Reduce Your Risks in Hiring Staff

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA,

Do you dread the hiring process more than a root canal or even phoning? If so, you are like most Financial Representatives (FRs) at Northwestern Mutual.


Here are many of the top concerns:

  • I will make (another) hiring mistake
  • I don’t have time to recruit or train
  • I might train someone and then they will leave
  • I may lose a lot of time and money
  • It seems like a lot of luck and guesswork
  • I don’t have much experience with hiring/successfully hiring
  • I don’t trust myself to make the right decision
  • Do I really need to hire staff
  • The additional overhead is a constant stress

Let’s focus on one common theme: how do you reduce your risks in hiring? There is one area that almost everyone neglects.

First, it’s important to understand that there are three measurable dimensions of people’s minds about which you need to gather data points throughout the hiring process:

  1. Thinking Mind
  2. Doing Mind
  3. Feeling Mind

The Thinking Mind is also known as the cognitive brain is our intelligence: to know, skills, thinking, truth, thought, knowing, thought. This part of the brain can change throughout the lifetime as we learn. It can be assessed through a multitude of standardized tests.

The Doing Mind – our conative brain, is how we instinctively take action: to act, talent, willing, goodness, volition, ethics, doing, behavior. We are born with a certain conation and it is hardwired. This part of the brain does not change throughout the lifetime. There is only one instrument that exists to measure this—the Kolbe Index A.

The Feeling Mind – our affective brain, is our personality: feeling, beauty, emotion, esthetics, caring, mood. To some degree this part of the brain can change throughout the lifetime. There are thousands of personality tests that can measure this part of the brain. The most common one used at Northwestern Mutual is the Culture Index.

(From “Conative Connection – Acting on Instincts” by Kathy Kolbe)

Historically for most, the hiring process has involved writing a position description, searching for candidates, looking at resumes, interviewing, checking references and testing personality and abilities. The part that is most often left out—the one area that almost everyone neglects—is conation (tested by the Kolbe Index A). This is simply one more data point to add to the process. It does not replace other assessment tools such as the Culture Index (a personality test). It complements all of the data collected so that you have as much information as possible before you decide who to hire.

A common mistake is “hiring the right person and then putting him or her into the wrong job, not fitting that person’s knack into the right niche,” according to Kolbe. You may have found someone truly exceptional who is then set up to fail because they are not suited to the specific role you need filled. How can you overcome this?

Thankfully, Kolbe and her team has spent decades studying this variable. “’I will’ is more important than IQ,” she writes. There is a third dimension of the mind, the Doing Mind, that has been left out of the process. It has to do with people’s creative instincts and it is entirely separate from thinking and feeling. In the workplace it is critical because it has to do with how and if we will get things done and the unique process we undergo.

Each of us starts the day with the same 100 units of energy. However, our tanks of energy vary drastically in the types and quantities of mental energies and how and when we use them. Gaining this insight during the hiring process can help you make a better decision. It can also help you best train and develop talent.

Even though “conation” is one of the English language’s 1000 least known words, that doesn’t mean that you can’t seize the opportunity to understand one of the most critical aspects of your candidates: how does each person do things naturally when free to be themselves? What is their modus operandi (MO)? The 36-question test will quickly and reliably give you the answers and insights you need so that job fit is assured.

According to Kolbe Corporation, “the measurable results of using the Kolbe System include athletes dramatically improving their records, salespeople bringing in more than 200 percent in new business, managers cutting turnover in half and cutting stress-related absenteeism altogether, students being able to get better grades, and companies reaching productivity goals for the first time in years.”

With the test being 96% accurate, you can predict how your staff will act and then set up an environment most conducive to allowing them to strive in the most natural way possible. Giving people the freedom to be themselves (including yourself) also produces a satisfying, empowered and fun work environment. No need to get a root canal to avoid what can be a positive and rewarding hiring process!

Coaching Tip Contact to have a Kolbe Index A code issued for you, your applicants and your current staff. (Please send full name and email address and the recipient will receive the code and instructions. The cost is $49.95 per code.) Alissa Gauger, MBA, is a Certified Kolbe Consultant who can help you take some of the guesswork out of hiring, training and development. You can even help yourself run a more authentic practice by learning your own MO. You might be surprised how simple changes can make running your practice easier and more effective.

Don't Get Thrown Off By Your Clients

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Do you every wonder where some clients go? Why does the communication go dark? Watch this video very carefully of a woman being thrown off her horse to help you better understand people.


You might be asking yourself right now, "how on earth can this video help me be a better Financial Representative (FR)?"

Ask yourself: What do you notice in general? What clues are there that something is going wrong? Was the woman paying attention to the horse's feedback? Could the woman have had a different outcome? Could the horse have had a different outcome? How is this situation like losing a prospective or current client?

Horses serve as a mirror of you. (This is why Unleash Your Practice coaches use them to provide interactive feedback to clients in equus coaching.) Humans can be a mirror, too; however, we have the ability to filter our feedback unlike a horse. If you are willing to "listen," horses provide you with a deeper understanding of yourself and how you are perceived by others.

