My Boss Falls Asleep When I Meet With Him
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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This might seem like an odd question to pose, but I am frustrated and not sure what to do. Our lead advisor is generally a great guy, very kind and fun. In a group setting he is gregarious and upbeat and always goes out of his way to make all of us feel special and appreciated.
But one-to-one it is a different story. It’s almost as if he uses all of his energy for the group settings and then you get him in his office alone and rather than engage, he reads his emails or notes on his desk and once – true story – he fell asleep in his chair as I was speaking to him.
My role is administrative in nature and I am dependent on getting direction from him and doing what he needs. I always walk out feeling like I am going to miss something or that he really doesn’t care about me (or any of us). He runs the firm and is my boss so please don’t tell me I need to confront him. I am wondering whether there is a way for me to do something differently that would in turn create a new response from him.
I appreciate that you are being self-reflective and asking “what can I do to shift the behavior of someone else?” It is human nature to say someone else is the problem when often times we are contributing to someone’s bad behavior in one way or another – either by reacting to it, or ignoring it or being unwilling to deal with it at all.
I also agree that confrontation with your lead advisor is not prudent. But addressing something, questioning it or being intellectually curious is not always confrontational. There are ways to bring up an issue that don’t put the other person on the defensive and don’t damage the relationship.
If we put the two together – your willingness to do something differently and the opportunity to shift behavior without being confrontational – there are a couple of things you could try.
I don’t know the type of office environment you work in, but if there is somewhere you could have your meetings other than his office, for example a conference room or even a place for a cup of coffee, suggest to him that sometimes you feel distracted by being in his office and you could use a change of venue for your one-on-one meetings. Reflect that it must be hard for him with emails coming in and other things to worry about so for both of you, it could be helpful to have important meetings together somewhere else. Make a couple of suggestions or even be bold and book the conference room. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve booked conference room A for our next meeting just so we can try out a different approach.” He might reject the idea or he might say he doesn’t want to move anywhere and you will have to acquiesce but it’s worth trying. Stay positive and focus on the productivity component.
My next thought is to ask him directly, in a non-threatening way, about what you can do to make the meetings more interesting and productive. For some people there is an energy drain with too much people interaction or talking. It is possible your lead advisor uses up his energy when dealing with other team members and he is spent of energy when he sits with you to discuss more. Some people need alone time to recharge their batteries. It’s not that they are classic introverts; it is more about using up energy, and then needing to gain it back before more interactions.
Reflect that, based on his responses, you wonder if there is anything you could do to engage differently with him. Perhaps send him information in advance to review, or spend less time on certain topics, or move more quickly through the overall agenda. Often if you ask someone in a direct, yet open, manner, they will either realize their own reactions and responses and start to shift behavior or they will tell you what they need in order to engage differently.
The more frustrated you get, the more likely you are to manage this in an unproductive way. Try one of these approaches or both to see if you can generate a different response.
We have a comprehensive approach to planning with clients. A number of my clients have been through our process. We’ve engaged outside counsel to help them with trusts and legacy planning. We have put appropriate levels of insurance in place and allocated the portfolio to meet their short- and long-term needs. We have run numbers to show them when they can retire and with how much money.
We meet once per year to review everything but I always leave the meeting believing we have fallen short somehow. Sometimes there isn’t more to talk about once everything is in place. We have created a clear plan that doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. Is there a way to make these meetings more interesting and more beneficial to the client?
Have you tried engaging the client with what retirement would look like to them outside of the financial discussion? Have you done any “visioning” exercises where you ask them to consider where they would want to live, what they would want to do with the money, how they will spend their time? In my many years in the industry, I spent a number of them working within and then running a retirement unit within a large company and it has always frustrated me how focused we are on “the number” for clients. It’s not enough to save the money; retirement is an enormous transition for most people – and if someone enjoys their work and finds meaning and purpose in it – waking up without that work can be daunting and even depressing. It’s great you have prepared a clear plan for protection and savings. But I wonder if you are engaging enough around what the client really cares about, who they are underneath the portfolio, what they want to accomplish in their years here on earth outside of saving enough money.
I recognize you might be a financial person who views their role as making the best decisions for the client from a financial perspective. But you might want to broaden this view to consider that money is very emotional and planning for what one’s life will look like encompasses so much more than just saving the right amount of money to stop working.
If you are not comfortable or confident doing this, hire an outsider with a psychology background, or a care manager or elder care attorney to help you have this discussion. These outside resources might be able to share insights on what they have seen work, and what considerations are important for the client.
If you don’t want to bring in an outsider, open the dialogue with your clients. “Have you thought about what retirement will look like for you? What do you most look forward to? What are your top two concerns?” Starting by asking general, open-ended questions gets the conversation started and then you could ask questions and engage from there.
Your clients might find this unexpected, since you have been engaging with them very differently. So preface this by saying it is your goal to help them in a more well-rounded, life-planning way. Some will appreciate this and respond and some will want you to stay focused on only their money and planning.
You might find the meetings are more engaging and interesting for you too.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.