When it comes to your success, your advisors can make you or break you. In the 1990s, I made a terrible financial mistake. As a result of my success as a writer and a speaker, I made some significant extra income. I was also holding down a full-time job. I could barely keep up with it all.
As a result, I hired a financial advisor to help me manage my money. I had heard him speak at a conference where I was also a speaker. I was impressed by what he said. We got further acquainted backstage during the conference.
Long story short, I hired him to assist me in managing my money. At the time, I thought I was very smart. As it turns out, it was probably the dumbest thing I had ever done in my life—and that’s saying a lot.
The first thing he did was set up a “tax shelter” for my investments. It was creative and brilliant. Or so I thought. I saved tens of thousands in taxes alone. The only problem was that it turned out to be a scam.
I didn’t realize it until four years later when I got a notice from the IRS. Talk about something taking your breath away. I almost passed out.
It took me almost three years to get it resolved. I went through agony—an expensive and time-consuming audit and scores of sleepless nights. The uncertainty of how it would turn out gnawed at me constantly.
Thankfully, my nightmare eventually came to an end. But at a big cost. With interest and penalties, I paid more than twice my entire investment. It was a miracle that I survived.
The point is, your advisors can make you or break you. Mine nearly broke me. In the process, I learned several hard but important lessons:
- You can’t succeed alone. For years, I was a lone ranger. I didn’t seek anyone’s counsel. I thought I could do it all myself. No one could measure up to my standards.
But, frankly, I was just young and arrogant. I was my own advisor, and I had a fool for a client. Thankfully, God was merciful. He gently showed me that I couldn’t succeed on my own. I needed other people.
- You need trusted advisors. The truth is that we all need advisors. We can’t be experts in everything. Any good advisor will assist you with five key tasks. They will:
- Educate you with relevant and timely information.
- Provide objectivity in evaluating your current situation.
- Seek to understand your goals and why they are important to you.
- Suggest several possible strategies for achieving your goals.
- Use their expertise and network of contacts to help you accomplish your goals in the quickest, most economical way possible.
- You need multiple advisors. Three times the Bible says, “in a multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; and 24:6). The key word is “multitude.” One lone advisor doesn’t qualify. This is where I missed the boat. I had one advisor. The truth is you need several advisors. And you need to be intentional and thoughtful about collecting them.
I currently have several trusted advisors. I don’t make any significant moves, either personally or professionally, without consulting with them. These are like concentric circles, radiating out from the center. They provide multiple layers of protection. They include:
- My Wife. Gail and I have been married now for 32 years. She is my best friend. She’s my biggest cheerleader and my toughest critic. She knows first-hand my strengths and weaknesses—better than I know them myself. I can always count on her to “speak the truth in love.”
- My Spiritual Advisors. I have two: my pastor and my former pastor (both in the same church). I have sat under their spiritual direction for almost 26 years. They keep me focused on my Ultimate Priority and keep my moral compass calibrated to True North.
- My Financial Advisors. This is not a natural strength for me nor do I have time to do it as well as I would like. Consequently, I have two advisors who help me make the best decisions I can make. One helps me with planning, the other assists me with tax counsel.
- My Business Coaches. Again, I have two. Both are accomplished business professionals. They work with numerous executives in a variety of businesses. The provide needed objectivity and, every once in a while, a good kick in the pants. They stretch me to do things I would never try without their encouragement. They also keep me from making serious mistakes.
- My Corporate Colleagues. I have five people who report directly to me. They are remarkable people in terms of their commitment, professional skills, and career experience. They are also very different from one another. They don’t always agree, but together, they give me a comprehensive view of our business. As a result, I make better decisions.
- My Best Friends. Apart from work, I currently have five close guy friends. Some of these are also “couple friends” (e.g., we get together as couples). We talk about what is important. We share our successes and our failures, our dreams and our fears. If something happened, good or bad, I know they would show up in an instant.
- You need qualified advisors. King David said, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1). It’s one thing to get counsel, but that is not enough. You have to get the right kind of counsel. This is the mistake I made in selecting my first financial advisor.
Before I elevate someone to the status of “trusted advisor,” I want to make sure they have four qualifications:
- Shared values. You won’t discover these by merely talking. It takes time. People demonstrate their values by their behavior. I want to see that they are committed to the same things I am committed to.
- Professional Acumen. I want to hire the very best person I can find to advise me in a given area. I want them to have broad, deep, and current information. I want them to have made a lot of mistakes, so they can help me avoid them.
- Positive Track Record. Talk is cheap. I want someone who can point to consistent results. Generally speaking, this means I am going to gravitate toward older, wiser advisors.
- Good references. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” In other words, you shouldn’t believe someone’s story until you check it out. I can’t emphasize this enough. This is the difference-maker. I never hire anyone anymore without thoroughly checking their references.
So, like I said, your advisors can make you or break you. Think of them as your “personal board of directors.” They will give you the accountability and insight necessary to avoid a lot of pain and achieve more than you could on your own.