In this example, imagine that the woman and her horse are a metaphor of the relationship you have with you and your client or prospective client. Watch carefully how the horse is very tense all over from the very beginning. Do you see the stress from head to toe? The shaking of the horse's body? As the rider kicks to ask the horse to move forward and jerks repeatedly on the left rein, the horse braces strongly against her. The horse's front legs are actively pushing back rigidly, tilting back as its hooves grind deeply into place. There is no willingness for the horse to move at all. What does the rider do? She ignores the feedback and instead tries to force the horse despite all of the cues from the animal. Notice the big tail swish, the head tucking under, the back legs gaining leverage and the front legs pushing...and boom! The rider is off the horse and flying through the air! Did it really come out of nowhere? If you have never ridden a horse, I can tell you that the rider can feel everything. The horse was using every means to tell the rider "NO!"

Most of your client interactions will (hopefully!) never be this dramatic. I use this example to magnify the signs. How is this horse like a client who will likely: disappear/go dark, start an application process and never finish it, not take their policy, cancel their policy, back out of a huge plan and choose something small or refuse to give you referrals?

The client was likely showing signs of tension or stress, giving objections that you blew past, asking questions that were never fully answered, showing concern or worry, feeling discomfort and distrust, hesitating, agreeing to things to take pressure off and avoiding you. Most often, the FR does not want to see these signs and ignores them. It feels good to put the case in the case open inventory and believe it's a go.

If your pipeline has a pattern, pay attention. If you are not addressing your client's non-verbal signs you will get fired and it will catch you off guard. You will probably get up like this rider, shake your head, brush yourself off and blame the "horse." Pointing the finger at the horse will not change anything.

Here's what you can do. Notice ALL of the feedback your client is giving you--good, bad and neutral. Slow down, check in and make sure everything is okay all along the way. When you get a sign that things are not okay, STOP. Address the concern thoughtfully. Work through it completely before you move on. Repeat back feedback to make sure you really do understand, "I think you're telling me that you read that whole life insurance is not advised, have I got that right?" Wait for the client to answer, then ask, "say more about that." Really listen openly without formulating your answer in your head. If you ignore these signs, you are likely to get "thrown off" later and left baffled. The signs were there all along if you were paying attention.

What clues are there that something is going wrong? Watch your client's body language. Is he or she leaning forward and tilting his or her head? Or leaning back and crossing his or her arms? Is the client engaged and participating or distracted? What types of questions is the person asking (or not asking!). What are you afraid to voice that may need to be brought out into the open?

The woman and the horse in the video could have had a completely different outcome. The solution: partnership. Because the rider was pushing her agenda so hard despite the horse's feedback, the horse resorted to an extreme measure. Had she tried to understand the horse's objection, she could have worked through it. In real life, people who ride horses tend to check for signs of resistance, strong feelings in the horse, pent up energy, lameness and all sorts of things before getting on the horse. That way, from ground level, the rider can safely work out any and all issues before entering into the riding partnership.

You can do the same with your clients. Prospecting might be one of your "are you with me?" checks. If it's a "no" find out why. Be curious about objections, concerns, worries and fears that you detect in your client. If you resolve everything you can along the way, you can avoid unhappy surprises down the trail.

Coaching Tip Pay attention to your own body language, too. What might you be "saying" to your client. Bored? Distracted? Engaged? It goes both ways.

Easily Write Your Why Statement...and Here's Why

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Have you ever tried to write your "Why Statement" and felt like you might have well been trying to write a sonnet in iambic pentameter? For many Financial Representatives (FRs), they know this is an important exercise; however, it feels lofty and intimidating. It is important, though, so let's figure it out.

Try our Why coaching exercise to quickly get you to the heart of what matters most to you.

According to author and speaker Simon Sinek, your why is "the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do." It's vitally important that you know your Why for two reasons.

First, your own motivation can come from the intrinsic belief that your work matters. That's a powerful motivator that you draw from within. If you hold the power to your own motivation, you will not be reliant upon external motivators such as carrots and sticks (trips, ribbons, rankings, bonuses, board of reviews, minimums, RACE, etc). Nor will you rely upon your fear to drive you. Fear is a fuel that will run you hard and burn you out.

The second reason your Why matters is because of what Sinek calls "the Golden Circle." Imagine a small circle with the word Why in it. Next, imagine a medium circle encasing this circle with the word How inside of it. Finally, imagine one large circle containing both circles that has the word What in it. If your motivation comes from the outside, this is how you will appear to clients:

What: We write financial plans that address both risk and wealth accumulation.

How: We learn about our clients' needs, create custom plans and implement them.

Why: You should work with us.

Sinek's Golden Circle demonstrates the power of Why by inverting the questions and starting from the inside with Why:

Why: With everything we do, we address all of our clients' financial needs today, tomorrow and in the future. We believe in integrated planning and providing our clients with best-in-class risk and investment solutions. We do this as financial planners. Want to work with Northwestern Mutual?

How: We learn about our clients' needs, create custom plans and implement them.

What: We write financial plans that address both risk and wealth accumulation.

