This year’s Olympics were incredible, showcasing the world’s top competitors as a bright light following an incredibly difficult year. There were displays of kindness, such as U.S. swimmer Caeleb Dressel sharing his gold medal with fellow relay team member Brooks Curry, who watched from the stands. Records were shattered, as when Allyson Felix became the most decorated U.S. female track and field athlete in history. And courage was on display, such as Simone Biles withdrawing from competition to prioritize her mental health.
Each of these moments, and the countless others that made the Tokyo Olympics so memorable, provide important learning opportunities across disciplines, including for those of us in the financial services space. Here are the top four lessons I walked away with and will strive to instill in my team:
TEAMWORK IS THE CORNERSTONE OF SUCCESS
There is an old and often-cited proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” The Olympics showcase the best of what teams have to offer for the entire world to see. At their core, teams allow every individual to put his or her best foot forward, showcase strengths and minimize weaknesses.
In the last several years, we have seen a clear shift in the financial services industry, moving away from the antiquated “eat what you kill” mentality to a new, more constructive approach, in which individual experts have the ability and structure to focus on mutual success and growth. The industry, which was previously dominated by rogue individualists, now sees teams coming together in a true partnership model, leveraging individuals’ strengths and advancing the group as a whole. It’s when these individuals come together as a team that the entire team can shine.
KNOW YOUR BLIND SPOTS
To successfully compete at the Olympic level, athletes need to be open to candid feedback. Athletes watch videos of their own performances, as well as those of their peers, and rely on a team of experts to analyze their performance and identify issues they may be overlooking.
This type of direct feedback is pivotal to short- and long-term success. As advisers, we should be proactively asking our clients and teams for similar insights. Ask clients: “What would you like to see more of from me?” On the professional level, this type of feedback can be elicited through a 360-degree review process, which allows direct reports to share feedback on their supervisor.
Asking for feedback from those around you is important, but analyzing and reflecting is key to future success. We have implemented a process called “Keep, Start, Stop,” in which we ask ourselves what aspects of a particular process are working (keep), what ideas we need to consider implementing (start) and what needs to be eliminated entirely (stop). This process is a core element of our Merit culture and establishes a mindset of constructive discussion, continual improvement and proactive change.
BE A STUDENT OF SUCCESS
Olympians rely on the paths of those who have gone before them to better comprehend the challenges ahead and recognize the keys to success. These mentor relationships are integral to prompting ongoing learning and improvement in any career. In my career, I have relied on the insight and guidance of mentors to help me succeed and define my path forward.
The perspective of continual learning applies to every experience, and lessons can be found in every client interaction, peer-to-peer engagement and networking opportunity. It can be a difficult exercise to assess failures after they occur, yet we have to reflect on each experience and seek opportunities to learn from them. Quite simply, we cannot let our failures define us.
Our team facilitates mentor-mentee relationships, pairing all new employees with more tenured team members for a full year of formalized coaching and mentorship. These relationships have been a hallmark of our success.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST
One of the headline moments of the 2021 Olympics was Simone Biles’ prioritization of her mental health in the face of competition. The move came on the heels of a challenging year amid the pandemic, when the importance of prioritizing holistic health was at the forefront.
Burnout is perhaps one of the most pressing issues in the workplace, and the financial services industry is no stranger to the impacts of a high-stress environment. When I first entered the industry, I was expecting autonomy and flexibility. What I quickly realized was I needed to answer to my clients in the way others answer to their bosses. When I started adding employees, I was accountable to the team; others were depending on me in ways they hadn’t before. As a result, it was difficult to truly take time off and rest.
At Merit, we mandate true time off and have thoughtfully built a company structure that supports it. We firmly believe we owe it to our clients to take the time to relax and recharge; we are not invincible and in order to do our jobs — and do them well — we need to take time to pause, too. Keeping your finger on the pulse of where you are physically and mentally and being vocal with your team and clients about it is becoming more widely accepted across the industry — and is a welcome change.
One of my mentors once told me, “you win some; you learn some.” What a remarkable way to view the challenges we encounter on a daily basis. As we reflect on this year’s Olympics and incredible displays of sportsmanship, athletic performances and kindness, there are clear leadership lessons to be learned, too.
Kay Lynn Mayhue is president of Merit Financial Advisors.
Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.