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Think like an athlete to win the wealth management game

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Two competitors stand on the starting line of an Olympic run, both with identical abilities, personal bests and identical body compositions.

Who crosses the finish line first? The one with the better mindset.

And the same thing happens in wealth management.

Pick two advisers working at the same location, with similar personalities and given identical opportunities and advantages. Mental ability for managing stress and success will make the difference.

The mindset for advisers and successful athletes alike can provide the competitive advantage that they need.

Athlete advisers say that being an athlete gave them a distinct advantage over their colleagues.

The sport didn’t matter: baseball, basketball, football, golf, running or doing a triathlon. The competitive spirit they embrace as athletes translated into the way they do business.

Stan Beecham, sport psychologist and former athlete, writes in his book Elite Minds: Creating the Competitive Advantage, “Your brain is software, your body the hardware. Simply put, your body does what your brain tells it to do, or what your brain thinks your body is capable of doing.”


Senior Adviser Scott Cruse of Morgan Stanley in Los Gatos, Calif., a former semi-professional baseball player with the Atlanta Braves, agrees.

He says in sports and in business, his attitude is, “I’m not going to fail; I’m going to make it happen.”

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An all-around athlete in his spare time, Cruse continues to play competitive basketball. Not only does he enjoy the competition and camaraderie, but he also appreciates the mindset that comes with being fit.

It adds confidence to all that he does, including success in his business for himself and his clients.

Bestselling author Alison Levine of On the Edge, a book on leadership and about her quest to conquer Everest, says that the differentiator for athletes in business is that, “Athletes know that they can spend all the time in the world strategizing and planning, but when it comes down to it, they know success is going to depend on their ability to quickly adapt to various changing environments.”

She writes about not reaching the summit of Everest the first time and her decision to go back and finally reach the top.

“People who are willing to get out there and really push their boundaries may stumble and fall every now and then, but their failures may help others to succeed down the road,” Levine says.

She speaks about this mindset to business leaders.


With the volatility of the markets this year, this mindset can help manage both advisers’ personal fears and their clients. Many advisers have gotten client calls and embraced these concerns head-on.

Having the confidence for these conversations is essential for client and asset retention. Rather than thinking of it as “putting out fires,” advisers should change their mindsets and see it as an opportunity to have important conversations about risk tolerance and future goals.

Athlete advisers usually have a strong a threshold for pain and can discuss having a similar threshold with clients for challenging investing and market situations.

“Change can be painful. Growth can be painful,” Levine says.

“You just have to accept that discomfort as part of the process, and when you're used to operating in an environment where you're uncomfortable a lot of the time, you pretty much get used to it,” she says. “Easy situations allow you to coast a bit to balance out the really hard stuff, but rarely are the big rewards and payoffs associated with ‘easy.’”


Adviser and runner Patty Black, first vice president at Morgan Stanley in Syracuse, N.Y., says that her competitive nature gives her the mindset of “never wanting to lose.”

When she got into the business, she told herself, “I’m not doing this job if I’m not going to do it well.”

Black approaches her business and her running with a similar “training plan,” which involves making a list of things to accomplish every day and feeling the satisfaction of crossing them off, just like ticking off the miles.

Like Levine, who worked with a team to reach the top of Everest, Black says she loves the group approach to her business as well.

Even with her individual strengths and mindset, Black says that it is great to have bounce ideas off and rely on.

It also takes patience and compromise, but with the appropriate mindset there can be a great advantage. Like any competitive athlete, there are times when it is important to slow down to go faster.

Another essential element of the athletic mindset that translates to business is “failure tolerance.”

In sports and life, oftentimes what is learned from failure can lead to success, Cruse says.

Being able to embrace failure can frequently make success that much sweeter.

“Non-athletes are often afraid of ‘losing,’ so they're sometimes more risk-averse. Rarely is any person or team 'the best,' 100% of the time,” Cruse says.

“So sometimes you win [or reach your goal], and sometimes you don't, and you move on,” he says.

Perhaps an adviser has spent time with a potential client developing a proposal and the client decides against it. Some might deem that a failure or a waste of time.

Upon further reflection, an adviser might realize that the client isn’t a good fit and his or her business acumen might be better suited to someone else.

Great athletes and businesspeople know how to target their niche to emphasize strengths. It is a great mental strength to know what isn’t working, what can be fixed or when to walk away.

Most importantly, failures shouldn’t stop an adviser from moving forward. Mental strength is essential to the notion of not physically or mentally giving up.

As a mountaineer, Levine had to convince herself to just take one more step, no matter how excruciatingly slow, and while oxygen deprived, as she ascended to the top of Everest.

This is what makes an athlete stand out from the rest: the knowledge that if one keeps going and pushing forward, and in the case of advisers, pushing forward with their businesses, they will find success.

Athletes think that growth and success is in their grasp, and they are willing to fight for it, get help and take calculated risks.

Advisers don’t have to be very competitive to take advantage of this mental training tool.

The casual athlete who golfs regularly can use the mental mindset of wanting to perform better and translate that to business. Golfers know that a lack of concentrated effort can ruin their handicap. Although it may not work for every round, noticing that effort and the opportunity it brings is the first step to improving one’s game.

This story is part of a 30-30 series on ways to upgrade your practice. It was originally published on April 14, 2016.

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