Starting with Why instead of What appeals to our human feelings before our logic. Qualified Suspects feel compelled to do something such as take a Fact Finder meeting with you because they feel inspired to do so (you have appealed to the limbic brain responsible for feelings such as trust and loyalty, behavior and decision making—the "why" and "how"). Then, in the Fact Finder, the prospective client will experience your Why from a rational perspective, as well (now you have appealed to the neocortex that regulates rational and analytical thought—the "what").

So, since your Why Statement is clearly important to attract people to your practice, how do you write one painlessly? Invert it!

Imagine this scenario...for a complex set of reasons your practice is no more. Someone is standing in your office right now holding boxes to help you pack up your things and walk you out. Today is the last day you will ever be in your office again, see your colleagues and staff, work with your clients, grab coffee in the break room or even walk in the door. When the door closes behind you this last time, your life as you knew it at Northwestern Mutual is ribbons, Annual Meeting, recognition dinners, trips, fun times with clients, laughs with other FRs or happy hours with staff. Your days of Granum are over.

What would you most dearly miss? Write a list of the ten things that your heart would yearn for:











To give you an example, I will write my own.

Top ten things I would most dearly miss if I could no longer be a life coach to the people of Northwestern Mutual as of right now:

1) Having the honor and privilege to have a coaching relationship with people who are making a positive impact in the world and watching them crush goals they couldn't have even dreamed of having before coaching.

2) Holding space for my clients' private thoughts, fears and challenges.

3) Helping my clients find answers within and learn how to do so on their own.

4) Asking my clients to dig deep even if it gets raw and watching their pain dissolve.

5) Forming amazing relationships with clients, staff, vendor partners, staff at Northwestern Mutual.

6) Participating in the events and culture of Northwestern Mutual.

7) Challenging myself to create a practice that can grow to serve more people. Growing and healing myself.

8) Supporting the livelihood of the people I employ in a joyful, collaborative and empowered way.

9) Knowing that our work makes a difference based on the feedback I receive.

10) Having pride in being an entrepreneur and building a thriving company.

Next, INVERT your most dearly missed list and transform it into a Why Statement:

I have the honor and privilege of having coaching relationships with people who make a positive impact in the world. Watching my clients crush the business and achieve goals they could not have believed in or thought of before coaching is exhilarating! Holding space for my clients' private thoughts, fears and challenges is sacred to me. I strive to help my clients find answers within and learn how to do so on their own. I ask my clients to dig deep even if it gets raw and share their relief in watching their pain dissolve. I get to form amazing relationships with clients, staff, vendor partners and staff at Northwestern Mutual. Participating in the powerful events and culture of Northwestern Mutual is something that I treasure. I get to experience the powerful embrace of an incredible company. I love to challenge myself to create a practice that can grow to serve more people. Just as I challenge my own clients to grow, I invest in my own growth, development and healing as well as my team's. I feel fulfilled when I am able to support the livelihood of the amazing team I employ in a joyful, collaborative and empowered way. Knowing that our work makes a difference based on the feedback I receive fills me up every day. I am proud of being an entrepreneur and having built a thriving company that's still up and coming! Watch out world.

Now it's your turn.

Coaching Tip Once you have completed the exercise, how do you implement it? I recommend making a recording and listening to it daily. It may also inspire you to print it out and frame it. Revisit it regularly to stoke your inner fire and attract people who you love to work with to your practice.

Turn Networking From a 'Should' to a Want (or a Don't)

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

"It's time to go!" you hear your spouse shout out from the other room. Your stomach is in knots and you're filled with dread at the thought of going to this networking event but you know you really should go. "It will be good for my practice," you tell yourself checking yourself in the mirror.Do you relate to this scenario? So many people have a lot of anxiety around networking functions. There are a lot of "shoulds" that they feel: I should want to go. I should wear my best outfit that is uncomfortable. I should impress people. I should meet new prospects. I should be outgoing.


"Don't should all over yourself," is an expression that may make you smile. Are you shoulding on yourself? If this is how you tend to approach networking functions and social events, maybe there is another way.

Here are some tips: Go to the event to enjoy yourself and connect with others-- not to overtly promote your practice. By meeting people that you truly want to spend time with you will likely do business later. At many functions it is not the time or the place to talk shop.

Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol to try to take the edge off the event. While you might feel like you're very gregarious and articulate at the time after a few drinks, it may be that you actually appear unprofessional instead.

When you arrive if you cannot immediately locate someone to talk with who you know, search the crowd for someone who is in your shoes. Approach the person who looks nervous and uncomfortable and see if you can help them out by approaching them and introducing yourself.

Try not to spend the entire event talking to people you already know. Ask the people who you do know who they know in the crowd who they could introduce you to. Return the favor.

Choose events or causes that genuinely interest you where people much like you also congregate. Forcing yourself to join a club or a group because you "should" is likely to backfire.

If you truly hate and loathe these functions it may be best for you to find another way to meet people. Don't force it. There are all kinds of ways to meet people. Perhaps you would enjoy a different format. Spend some time researching other ways to get in front of people that you want to meet that don't require social events that you don't enjoy.

