In recent years, financial firms have been encouraging senior advisors to incorporate younger individuals into multigenerational teams in an effort to capture an enormous wealth transfer that is expected over the next decade.

But after youthful advisors have been hired, they face a considerable challenge in being seen as respected resources for older clients. All too frequently, potential clients may be reluctant to entrust their money to someone with limited experience.

Still, the future of a firm may depend on this happening. Younger advisors need to be able to step in as successors when senior counterparts retire.

In a recent speech at an industry conference, the president of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Gregory Fleming, talked about his firm's focus on broadening its appeal to millennial advisors. With the current average age of advisors above 50, it is little wonder that firms are seeking to recruit younger advisors.


Regardless of age, an advisor's ability to engender confidence and to influence behavior depends on his ability to come across as an effective leader in a client's life.

As defined by the author Judith Humphrey, a leader is "someone who inspires action in others through communication." Therefore, the challenge of overcoming a lack of experience and presenting a strong voice starts when an advisor perceives herself as a leader.

This requires a younger advisor to develop "leadership presence" — the ability to project gravitas. Individuals who exude this trait are poised under pressure and willing to take decisive action. Someone with a strong leadership presence inspires confidence not only because of his knowledge, but also because of his authenticity and passion for his work.

As a young advisor, you cannot underestimate the importance of increasing your awareness of the behavioral nuances that may influence others' perception of you and of learning strategies for strengthening your leadership presences.

Several elements are critical in enhancing leadership presence: being fully aware and present; being credible; knowing how to lead from the middle; and communicating effectively.

Being fully aware and present means having strong self-awareness, understanding how others see you and realizing that you are judged from the moment you enter the scene. This attribute includes successfully assessing the distinctive needs of individual clients. It is important that you take time to understand a client's core values and expectations about your financial role in her life.

Being credible is an essential step in developing your leadership presence. If a potential client doesn't view you as believable, it is unlikely she will feel comfortable doing business with you. Two key aspects necessary in developing your credibility are creating trust and demonstrating expertise.

Some examples of behaviors that may strengthen a client's trust in you include presenting both sides of a story, delivering on your promises, keeping confidences, being consistent in your values, actively listening to explore many ideas and putting others' interests first.

Establishing your expertise requires that you employ a number of practices in your interactions with clients. These include demonstrating mastery of the language of your topic, revealing the  research behind your ideas, disclosing your firsthand experience, citing trusted sources, presenting proofs of your assertions, emphasizing credentials, teaming with credible allies and gathering endorsements.


Leading from the middle means leveraging your impact through your interactions with others. Your success in forming trusted relationships can be ensured by making your actions predictable, consistent and accountable. Developing mutual respect, aligning your goals and being authentic will enhance your value and influence with clients.

An effective communication style is paramount for a young advisor in bridging the generational gap with an older client. Many millennials may be more comfortable in texting than talking on the phone; however, most 50-, 60- and 70-year-olds prefer speaking directly with someone. A disconnect in method of communication can create frustration in older clients.

Being timely in responding is another key factor in gaining the respect and trust of an older client. Not following up immediately to a client's call, text or email message may unintentionally suggest that you lack a sense of urgency about the client's concerns and that he or she is unimportant.

Communicating successfully also means knowing the importance of nonverbal skills. It is said that only 7% of communication is accomplished with actual words; a far greater percentage is based on body language (55%) and vocal qualities like tone, pitch and pace of delivery (38%).

Effective verbal communication requires you to understand differing types of communication styles. Do your clients prefer details and specifics, or do they just want you to tell them the big picture? It is also important to adopt a learning mode and ask relevant questions, while knowing which topics to avoid.

Just as important is understanding behavioral techniques that can enhance your nonverbal communication skills. Practices that should be incorporated  in your interactions with clients include establishing eye contact; smiling; using open gestures, such as palms up; sitting or standing erect; speaking at a lower pitch; speaking slowly and distinctively; being aware of your entrance into a room; and giving a solid handshake.


One valuable step in enhancing your leadership presence is to assess your current behavioral strengths and challenges. To assist, I created an "advisor leadership presence self-assessment."

The following statements reveal positive patterns of behavior. Statements that you believe you could not honestly make reveal areas where you should seek to improve in order to manage your relationships with older clients more effectively.

Admittedly, most behaviors are not all or nothing but rather fall on a continuum, based on situational circumstances. Still, these are affirmations that successful advisors tend to be able to make:

• My physical presence (including my body language and attire) projects confidence.

• My communication skills are excellent. (I present ideas clearly. I'm an effective listener. I respect others' opinions. I avoid interrupting.)

• I engage in activities that allow me to network across generations.

• I understand generational differences in communication style and work to overcome them.

• I continually look for opportunities to increase my expertise and stay current with issues in the industry.

• I understand my client's needs, concerns and financial objectives and genuinely care if I can meet those needs successfully.

• I actively manage client expectations and respond to them in a timely manner.

• I feel comfortable acknowledging what I don't know and reaching out to resources in my firm.

• I understand my value to the client.

• I can comfortably promote my "brand" and market myself to others.

Your leadership presence impacts how you are accepted by others. When you become aware of all the nuances in your own behavior, you can use this knowledge to modify your leadership presence. That can go a long way toward enlisting older clients as advocates and enhancing your career success.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and founder of Federer Performance Management Group in Tampa, Fla. She has been a consultant to the financial services industry for 25 years.


Read more: