5 Ways Successful Advisors Sabotage Their Own Growth

We all started out in this industry with clarity, focus and, if we’re honest, significantly more energy than we have today.

We were like sponges for new ideas and experimented with the growth tactics we learned at conferences, from colleagues, from articles and books. And while we didn’t necessarily know what we were doing, we were clear that we wanted to grow and that focus felt great.

And for you, like for many, that tactical approach probably worked. My guess is that you succeeded and the business grew.

So it’s easy to assume, when you look toward the future, that the same tactical approach will work. Logic suggests that if you continue to uncover the best tactics you’ll continue along that same impressive growth trajectory into the future and that success will continue.

But success and growth feel different now, don’t they?

You’ve probably changed and what’s important to you has changed. And things are more complicated. There are clients, a team and a family who rely on you to continue to grow. And you may find yourself working very hard just to keep up, but without the same sense of purpose or direction. It’s hard to jump off that treadmill when you’ve achieved success.

The Problem

I’ve written about the phenomenon of the fulfillment flatline in the past. It’s that point in the life-cycle of a successful business when fulfillment flattens out, creating real risk for the business and your growth.

Today I wanted to pick up on that theme and dig a little deeper. I’d like to look at the ways we can sabotage our own success and how we’re most vulnerable to doing so when we’re already successful. Yes, folks, it’s time to get that mirror out and take a hard look at our role in creating risk in our businesses.

Related: The Biggest Risk in Successful Advisory Businesses

The Big Epiphany

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to come together, in a beautiful home-like setting in Florida, with 15 successful advisors. We were there for our Absolute Engagement Experience and at that point we had connected, shared our visions (and been spoiled by our private chef).

Our goal with this first part of a 12-month program was to give advisors an opportunity to design the next phase of their businesses by crafting a compelling personal vision. For the rest of the year we’d bring that vision to life together.

One of the many moments that sticks out in my mind was late in the afternoon on the second day. We had made meaningful progress and I asked the group about their commitment to the visions they had crafted and to think about what might get in the way. And the flood gates opened.

But I didn’t hear anyone talk about external factors, like the markets, their clients or their teams. They talked about the internal barriers that could play a role in thwarting their success.

Bear in mind that these were all successful advisors looking forward to the next stage of their success. And yet we talked about fear, about guilt and about doubt. Despite their success, they opened up about the real barriers and those (often hidden) things that can sabotage success.

Hearing successful advisors talk about these very human emotions was a bit like the moment in the Wizard of Oz when we see behind the curtain. The funny thing is that when they shared those feelings, they had less control.

And it hit me that we’re most likely to sabotage our own growth once we’re already successful and thinking about the next phase.

The 5 Things

Drawing on what I learned through that program and on the basis of continued discussions with successful advisors, I’ve identified five things that already successful advisors do to sabotage their own growth. But let’s face, it’s probably five things that successful people in any industry do.

#1: We Don’t Recognize Where We Get Stuck

Not long ago, I stepped off the stage after delivering a presentation on personal engagement. I talked about how we can feel ‘stuck’ and how that can create an unusual cocktail of emotions for successful advisors.

One advisor came up to me afterward and shared that he fully understood what it meant to be stuck. He was running an impressive business and life was good. He also told me that each morning, when he put his key in the car door, he found himself asking if he needed to make a change. For some reason that routine action had become connected to the thought and it repeated itself every day. He didn’t know what to do about it, but knew that something needed to change.

We all feel stuck, from time to time. But it’s hard to get ‘unstuck’ if we don’t know what is really getting in the way. One of the things I’ve observed is that, depending on your personality and past experiences, you can get stuck at different stages of growth. More than knowing if you’re stuck, it’s important to recognize where you’re stuck.

For clarity, I believe that to drive sustained and meaningful growth we need to walk through five steps: awareness, audacity, action, accountability and renewal . I’ve also observed that each of us gets stuck at a different step and for very different reasons. Knowing that you feel stuck is one thing, but knowing where helps you take action.

  • Awareness. If you find it difficult to let yourself go and imagine a bigger, better or different future, you may find yourself stuck here.
  • Audacity. If you know what you would really like your business to look like but are fearful of narrowing the focus on your business, you may find yourself stuck here.
  • Action. If you’ve defined the life and the business you want but continue to deliver the same client and team experience, you may find yourself stuck here.
  • Accountability. If you do everything right in bringing your vision to life but continue to believe that you can go it alone, you may find yourself stuck here.
  • Renewal. If you have a clear plan and you invest everything you can in bringing it to life but feel guilty about giving yourself the personal time to renew, you may find yourself stuck here.
  • Lesson: We can sabotage growth if we don’t know where we are getting stuck. Understand what’s really getting in your way of moving forward and don’t assume your roadblocks are the same as they are for others.