Instead of hearing your spouse saying "it's time to go" maybe it's okay to let some evenings be "what would you like for dinner?" or "what movie would you like to watch?" instead. Allowing yourself some much-needed rest and relaxation is part of building a great practice. Be choosy with your time and select only the events that you know you can put your whole heart into.

Connect with your authentic self to find ways to meet people with whom you can be yourself. It's okay.

Coaching Tip Take a photograph of your business card and keep it on your phone. When you are at events, out and about or in situations where you're meeting people, instead of handing out a traditional paper business card, ask if you can text the person the image of your card instead. In doing so you will acquire the person's cell phone number. Send the image of your business card and mention that you'd like to connect sometime. When you send the card, you can add a personal touch about a topic you discussed when you met and mention that it was great to meet them. Follow up in a week or so and ask if they would like to grab lunch or meet up for coffee to see if you can be a resource to each other.

Does Your Day Have a Hot List AND a Not List?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

What are you NOT going to do today? I bet that's not a list that you've ever written! How much of your day is spent doing things that you later wish you had not spent time on?


We each begin every day with a new allotment of mental energy. If you think of this like a full tank of gasoline in a car how would you use it to your best advantage? Would you drive aimlessly and respond to every distraction? If so, what would be the outcome? 

Conversely, what if you plot your destination and stay focused on where you're going? You would choose to ignore many options along the way that would take you off course.

Most Financial Advisors (FRs) do not treat their mental energy like the precious and finite resource that it is. Try writing a "Not List" and a "Hot List." Items on both lists should be highly actionable tasks. Here's an example:

Today's Not ListCheck email continuously (limit to checking only at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.)Organize email in-boxDo client service requests as they come in Accept "pop in" meetings from fellow FRsBrowse the internet frequently (instead, do so only during planned breaks)

Today's Hot List Ten dialsReturn client calls (2)Prospect in all three meetingsSet one Center of Influence (COI) meetingCall A+ prospect (that you've been putting off?)Finish case notes before leaving

Write the Not List and the Hot List on a whiteboard or in another easily updatable format such as a spreadsheet that you can keep open.

Next, every morning while you still have your full tank of energy tackle the actionable items on the Hot List first. At the beginning of every day you have the most diverse types of mental energy available to you in the greatest quantities that you will experience for the day. Check off all of your accomplishments and leave it in plain sight to remind you of your progress.

Also, keep your Not List very visible. It may take a little practice avoiding the Not List items that you may have become accustomed to doing a lot. Many of these are likely emotional decoys. You may find yourself doing things such as sorting your emails or browsing the internet to avoid doing work that challenges you, frustrates you, or causes you anxiety. By hiding out in low-risk activities you will appear and feel busy, however you are not moving the needle.

What are you NOT doing today?

Coaching Tip Emotional decoys allow us to avoid feeling our feelings, taking chances and challenging ourselves. They may appear very innocent. You may find yourself deep in an e-filing project only to relay to realize you were avoiding calling several A+ prospects who made you feel inadequate. Instead of using an emotional decoy to numb your feelings try asking yourself "what am I feeling right now?" If you can acknowledge the feeling, then see if you can allow yourself to really feel it. It will likely move on right away as soon as you give it your full attention. Feeling your feelings is a powerful step in the direction of taking true ownership of your life.

What if You Were Curious Instead of Cynical About Objections?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

“I can’t think of anyone right now, but ask me later.” How many times have you heard this response from your client (or something like it) while you were prospecting???


Most Financial Representatives (FRs) translate this situation immediately to a no. They hear “I won’t give you names,” and either completely give up on that person or wait until next time and just try again—often with the same results. The meeting wraps up and the topic just falls away.

Instead, what if you take the comment at face value?

“I totally understand. Take some time and think about it. How long do you need?” you answer. Just pause and wait however long it takes for an answer. Don’t rush in to fill in the silence!

“A month,” says your client.

“Sounds good. I will give you a call in a few weeks to see how your list is coming along. Thanks, again.” you say genuinely. “I am really looking forward to meeting the people in your life.” Next, use CRM to actually call the person yourself or via your staff and follow up sincerely.

“Can I ask one more favor while you’re at it?” you could inquire cheerfully.

“Sure…” your client responds.

“I really respect your relationships and I certainly don’t want to surprise anyone by just calling out of the blue. Could you take it one step further and let the people on the list you’re making know who I am and that I will be calling?” you say. “Would you be willing to do that?”

Why not take your client or prospective client completely seriously? Take them up on their offer and then ask for what you really need?

It’s easy to get defeated when you hear objections hundreds of times. Instead of making assumptions, treat every client like an individual. Listen to the individual's words and try to sense the feelings underneath what they are saying. While they may say the same thing, the reasons are likely different. Try a little patience and a little follow up and some of them will come through for you.

…Before YOU object to trying something new, think about the common denominator in every one of your meetings. It’s you. The only way to get a different result is to change something about yourself. Take a deep breath, drop the cynicism and make sure your energy is calm and relaxed.

“Thank you for offering to give me referrals later. I will take you up on that!” And then do it.

