One cool Sunday morning, after landing VH-TUC at Camden airport, Digger asked me to pull over into one of the aircraft waiting bays just off the runway.
He was getting out.
He believed it was time for my first solo flight.
“Good luck, you’re ready. You’ll be fine.”
He was gone.
I headed back down the runway for take-off position and asked Camden Tower for clearance with a Tango Uniform Charlie ready call.
As I obtained clearance from the Tower, emotions flared, and I tipped into a ‘red zone’.
While I remember the panic, besides how much lighter the plane felt, I can’t recall anything else.
Before I knew it, Digger was back in the cockpit congratulating me.
Very common for first-time pilots and when growing careers and advisory firms.
Red zones can be temporary, as the moment in my Cessna 152 at the threshold of Camden’s runway 16, or there are times in our careers and firms when we constantly feel at our limits.
Attempts to step beyond our red zones are often dogged by a strong gravitational-like mixture of procrastination, ignorance and beliefs created by years of mindsets, habits and comfort with our known knowns.
I observe red zones often in my consulting work.
I worked with a well-established advice firm that was overpaying its underperforming and unmanageable advisers.
The frustrated principal, overwhelmed with workloads, was preferring the status quo rather than confronting the adviser’s performance gaps because he believed he’d lose one, maybe two, of his seniors resulting in more work retaining clients, re-settling his team, and searching, selecting, negotiating, training and inducting the replacements.
Another firm was deep in a red zone as the firm’s principal was not delegating.
He didn’t believe his team were ready.
His extraordinary workload made him unavailable from this team, who were keen to assist but also were increasingly lacking feedback, training and job opportunities. The principal worked longer hours than the majority of this team most days, spent at least a day every weekend, and resentments were growing quicker than the workloads.
His firm was profitable on paper, but billings and workflows were chaotic, making consistent drawings for the frustrated principal inconsistent. His home life wasn’t much better.
A typical red zone we see, and are often partly responsible for, is the firm having a good crack with new mindsets, pricing and approach I am helping them implement.
After initial early progress, the re-build of business plans, propositions, pricing and client conversations tend to stall, making progress more challenging. As the cost, time, and effort increase, resolve, however significant, is tested.
All growing firms and careers encounter inevitable red zones.
Red zones don’t kill careers or firms.
Unfortunately, they can be worse.
Left untreated, they paralyse careers and firms by sucking much energy and enthusiasm, making the day-to-day increasingly hard-going.
IN THE RED
Handling long-term red zones takes many paths.
A common approach is repeated attempts to return to what made the firm or career success in the first place.
Work smarter not harder.
Channelling Winston Churchill’s “never quit”, the rugged individualists running the firm try to outrun a red zone by emulating Xena Warrior Princesses or Harrison Fords, who relentlessly believe the secrets for growth are contained in a work ethic that created past success.
Unfortunately, building advisory firms and careers business rarely follows a Marvel movie script.
Additional tension on already a tight knot of habits tends to ensnare careers and firms in an activity trap that can choke the efforts of founders and their teams.
Another common tactic to exit red zones is renovating.
Introducing new tools, new software, new courses, new team members, new clients, new mergers, new alliances, new offices, and even new consultants may appear logical, but when this focus is primarily external, the change efforts themselves can quickly become part of the problem.
More attractive untested renovations initially take time, effort and focus. These efforts are often like handing a heavy backpack to a marathon athlete at her 35-kilometre mark, making her finish line more difficult to meet.
Shakespeare’s classics provided clues for long-term red zone dwellers.
BEYOND THE RED
Shakespeare’s works are full of heroes and their tragic inability to navigate their red zones.
Their inability to be courageous.
Macbeth’s obsession with power, Othello’s jealousy and Hamlet’s indecisiveness were all fuelled in part by their lack of ability to acknowledge their vulnerability when the uncertainties, risks and consequences form a perfect storm in their lives.
So too, in our careers and firms.
Exiting red zones requires support.
Support for our vulnerabilities when we don’t know the answers, when we or our mindsets can be the problem, or when our past successes are hindering future progress.
Seeking support usually requires a higher level of courage than has ever been sought before.
Seeking support requires safe, honest, and objective environments for the courage to flourish and progress to accelerate. It also requires an awareness that is always tougher in environments where perfectionism, proving, and status have been used as a milestone of past success.
Both success and failure pressure careers and firms to re-examine the most challenging changes of all – the changes we need to make in ourselves.
The greatest challenge of success is the consequences of success. There is always another red zone awaiting ahead for progressive firms and careers.
The financial advice industry is atop a decade of re-skilling,
This is not only technically but personally.
For those seeking their version of ‘success’ in either career or firm, the top of the skills list is the skill to be brave, self-aware, courageous and vulnerable to build the careers and firms of our most significant potential.
Bring it on.
What do you reckon?
Photo credit – Photo by Ron Lach : www.pexels.com_9832467
ABOUT JIM STACKPOOL
For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His consulting firm, Certainty Advice Group, coaches, trains, and builds advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice with fees priced purely on value. He is growing a solid and collaborative community of advisory firms aligned on Australia’s only Certification Mark advice standard for comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice. He has authored four books regarding financial advice, with his latest – What Price Value – available now since its release in March 2022.
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