In the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness," a man pulls up in a beautiful red sports car and a passer-by stops and asks him, "What do you do and how do you do it?" The man replies that he's a stockbroker and the passer-by applies for the training program at his firm and eventually wins a job there.

It's a great example of getting to the next level. The quickest way to get to the next level is by using your strengths.

The most popular type of coaching and leadership training available for financial professionals is imitation-style training. Someone who has achieved some level of success offers a course and claims if you do what he or she did, you will get the same result. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But think about it. Did everyone who went through your firm's training program get the same results? I have seen two people use the exact same referral system, and while one person gets five to 10 referrals a week, the other person strikes out.

Now I'll share the secret: Imitation-style training works only if you have the same strengths as the person who wrote the program. The Gallup Organization did a study of more than 80,000 managers to find out how to get the best out of people. The answer was deceptively simple: Focus on your strengths, not on your weaknesses.

The first step is to know what your strengths are, and Gallup offers an assessment called the Clifton StrengthsFinder. There are 34 strength themes, and the assessment will reveal your top five. You can take the assessment by purchasing the book Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

I have confidence in the strengths-based system of getting to the next level. Imitation of other people's journey will work only if you have the same strengths. Save your time, save your money, and use your strengths to develop the practice that's right for you, not for someone else.

What do clients want from you as a leader? They are following your advice and look to you for many things, both professionally and personally. What does your staff want from you as a leader? How about your family? As a professional, you don't have a choice: You are a leader and you want to be the best leader possible. Great leaders know their strengths and can call upon the right strength when they need it. Gallup identified four domains of leadership: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.

It isn't uncommon to have more than one of these characteristics. Usually, people have strengths spread among two areas, possibly three, and in rare instances even four.

Advisors strong in executing are about action and getting things done. They love "to do" lists and get a charge when they check off an item. The flip side of the coin is sometimes they will spend as much time doing a $10-an-hour task as they will doing a $100-an-hour task because they just want the work to get done.

Advisors strong in influencing are great in front of an audience, and the bigger the audience, the better. They can communicate by speaking, writing, texting, and e-mail, and people love to listen to them.

Advisors strong in relationship building draw people to them like bees to honey. I have done strengths assessment on more than 1,000 advisors, and I see this theme more than any other among financial professionals. When you are meeting people all day long, a big part of your job is building relationships.

Advisors strong in strategic thinking are visionaries, and they never dream small. They think of expanding a firm. The only way forward for them is to grow, grow, and grow.

Now, how to use your strengths as a springboard to the next level? Well, that depends on your theme. If your dominant strength is relationship building, I would immediately announce to your clients that you're accepting new clients only by recommendation. The most exclusive country clubs market the same way; people crave what is scarce and exclusive. As someone strong in relationship building, you need to place a premium on your talent.

Those with different strengths would use different tactics. People strong in influencing would be better off getting in front of large groups or inside companies to speak. People strong in execution would be better off testing many different marketing systems to see what works best for them. Strategic people may want to contribute to the big-picture marketing plan, but then delegate it to other team members for execution. Customize how you approach and lead on each task to what you naturally do well.

Todd Colbeck is principal and founder of the Colbeck Coaching Group,
a subsidiary of General Business Center, Inc. You can reach him at this email address.

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