Coaching Tip How many times do you perceive objections to be a big, fake excuse? If you are like most FRs it’s pretty much every time. Have you communicated your expectations openly with your client? Do you give people the benefit of the doubt? It’s likely that your own history with hearing common objections has left you jaded. Some Qualified Suspects may be falling through the cracks every time you shut down and assume a “no” instead of a “yes, but help me.” You will encounter people every day who have never been asked for a referral before! What if you TEACH them how to be connectors and explain how it works? It might add a few minutes on to your meeting, but if it’s done with patience you might be surprised how many people will better understand what you’re doing and how it works. Try to be sensitive that it’s vulnerable for people to give you names of people they like and respect. They no longer have control and might fear embarrassment. Fill them in on how it works and include them in the process for better results for everyone—nominator, QS and you.

It's Time to Normalize Prospecting as a Routine Business Activity

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

You are sitting at the doctor's office in a glamorous hospital gown getting a routine physical. Everything seems to be going fine and you can sense the appointment is wrapping up. All of a sudden you feel uncomfortable when you notice the doctor's eyes dart away to avoid making eye contact. You can feel his energy becoming tense and nervous. As a result, you're becoming tense and nervous.


Appearing reluctant, he says, "I'd like to do some routine labs to test your cholesterol."

You sink in your chair with your stomach doing flips, wondering what could possibly be wrong. You think, don’t physicians order labs all the time? I wonder if something is off?

"What's wrong?" you blurt out awkwardly, hoping to get relief from the thick tension.

The doctor winces and clears his throat. "Um, well, our phlebotomists in the lab are feeling very squeamish today about needles. I feel reluctant to send you for labs because everyone in the lab is so uncomfortable about drawing blood.

Can you imagine a more ridiculous thing to happen at the doctor's office!? You may not have thought of it this way before, but this is how you have set up prospecting to feel for your clients and prospective clients. They rely on you, the leader of the meeting and the professional, to set the tone and to guide them through the process in a normal and comfortable way.

When you are in Sales School you are trained to prospect as an everyday, standard business activity. Everyone is taught this. In no way are you a freakish outlier asking for Qualified Suspects under the cover of darkness!

So, why are you acting like the physician this imaginary scenario? You, too, are internally wincing, squeamish, nervous, tense and uncomfortable when you prospect. Your client simply mirrors your energy.

Since the year 1857 Northwestern Mutual has been built on prospecting. Referrals have been the primary marketing vehicle. In fact, the company slogan used to be “The Quiet Company.” This fantastic company is most known through having been shared from one person to another (and amongst sports fans, of course, from the many sponsorships in recent years). There are thousands of advisors who have gone before you. They have prospected and lived to tell the tale!

It's time to normalize prospecting!!!

Imagine that you start the client relationship in the first meeting by explaining how your practice works. “Our company has been around since 1857. It is built on word-of-mouth, not expensive advertising. We rely on our clients to introduce us to other people. Every time you and I meet, I will always ask you if you have thought of anyone I should talk to. Sometimes you will think of people, other times you may not.”

Or, what if you create a standard agenda for every type of meeting that you hold that always includes prospecting? You announce that it will occur during the meeting. People who need time to think before answering questions will have more time to ponder your question. It is presented as a standard part of every meeting, just like all of the other parts of your meetings when you act perfectly normal. In fact, it’s hard to think of a profession that asks so many questions about death, loss, aging, disability, financial fears and other scary topics. The irony is that Financial Representatives are usually fearless when asking those tough questions, but turn into a quivering wreck when asking for an introduction!

Should anyone object, ask yourself:

If you are managing your own energy and emotions, normalizing the process, including your client in the steps so they feel a sense of control, practicing your technique by always asking and making prospecting feel as normal as drinking water, I’m guessing it will go just fine. We have only to look at the thousands of Financial Representatives that have gone before you for proof.

Coaching Tip If you have all kinds of head trash about asking for referrals, that may explain why you turn into a ball of nerves when it’s time to ask. Here are some of the most common thoughts that stop FRs from asking: “Prospecting will ruin the client relationship.” “I may lose a case if I prospect.” "Prospecting makes people feel uncomfortable." “I haven’t earned the right to ask yet.” “Once I prove myself I will ask.” “I don’t like to ask for help.” “Asking for help is weak and selfish.” “I may have to face rejection if I ask and I hate conflict.” “I always run out of time.” “I often forget to ask.” “I will ask next time.” Working through any of these thoughts (and others that you may be experiencing) is the key to clearing up the discomfort. You can do that using many of the tools in this blog or by seeking out coaching for help.

Have You Gone Up Market Only to Feel Pretty Down?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

All Financial Representatives (FRs) have felt like a superhero at some point as they traveled on a moving sidewalk at an airport. If you were late for a flight you may have jogged while the sidewalk moved and felt especially exhilarated. You whizzed along in the "walk lane" as the regular humans tiredly leaned on their luggage handles and the moving sidewalk chugged them along to their destinations.

591ec9e0-fc6c-4ab2-b139-8d5ccd1791f9.jpg you recall the jarring and abrupt feeling when the sidewalk stopped moving and you had to transition to the carpeting? You may have stumbled a little bit. You had to readjust to traveling like a regular human again. Your legs may have felt as heavy as tree trunks.

