Recently I had the perfect opportunity to dive into my passion for studying elite performers. The Oechsli Institute had been contracted by a major Wall Street firm to deliver two presentations; I was to speak to their top quintile team leaders, while our coaches were to deliver a joint presentation to a corps of rookie advisors.

Both groups were allotted time to ask as many questions as they desired. The questions I received from these top quintile team leaders had a consistent theme:

What does your research cite as the most successful marketing activities used by elite teams?

How do the elite articulate their value?

How many clients do the senior partners of elite teams typically manage?

What is the most effective bonus structure you've seen used by elite teams?

Everything was focused on learning from other elite teams. The irony is that the advisors asking these questions were already leading the best teams at their firms. The rookies had a different set of questions:

How can we engage in the personal marketing activities that your research says are effective with the affluent if we're required to be on the phone all day?

How can we socialize in the affluent world when we don't have that kind of money?

How can we service affluent clients when we're not allocated the support?

The questions were veiled complaints — “it's tough being a rookie” — about non-issues. Elite performers, regardless of their stage of development, are neither complainers nor blamers.

Society is dead wrong about what it takes to be an elite performer. These individuals are not necessarily smarter (chess champions don't possess a super-human memory), are not more physically gifted (Jerry Rice set every conceivable record as a wide receiver in the National Football League with average speed), nor do they possess natural sales ability. (Neil was rejected repeatedly by major financial firms as he tried to sell himself as a high-school teacher transitioning to a financial advisor; he's now a top performer at a large firm.)

What makes elite performers elite is entirely non-discriminating — it's available to all. It defies race, gender, IQ, etc. Although no firm or industry has been able to develop an assessment that can predict greatness, we're able to discern four distinguishing traits.

  1. Ambition - Elite performers are extremely ambitious, which makes them extraordinarily goal-focused. They have dreams, but rather than being idle daydreamers, they establish long-range goals. In order to make those long-range goals real, they set short-term goals that serve as stepping stones to their ambition.
  2. Discipline - Whether it's Jerry Rice's off-season workout routine, Michael Jordan and his personal trainer, or Neil coming into the office on Saturdays to make sales calls without distraction - each instance displayed a strong discipline directly to their ambition.
  3. Self-Awareness - Elite performers assess themselves differently. They know their strengths but are also cognizant of their weaknesses. When a weakness is considered an obstacle to their ambition, a corrective course of action is taken. After one year in the NBA, Michael Jordan determined he needed to improve his defense, get stronger, and develop a 3-point shot if he wanted to fulfill his driving ambition - to be the best.
  4. Deliberate Practice - Good performers work on their strengths, average performers wing it, and elite performers deliberately work on overcoming their weaknesses. Researchers refer to this as deliberate practice. Whether it was Abraham Lincoln constantly reading and writing out his thoughts to become a more effective communicator, Michael Jordan devoting hours to shooting 3-point shots, or Neil role-playing in a workshop exercise on asking for an introduction — elite performers work hard to correct weaknesses germane to their ambition.

Do yourself a favor. Don't focus on non-issues (excuses). Concentrate on integrating these four traits into your DNA.

Writer's BIO:

Matt Oechsli
is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.oechsli.com