How to use “systems thinking” to become an elite advisor

Average advisors make wishes. Good advisors set goals. Elite advisors are committed and have systems.

The bedrock of success for elite advisors comes from being committed and following systems.

I’m not just talking about checklists or workflow systems for processing business. I’m talking about systems for living their life.

One of the most frequently touted books in our industry is Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. And one of his key points is that in order to have massive success, you must have a relentless burning desire to succeed.

Great. The big problem is, how do I get me some relentless burning desire to succeed?

In my experience, relentless burning desire to succeed is rarely “manufactured” by simply thinking, ‘Oh, I want to have a relentless burning desire to succeed and become a multi-million dollar producing advisor.’

Instead, this burning desire often comes from a terrible childhood experience that scars you for life and you are determined to overcome, or, it comes from a later in life crisis that jolts you into setting your sights much higher.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of the population does NOT fall into one of these naturally occurring relentless burning desire buckets.

So, how can these 80 percenters get to an elite level if they can’t think their way into a state of burning desire?

Commitment and systems.

I’ve coached hundreds of financial advisors over the past 20 years and I’ve discovered three elements that must be present in order for the advisor to reach an elite level.

  1. Commitment
  2. Personal systems
  3. Business systems

It’s a simple formula. Commitment + Systems = Results.

The good news is everybody is on equal footing here. Each of us can make a commitment and follow systems.

We don’t have to rely on some childhood trauma or mid-life crisis to work us into a relentless burning desire frenzy.


What was the last thing you committed to?

A commitment is a looser but more emotionally engaged form of a goal. For example, you would not set a goal to love and cherish your spouse. Where is the romance in that? But, you could very comfortably say that you are deeply “committed” to your spouse.

A commitment implies an outcome but it does not necessarily spell out how that outcome will be achieved or measured.

Instead, a person who commits to something will find a way to meet that commitment and they will know in their heart if they have met that commitment without having to point to a specific set of objective criteria.

Goals Vs. Commitments

Here are three differences between goals and commitments.

  1. Goals are linear, commitments are expansive. In order to achieve a goal, you have to do specific activities in a certain order that, hopefully, will lead to achieving the goal. Mathematically, it is activity “A” plus activity “B” plus activity “C” leads to desired outcome. This is the left brain hard at work.

By contrast, commitments are unrestrained. They do not imply a specific set of orderly activities. Instead, commitments unleash the creative power of the right brain to think differently and take the “scenic route” toward a more loosely defined yet still highly desired outcome.

  1. Goals are cold, commitments are hot. When was the last time a goal really got you excited? Think about that. Have you ever set a goal that set you on fire and kept you on fire? How does setting a goal to grow your revenue by 20 percent motivate you to take action on a day-to-day basis for 12 months? Once you hit a goal, there’s a brief moment of rejoicing followed by the eventual realization that you’re no happier after achieving the goal than you were before. You know what I’m talking about!

Commitments, on the other hand, are hot because they are imbued with emotions and tied to your deepest values. Commitments get to the core of your being. They make a statement about who you are and how you want to operate in this world. They are defining and deep while goals, by comparison, skate on the surface.

Commitments are something you “achieve” every day and when you “break” a commitment, you get pissed.

  1. Goals are focused on the destination, commitments are focused on the journey. You know the old saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Goals are fixated on the destination. Goals are about meeting a specific objective regardless of the means to achieve that objective. Goals can be met without any enjoyment or personal growth along the way. Goals are about sticking to the highway instead of taking “the road less traveled.”

Conversely, commitments allow you to chart your own course while still keeping the ultimate aim in sight. Commitments enable you to take a side road, sample the scenery, yet keep moving forward. Without the solid anchor of a specific goal to weigh you down, a commitment keeps you light on your feet and open to serendipity.

What can you commit to as an advisor?

How about committing to always doing what is in the client’s best interest? How about committing to creating a positive and team-oriented culture? How about committing to making a bigger impact in your clients’ lives?


Here’s a simple example of a system that can lead to tremendous results—go to bed at the same time every night.

By going to bed at about the same time every night, you set yourself up for success the next day.

For years, I’ve gone to bed by about 10:00pm on most evenings. What I’ve changed from time to time though, is my morning system (some people might call it a morning “routine.”).

In 2017, my morning system looks like this.

  • Awake at 5:00am
  • Pray and mediate until 5:20
  • Make a pot of coffee
  • Read/write from 5:20 until 6:30
  • Exercise from 6:30 to 7:00
  • Shower, eat, and get ready for work from 7:00 to 8:00
  • Drive to the office while listening to a podcast and arrive by 8:30

I don’t need relentless burning desire to follow this system.

Instead, I’ve given myself a structure that I look forward to that automatically leads to getting results. By 7:00am each morning, I can virtually guarantee that I’ve read something nourishing, written something brilliant, and worked up a sweat.

With that start, I begin the work portion of my day with business systems. For example, time blocking. Chunks of my day are blocked out on my calendar to make sure I stay focused on doing the activities that lead to the results I desire.

One of the things I love about systems is they give you the ability to win every day. By contrast, you only win a goal once and essentially live in a constant state of failure—until you hit the goal—or not.

Compel Behavior

If you’re familiar with the DISC behavior assessment system, you won’t be surprised to learn I’m a high C, or highly compliant. This means I’m systematic and exacting.

But what if your normal behavior is totally opposite mine and you have no regard for process or rules? Can you still use systems? Absolutely—and you must.

People who are a low C should put systems in place to ensure they stay on track to do the things that lead to success. Systems add simple structure that is as easy to follow as paint by numbers.

And reward yourself for following your systems. In my case, I love coffee. So, as part of my morning system, I grind some fresh Caribou Coffee beans and drink the coffee while I’m reading and writing.

With my morning system, I go to bed at night looking forward to getting up in the morning to start my day.

Take a moment now and write down one or two systems that make sense for your life. For example, a morning routine and time blocking.

Whether you want to be an elite financial advisor, a better spouse, or lose a few pounds, there’s no better way to get there than to build and follow systems.

Having relentless burning desire is nice, but systems are 100 percent within your control and can virtually guarantee your success.

Financial Advisor Coaching

I offer coaching to a select number of financial advisors who are interested in making substantial, positive improvements in their business and their life. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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Steve Sanduski, CFP® is the CEO and co-founder of ROL Advisor, founder of Belay Advisor, host of the Between Now and Success Podcast, a New York Times bestselling author, and an international speaker.

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By | 2018-02-21T15:20:53+00:00 January 23rd, 2017|

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