This is exactly what it feels to go up market. Do not be alarmed when this happens. It means you are right on track!

After all, before you went up market you were sailing along the sidewalk! It was easier to close cases. Red letter language worked. The sales cycle was shorter. You racked up activity points pretty easily. The cases were more straightforward and simple. You felt a certain wind in your sails as things became became easier and more natural to you. Your network was growing and you picked up momentum quite easily. You may have thought "I can do this career! I'm GOOD at this!"

And then you decided to go up market without realizing all of the change that this would naturally bring about. You have hit the carpet on the moving sidewalk HARD. Suddenly your old prospecting and phoning demons come back. Your phoning list becomes thin. Your calendar is light. Cases take longer to close. You may need to revisit systems, processes, hiring more staff, language and other things you haven't given much thought to for a while.

It is likely a very good decision to challenge yourself to go up market. Perhaps you think it’s time to get serious about starting your NMIS practice. You realize you'll be missing out if you don’t try to work with increasingly older and more affluent clients. You are hoping to apply all that you've been learning as you’ve grown your practice by working with more complex cases. So, you have upped your minimums, reduced the amount of joint work down and bravely started turning the cruise ship around.

There are so many great reasons to go up market. Isn't it worth a little clumsiness?

If you miss that ease of travel on the moving sidewalk it will be back soon if you lean into this period of change. After all, you forget now, but it was once this difficult to work with almost anyone. Remember your first year in the business? It will never be that hard again. You will never endure that level of fear and uncertainty again. (Although you are probably experiencing it to some degree all over again.)

This very healthy change process you’re undergoing represents a small symbolic “death.” The last version of you and your practice are no longer quite right anymore and that can bring a feeling of loss. Yet you don’t quite yet have it all figured out. There will be a rediscovery of what kind of advisor you are, how you do things and what you’re capable of—a sort of “rebirth.”

Try to accept this dissolving process. Try to offer yourself reassurance that this is normal and everything will be okay. Your fight-or-flight response (your “Reptilian Brain”—let’s call it your Lizard) is likely pretty touchy. This is the part of your brain responsible for your survival and it is triggered by a sense of lack or attack. Not having what you perceive to be enough QSs, clients, cases, meetings, cash flow or any shortage will set off feelings of fear and anxiety. Experiencing more difficulty in the business while breaking into new markets may bring about a sense of “attack.” People may say no to you more, you may feel criticized by your spouse, mentor and your colleagues at Builder while your numbers look completely different.

While your lizard is convinced this change will have you living on the streets in no time, your rational mind knows better. Be prepared to waiver between optimistic thoughts of what it will be like once you’re reestablished followed by fearful, short-of-breath moments of “what have I done?” and raw fear. This is normal. And, prepare to go through some level of this process every time you make a strategic change to your business.

Your practice is much like the airport moving sidewalks. You’ll get off of one, adjust for a while to walking, and soon a new opportunity to hop on will present itself again. Once you know this will happen and plan for it, I’d like to think it could be more fun. Be brave and keep moving!

Coaching Tip Once FRs commit to a new market and encounter all that comes with it (short phoning list, few QSs, light calendar, etc.) on top of that, they often go through a “change back attack.” The well-intentioned people around you as well as YOU will question why you have “wrecked your perfectly good practice.” Sometimes your actions threaten other people. It may cause other FRs to feel like they, too, need to change their practices. Or others may misunderstand what you are doing and question you. If you have thoughtfully made this change in your practice, stay calm and assert yourself. You may inspire others to think bigger, too.

Are Excuses in the Way of the Practice (and Life!) You Really Want?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA


Ask yourself this question: “If I didn’t allow myself to make any excuses today, what would happen?”What is your reaction?

Now try this…Florence Nightingale, the woman credited with establishing the foundation for professional nursing, said, “I attribute my success to this—I never gave or took any excuse.” So, take a tip from this successful woman, and now imagine that you no longer make or accept excuses. Now what becomes possible?

Excuses are really just a simple way to prevent yourself from making a change or taking action. It’s the quickest and easiest way out of facing your fears, being courageous, setting a healthy boundary, making progress or trying something new. Now why would you do that?

Without excuses, you might take a risk. The risk could cost you security, reputation, pride, your ego, money, time and any number of uncomfortable outcomes. The “Reptilian” part of your brain responsible for keeping you safe and sound (your “Lizard”) is on the lookout for threats all the time—real or imagined.

For example, making another excuse for why you can’t phone today is “safer” according to your lizard. Your lizard is trying to prevent you from getting on the phone, having someone “reject you” and causing you to be cast out by the other humans. After all, staying close with your tribe is safer than being by yourself. This might sound ridiculous when it’s all spelled out, but your lizard brain is primitive and isn’t taking any chances.

