The best advisor isn’t always who you think

Why one director doesn’t want superstars on his team.

The best advisor isn’t always who you think

Agency director Stuart Shee, like many financial service leaders, refers to some advisors with high production numbers as superstars. Unlike many financial services leaders, however, Shee doesn't like working with superstars.

“I'm quite happy to say that I don't have even one superstar in my agency now,” said Shee, an MDRT member based in Singapore. 

The reason stems from how Shee defines superstar. As a 20-year veteran of agency leadership, Shee knows there is more to being an outstanding advisor than high production numbers, and top producers don't always benefit their agency. In the worst cases, Shee said, high producers can actively harm a team with their actions and attitude.

So, it’s not that Shee doesn’t want to work with the best advisors. It’s that, to him, the best advisors are not superstars. In fact, he said, all advisors can be classified into one of four groups:

1. Oxygen stealers 

In any ranking, someone has to come in last, and here oxygen stealers are it. These are advisors who perform poorly and show little interest in improving. “Their attitude is bad. Their ability is bad. They are what I call a ‘never-be,’” Shee said. Often oblivious to what’s going on around them, oxygen stealers are happy to stay in their comfort zone while producing the bare minimum. Extra financial incentives can lead to brief improvements, but any bursts are short-lived.

The only good thing that can be said about oxygen stealers is that they reveal themselves. Once a leader spots an oxygen stealer on their team, Shee recommends cutting ties with them before investing any more resources. “This is a selection problem. We have selected the wrong person,” he said. “The right thing is them leaving as soon as possible.” 

2. Cheerleaders 

Shee calls the next group cheerleaders. While they are far from ideal, Shee can work with this type of advisor, and some of his 34 current team members occupy this role now. He calls them “could-be’s.” “Their attitude is good, but their ability is bad,” Shee said. “They’re not so gifted. They receive weekly or monthly counseling sessions even after 10 years in the business. These sessions act more like affirmation and encouragement for them.” 

Like oxygen stealers, cheerleaders lack the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful advisors. Hence they need scheduled training sessions to improve on their abilities. However, they are eager to improve and willing to do what it takes to become better. It isn’t easy, and leaders must be realistic about the time commitment needed to spark improvement. But if leaders can commit to helping a cheerleader, they can be sure that commitment will be met by the other person as well. Along with extra coaching, cheerleaders also require affirmation from their leaders. They understand that success does not come to them as easily as for others. For that reason, leaders should be quick to praise cheerleaders when they perform well. “We need to tell them, ‘Good job last week. What you did is correct,’” Shee said. “They want to hear that.”

3. Superstars 

The third tier is where the superstars live. These are advisors who are good team members on paper. Their production numbers are solid. They might even belong to MDRT. But they have a bad attitude. In a word, these advisors are divas. Shee calls them “should-be’s.” They watch things happen and even criticize others whenever results don’t turn out favorably.  

“They will come to me and say, ‘I'm in MDRT. I deserve recognition. Why don't you throw a big dinner in my honor?’” Shee said. Textbook training is useless with these advisors. They don’t need a refresher on how to do their job; they need an attitude adjustment. For that, Shee recommends coaching.   “Training is where we teach advisors how to count,” Shee said. “Coaching is where we teach them what counts.” He uses coaching to foster personal development in these advisors, trying to teach them to be more disciplined and see themselves as part of a larger operation. If coaching fails, Shee issues an ultimatum: Either the advisor becomes a team player, or they can be left alone and cut off from all rewards and recognition. While Shee doesn’t have any superstars now, he’s worked with a few in the past. One resisted his efforts for roughly 10 years before finally agreeing to assume some extra responsibility not directly related to production. Another superstar exited the agency only later to ask to come back, this time with a different mindset.

4. Champions 

The final group of advisors is undoubtedly the best. This group, called champions, is made up of people who perform well by themselves and as part of a team. It’s this group more than any other that Shee prioritizes, and it’s where he tries to push cheerleaders and superstars through training and coaching. To Shee, champions are “must-be’s.” 

“Champions only need opportunities,” he said. “They thrive on inspiration and make things happen.” 

Though champions require little training or education, leaders should check in regularly to provide support where needed. Leaders should also be quick to recognize a champion’s performance in front of others, both to celebrate their success and showcase them as a model to the other tiers. 

"The recognition can be as simple as announcing, ‘Let’s give our applause to this person for topping the chart last month,” Shee said. “Then ask them, ‘Would you like to share something in front of the team? You have up to 30 minutes.' The best recognition comes in the form of empowering them to start taking on leadership roles and responsibilities.” 

Contact: Stuart Shee