You've seen them before. Maybe there's one in your office now — cocky new branch managers who act like prima donnas and treat the members of their team poorly. If you're that branch manager, listen up!

The advisors in your office are not peons, they're the engine of your firm and you should start appreciating that. If you're an advisor on the receiving end of such tomfoolery, keep reading.

As I look at the branch management landscape today — compared to just four years ago — I would guess there's a 70% change in office management. In more competitive marketplaces, an office may have changed hands a couple times in that period. Long gone is the branch manager who hires a team, and then tries to make life easier within the sticky tape of bureaucracy.

So just how are teams faring now under the new manager? Using anecdotal evidence, I'd have to say, not well.

About a month ago, I got a call from Paul in New England. His team generates nearly $4 million in production and has more than $400 million in assets. They've been at the firm about four years with an average growth rate of over 30%. The team is obviously attractive from a recruiting perspective, but problems persist.

"I just don't know what to do," Paul said. "I still owe on my deal, but the new manager is just so awful that I can't take it anymore, and my team feels the same way. I'm one of the top producers in the office and this guy treats me like I don't even exist. If I ask him a question, he gets cocky and arrogant. One of my associates went into his office the other day to ask him a question and he yells, 'I don't have time for this, get out.' This young associate is new in the business and already has a few million dollars under management. There's just no need for this."

Paul further explained that he told the manager if they could not get along, it would likely be best for the team to move to another office within the system. What did the manager say in response? "He went wild, and yelled, 'No, it's not an option!'" Paul said.

During our conversation, Paul spoke of one of his previous managers with such longing for the good old days, that I had to question why the new manager could not see Paul's value, if not from a professional standpoint then from a personal one. Why treat people like that?

Paul has been through the ringer of bad managers a few times, and I happen to know two of them. I also know the one he had fond memories of. Paul was now yearning for the type of manager that an advisor would follow pretty much anywhere. But sadly, that very important factor was not taken into consideration when making the decision to join the firm. Sure, a great compensation package is nice, but Paul did not follow the good manager, and now he cries into his coffee every day for what was!

A Tale of Two Managers

Let's concentrate first on the other two managers, the bad ones.

Manager One was young, aggressive and seemed to value his brokers. I think Paul's favorite part of about him was the fact that he got him an incredible deal. But truth be told, this manager had proven himself to be pretty unreliable, unstable and fairly shortsighted.

Things were great when Paul initially joined the office. The firm was willing to pay the big bucks. But when times got rough, the manager didn't stay with the ship. He left-to his own detriment, and is now situated in a satellite office in East Podunk. While this guy definitely had great promise, his shoddy leadership skills were definitely amplified in a smaller venue.

Manager Two-Paul's current manager-is a different story. He's your typical East Coast type younger manager: wears nice suits, speaks quickly and is going prematurely grey. In the overall scheme of things, he's on the low level of mid-tier management. Perhaps since he's made it to mid-level, he feels he's justified in having an awful attitude toward his office. He would be in no way a person I would consider influential within the corporate system. That said, I was shocked when Paul told me about Manager Two's attempts to make his life miserable on a daily basis.

Manager Three

I met Manager Three about 10 years ago when I was first starting my recruiting firm. My initial impression was that he was unassuming, nice and was genuinely a likable guy. He didn't look like a master-of-the-universe or Wall Street rainmaker, which was actually a welcome change from the fast-talking yes-men with whom I've had occasion. He worked hard for the advisors in this office and they truly loved him, as did the company.

Over the years, I have known at least a couple dozen people who have worked for Manager Three. Their fondness and loyalty for him is second to none. Why? To begin with, they all agreed with my initial impression and it hasn't changed with the group he manages now. Guys like Manager Three don't have to sport the latest watch to prove their success. These iconic managers are fairly laid back and know how to read people very well. They know if a guy wants more attention, or merely wants to be left alone. They always have time for the advisors in their office and generally have an open door policy.

Great managers aren't cocky with the people around them. They realize that the condescending attitudes shared by many of their counterparts are not warranted.

That type of manager has spent a lot of time with the people in his group and their families-in and out of the office. And even if he doesn't see someone on a social level, he knows about their personal life. He takes an interest in what makes them tick.

Finally, he gives credit and acknowledgment where it is due and displays genuine empathy toward his advisors and their problems. I can't tell you how many times I've heard some version of: "All I want is a little acknowledgment for what I bring to the table," from an advisor. And this kind of manager that I'm describing is there to help his advisors navigate through an imperfect system on timely basis. He doesn't tell them: "I don't have time for this."

Being condescending to other people just to puff up your own ego doesn't work.

For individuals fitting the description of Managers One or Two, my advice is that you stop with the attitude, or your advisors will leave. They will go to different branches, or even different firms. They will contact your boss and even go all the way to the top to plead their cases. And guess what? They just may win.

With firms fighting for assets and successful advisors, their books are more valuable than your micro-managing or prima donna attitude. And you can be sure that there is another up-and-coming hotshot manager who's just waiting to take your place and take the engine that is your advisor force.

Instead, let your legacy be that of the compassionate manager.


Carri Degenhardt-Burke runs Degenhardt Consulting in Jersey City, N.J.
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