Here’s what is “dangerous” to your Lizard (outside of attackers, near car accidents, bears, war, famine, tornados, and all kinds of genuine threats to your safety which are, of course, truly dangerous):

Here are the types of fake-out “danger” that your lizard also responds to even though you are not in harms way:

“Lack” A short phone list Not enough money in the bank (according to you) Not eating or drinking water for hours at a time because you’re busy No Qualified Suspects A light calendar A client not responding

“Attack” Client emails asking for policy cancellations Your spouse criticizing you A vaguely worded text message that sounds like your friend is blaming you An employee resigning and saying they can’t work for you Being turned down for a line of credit A warning that you are not meeting minimums A fear that you are being surpassed by your peers

To some degree every day, your reptilian brain will become activated. Hilariously it doesn’t matter if you are in the most rural area in the world using your survival instincts to stay alive or if you are sitting in a nice suit in a comfortable air-conditioned office—the reaction is the same. Our bodies have not adapted to react to psychological (or perceived psychological) threats any differently than real, physical threats (which cause use to flee, fight or freeze for our best chance of survival facing a genuine threat!).

So, in most cases, excuses play a valuable role in keeping you small and safe. You will not challenge yourself to take risks. Thankfully, we are more than our lizard brains! We have the choice to work with our instinct or let it work us over. Humans have a highly advanced pre-frontal cortex responsible for complex brain function. We are verbal, rational, analytical and creative beings capable of out-thinking the lizard brain.

Step one: acknowledge your own excuses. Hear them for what they are and offer yourself compassion. You are trying to stay safe (which sometimes does serve you).

Step two: does this excuse serve you? Yes or no?

Step three: if no, call it what it is! Excuses hold no power over you.

Step four: Ground your body to come out of "fight or flight" to "rest and digest." Here are some ideas: Do a Power Pose to reduce your stress and increase your confidence Take three 7/11 breaths (inhale for 7 seconds/exhale for 11 seconds) Try a “belly breath” (place your hand on your belly button and inhale until it expands fully, hold your breath for 4 seconds and exhale) Feel gratitude Fill your body with the feeling of loving someone Learn Tension Releasing Exercises

Step five: revisit the action for which you made the excuse. Take the smallest step possible in a positive direction.

Step six: Once you have mastered your own excuse-making, now you can begin asking the same of others, but not before then!

Ask yourself again: “If I didn’t allow myself to make or take any excuses today, what would happen?” Feel your body’s reaction. You know what to do.

Coaching Tip Write down a list of your most common excuses. Pick one excuse you'd like to work on first. Pick the easiest one so that you can experience an early win and then build on it. Notice why the excuse exists and the form that it takes. Does it blame someone else, cast doubt on your abilities, make you feel "lazy" or keep you safe? Gently examine why you have the excuse. Next, take back your power by claiming ownership over the excuse. For example, "I can't phone because it's too noisy in the office" might be serving multiple functions. Notice that it blames others, casts doubt on your abilities and likely prevents you from experiencing discomfort. Offer yourself compassion for wanting to feel comfortable and safe. Now take the smallest step in the desired direction: organize a phone list and make 10 dials, for example. Other excuses may pop up to get you off the hook. Name them and gently put them aside as you continue to challenge yourself to work through each one.

Working With Your Clients' Parents is Part of Holistic Planning

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA 

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What are some of your favorite topics to broach at family functions? I’m guessing they are religion, politics, money…and your most favorite—really everyone’s—is probably the advancing age of your parents and what their plans are should they ever need long term care (LTC). Who’s with me!

If this is not your reality as a financial representative (FR), imagine how hard the conversation about LTC and other financial matters is for your clients with their parents!

Perhaps your client’s parents are quietly expecting their adult children to provide them with care (and your client may not be able or want to do so). Maybe your client’s parents assume their Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security or other savings has it covered.

“My parents already have someone they work with,” is something your clients might say when you offer to reach out to their parents. That’s not going to cut it.

“The vast majority of advisors, unfortunately, are still recommending traditional courses of action that can actually hurt the retirees down the road by making more of their money susceptible to the surcharges and higher tax formulas. These advisors are unaware of the new laws, and the alarming trends that recent proposals imply for their clients,” writes Dan McGrath and 7 other authors in the book “What You Don't Know About Retirement Will Hurt You!” 

Are you really delivering on the promise of holistic, integrated financial planning for your clients if you don’t include your client’s parents as part of your routine process? The reality is that they need you to do so. “A study released by Northwestern Mutual found that most Americans have not addressed long-term care in their planning, despite understanding that it will be needed,” stated Northwestern Mutual in “The Longevity Revolution: Costs of Caregiving.”

It’s entirely possible that your client may need to dip into their assets prematurely to cover others’ care. Is that in the plan? I’m guessing it’s not even on the radar!

While prospecting with your client, make it a routine part of the service you provide to tell the people you work with that giving their parents’ plans a double-check is a regular and necessary part of the planning process for everyone. While many of your clients’ parents may be affluent, have multiple advisors and believe that they are covered they may, in fact, still need your help and not know it.

While financial security is important, there is another reason to integrate this step into your process: what if your clients' parents are unable to access care? This is not something that our country has even dealt with yet. McGrath writes that the reality is that it’s not even only about having the means to pay for LTC anymore—it’s about access and having the right LTC plan to ensure it.

