I am often asked by new and old agents alike, “What does it take to become really successful in this business?” What I’ve learned over the years is that there is no one thing that, like a magic pill, will guarantee success. Instead, there are three key things that, when applied consistently, can keep you on track for success and help you avoid failure.
1. Relationships. The relationships you build, nurture and value could be the single most important success strategy in your business – and your personal life. While we cannot choose our family, we all make choices daily on who our friends are, who our idols are, who we hang out with, and who we choose to marry. These choices have an immeasurable effect on who we become and how we see ourselves. Just like the statement, “You are what you eat,” you become like those with whom you choose to associate. The books you read, the TV shows you watch, the recordings you listen to, all combine like tiny threads to form a rope of bondage – or a lifeline. Which one do you have?
Think of your relationships in three dimensions. Imagine two intersecting lines – one vertical and one horizontal. Your vertical relationships would go up to the companies or marketing organizations with whom you do business. Do you value and nurture these relationships? Do these organizations value their relationships with you? Are you perceived by them as a valued business partner or a pain to do business with?
The other end of the vertical line trends down to your clients or subordinates. Do you maintain a nurturing and respectful attitude with them? Are you a “trusted advisor” or a product peddler? How would they describe your relationship?
The horizontal line represents your family and friends. Do you take time to nurture these relationships or do you too often take them for granted? None of these relationships just happen – they take work. However, in times of need, the “lifelines” you’ve built will sustain you. A wise person once related it to me like this: Think of your relationships in terms of a bank account. Make deposits frequently – compliment their work, thank them for the little things. As these deposits accumulate, they will be able to handle the eventual withdrawal better – you have a bad day, you need a special favor, etc. Do you personally know anyone who is running on an “overdrawn” emotional bank account?
Now, add a third axis to your intersecting lines. Think of this dimension as your spiritual relationship – in other words your moral compass. Every decision you make, every relationship you have will be guided, in part, by your moral compass. Do you have a “True North?” Are your choices governed by your moral compass? Consider your moral compass as your relationship with yourself.
2. Ethics. Think of ethics as a fragile relationship with yourself. Each time you make a difficult moral decision, you strengthen your ethical character. Bending the rules or turning a blind eye on the unethical behavior of others tends to damage your relationship with yourself. Your moral compass becomes stronger with use.
Let’s look at an example: You just wrapped up a sizable case with a rather difficult client in the next town. When you return to your office, you realize that your client missed one signature on a “minor” disclosure form. You did explain all the features of the contract and showed the client where to sign, but it was just a simple mistake. He missed the signature and you failed to catch it.
It’s a 50-mile round trip to have the form signed in person. By making the trip, you will miss the new business cut-off for the week which means your commission will be delayed by at least a week. And, to top off the situation, your mortgage payment is due. No one would ever know if, with the help of the nearest window, you traced his signature onto the form. You know this is unethical (not to mention illegal) but the temptation is huge. Who would ever know? You!
While the above example may be extreme, we are faced with ethical choices every day that may be much more subtle.
- Is your choice of product solely based on commission?
- Do you recommend replacement of a product because it’s in your best interest?
- Do you lie to yourself by blaming others for your shortcomings?
The best test of your moral and ethical character is how you act and the decisions you make when nobody else is around.
While the easy (and often unethical) course may prove to be profitable in the short term, it is always doomed to failure. In over 40 years in this business, I have met some of the most successful people in our industry. Every one of them has had a strong moral compass. My advice is to think like a recovering alcoholic – one day at a time. There is no “gray area.” Live your life knowing that the smallest slip (or sip) could start a downward spiral that will destroy your career. On the other hand, by continuously doing the “right” thing and making the “ethical” decision, you build a solid foundation that will support your success.
3. A commitment to self-improvement. Finally, become a student of your industry. Just because you passed a test or two sometime in the past doesn’t make you an expert. Make a conscious effort to improve yourself. Attend conferences, read books, listen to CDs in your car, earn a designation. Most people maintain their car better than they maintain their minds. A poorly maintained car will eventually break down – usually at the worst possible time. How is your maintenance level?