Living your identity

In this space I’ve written a lot in the past year about taking stock of life and checking in to consider the next “season” as we begin to return to normality. This time of enforced reflection has caused many, including me, to pause and rethink their life journey.

As a reformed accountant, it’s exciting to see how the Identity Journey has impacted many financial advisors. Given that 80% of human performance comes from living your identity, managing human differences, and recognizing the emotional impulses of decision-making, a number of those I interviewed shared with me how getting in touch with their own identity made them alert to situational awareness in financial planning.

Another important realization usually follows pretty quickly: To guide clients in their complex decision-making, they too needed to go back to basics to reveal their identity, discovering how this insight shapes their situation.

Discover, then share

In time we will all forget the experience of this past year. For one, never before have we had such an opportunity to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. To reflect and reinvent. That is, to re-assess and re-launch, with an awareness that benefits us and those around us. After all, many people search – especially now – for their place in the world and how they can live or operate with more significant meaning.

So, before you step back into whatever your new normal is going be, take a moment to ask yourself:

  • What is your future reality?
  • Who do you want to become?
  • How do you want to project yourself to others?
  • Where will your most significant impact be?
  • How are you going to stand out in the crowd?
  • Do you want a dramatic change in your life?
  • Do you want a sharp uplift in your life trajectory?

If you’re unsure of your place in the world, this process of considering your X-Factor is a great (re-)starting point. There are a number of ways to go about it, but I am understandably biased about an approach that begins with a behavioral discovery, next stepping into an identity interview.

I’m always happy to help others uncover such and will of course share my own identity interview and X-Factor “reveal.” After all, that transparency and sharing is the pivot point when the power you discover in yourself begins to help and influence others.

If you are discovering other ways to find and own your X-Factor, I’d love to hear about it.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.