    #2 We Suspect That Dreaming Bigger May be Selfish

    I find it so interesting that many successful people don’t intentionally design their futures because it demands questioning the status quo and that feels, somehow, selfish. Many of us are trapped by a misguided sense of responsibility, one that keeps us moving in the same direction. Because things are good and because we feel so responsible for others, it can feel like we’re on a treadmill without being able to find the off switch.

    Lesson: We can sabotage growth if we start to believe that it’s wrong to want more. The lucky among us recognize that if we can set goals that inspire us personally it usually makes us a better leader, team member, spouse or parent.

    Related: 5 Simple Decisions That Could Change Your Business Forever

    #3 We Ascribe Too Much Value to What We’ve Already Built

    If you’ve spent years building a successful business, it’s incredibly difficult to admit that things may need to change in future. Many of us fear change, although some of us embrace it .

    The fact is that we often ascribe excessive value to the processes and structures that we’ve already created. With investments we know this as the Endowment Effect and it’s alive and well in our business as well. Because we put the time in to build the business, we’re more likely to believe that we’re doing things the right way.

    A variant on this form of self-sabotage is slightly less dramatic and it’s simply that we get stuck in the present because life isn’t that bad. Jim Collins is the author and co-author of six books, and my personal favorite is Good to Great . In my mind, the first line of that book captures everything that keeps us stuck. “Good,” Collins says, “is the enemy of great.” What he doesn’t explicitly say is that good isn’t that great. When we settle for what we have simply because we have it—whether that’s a business or a relationship—life can feel flat and we can put the brakes on growth.

    The Lesson: We can sabotage growth if we hold on too tightly to what we’ve already created. Let the vision drive the change you need to make.

    #4 We Let Doubt Take Hold.

    Too often we get inextricably stuck in negative beliefs about our own abilities.

    When I was young my parents bought me a piano and the requisite lessons. It was, in retrospect, one of the best things they could have done for me, although it might not have seemed wise at the time. Let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly a musical prodigy. I was frustrated and there were tantrums. The tantrums, although I didn’t realize it then, were tied to a deep-seated perfectionism that stopped me from learning.

    The pattern repeated itself in high school. If I couldn’t get an A in a subject, I dropped it. Today, I see grace and wisdom in flailing about and trying to learn something new; in the past I saw imperfection or a feeling of being “less than”.

    Thinking about growth and the next phase of your business forces you in a new direction. It will feel uncomfortable at times and you may feel ill-equipped. I promise you this is nothing more than what Michael Hyatt , author, CEO and founder of Michael Hyatt & Co., refers to as the “messy middle.” To push through that doubt is wonderfully awkward and profoundly rewarding.

    Doubt may also be linked to what psychologists refer to as the Imposter Syndrome . In a recent Forbes article Melody Wilding shares that overcoming this syndrome requires recognizing repetitive thought patterns to actively change mindset, getting curious/asking questions and not letting fear get in the way of purpose.

    The Lesson: We can sabotage growth when we doubt our own abilities. Get comfortable with living in the messy middle while you forge the path forward.

    #5 We Give Fear of Failure the Upper Hand

    Taking your business to a new level of growth, when you’ve already achieved success, opens up the possibility of failure. If we don’t articulate the dream, we never fail. If we don’t seek something more, we’re forced to be satisfied with what we have.

    There’s ample research to suggest that fear of failure doesn’t drive us forward, rather that a clear vision lights the way. To understand the impact of vision in our lives, it’s helpful to look to the work of renowned psychologist Martin Seligman and others. One of the theories that Seligman studies is called Prospection. Prospection is the ability to envision a better future and it shows up in everything from goal setting to day dreaming. It’s that ability to imagine something better that causes us to take action.

    The Lesson: We can sabotage growth when we don’t replace our fear with a clear and positive vision.

    A Final Word

    It would seem that we humans can find more than enough reasons to sabotage our own growth and success. At the risk of sounding trite, it strikes me that getting real about your own role in missed opportunities is a good place to start.