There is a projected shortage of facilities, beds, staff and physicians to serve the large Baby Boomer population as soon as the year 2020. (Our country will be an estimated half a million beds short in merely four years, according to McGrath.) LTC planning “is no longer about protecting assets in retirement; it has become the best negotiating chip one can have to access care in retirement.”

While the benefit of prospecting up with your clients to reach their parents is obvious for your client, it is tremendous for you, too. First, your clients are unlikely to encounter this service elsewhere in the market and it is a differentiator. Second, your practice will grow by reaching the Boomer market through this natural added step. Third, you can be confident that your client will likely have the lifestyle and retirement you said they would (no surprises).

“Regardless of your income, or level of assets, having a LTC plan in place to address the risks and costs of one of the biggest financial threats you may ever face, is a smart move, and can protect both assets and those you love,” writes McGrath. Help your clients by helping their parents and their loved ones. It’s a win-win-win.

Coaching Tip Many FRs are intimidated by the mere thought of asking to work with a client’s parents. By overcoming the beliefs that hold you back from prospecting up, you and your clients have a lot to gain. What’s the “story” you tell yourself about working with your clients’ parents? You’re too young, not experienced enough? Perhaps prospecting might wreck the great case you have in front of you? How likely is it that your “stories” are true? Ask yourself “what is the worst thing that would happen if they were true?” I’m guessing that NOT asking has a worse outcome long term than being courageous in the best interest of you, your clients and their families. Make a plan (language, technique, practice, etc), start with trying it in just one meeting and build on it.

What I Learned From Attending All Four Regional Meetings

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

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After a whirlwind tour from the bright lights of Times Square in New York City to bustling downtown Chicago to lush Orlando (alligators! in the hotel!) to warm and chill San Diego, I am BACK and excited to share what I learned this year.


  • Participation is everything “80% of success is showing up,” says Woody Allen. I think he’s right. I learn the most at regional meetings when I’m out and about-- attending meetings and sessions, spending time with people—even talking with people in the elevator. Moments of connection are lost when you hide in your hotel room. (Not that I have not slipped away for a quick nap!)
  • Speaking of naps…pacing yourself in every way is a real art form. There is socializing, eating, drinking, learning, networking, participating, going out, attending events and more. Some of you are the Maestro of Meetings! You get your workout in before everyone else is awake and yet you’re out on the town at night, too! How do you do it? (Red Bull seems to be part of the equation, but there is a natural energy flowing from these maestros that is a non-caffeinated true enthusiasm.)
  • You never know what you will learn, where or from whom. I’m open to talking with the recruiter I’m sharing an Uber with, the team of AFRs having breakfast at the table next to mine and the shiny new recruits at the mixer attending their very first NM meeting. Everyone teaches me something.
  • Be open to changing your plans. There is so much going on at regional and annual meetings! Sometimes following a hunch to change the plan leads to a new discovery, a new connection or a whole new perspective. Take someone up on their invitation and see where it leads.
  • Share. In addition to listening and learning, when someone asks me to help them or be open to connecting I try to be available. This has led to the beginning of some of my best client and friend relationships. Give away what you have before you try to sell it.
  • Nothing replaces the value of meeting someone in person. Our company Unleash Your Practice makes the effort to participate in regional and annual meetings so that our coaches and staff are available to our clients. We love to meet you and spend time with you face to face!
  • Be vulnerable. As much as I’d like to appear cool, I have long ago abandoned this idea. I’d rather put my heart out there and risk my ego rather than not strike up a conversation, introduce myself to a new group of people or say hello to someone who looks a little lonely at the dinner dance. There is a lot of pressure at these types of events to run with the cool kids. Let it go. Find another human and reach out.
  • Have a real life re-entry plan. After the whirlwind of attending a regional meeting, it can be challenging to reacclimatize. Allowing one recovery day can make a big difference. Thank you Northwestern Mutual, for including me in your Field Coaching Network and for welcoming me to your company events. I feel like part of the family. See you at Annual!

Coaching Tip Many people experience some level of social anxiety at functions like company meetings. If you relate to this feeling, be kind to yourself. Start small when you’re going out of your comfort zone. Try to arrive early to events and scope out the scene. Try to connect with individuals, versus approaching big groups that are already formed. Be careful with using alcohol to cope. If you continue to ease yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone each time, you will increase your resilience naturally. Find a friend who you can go to particularly intimidating situations with and ask him/her to introduce you to others. If this isn’t possible, scan the room to find someone who looks like they may be struggling, too, and you can be the one to approach the person and offer social relief.

Envision How Great Your Practice Can Be

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

“There has been a huge breakthrough in life coaching technology!” I eagerly blurt out to you. “I’d like you to try it. You are on the verge of a big breakthrough,” I half-explain.

Together we enter a strange elevator-sized metal box glimmering with a lot of technology. “Don’t worry about any of this stuff,” I reassure you, waving my arm vaguely. “My team runs and maintains the technology.” You sigh with relief and I know you’re ready for the opportunity to take a peak into your future for the sake of science.

“You will have your breakthrough before the year 2017. You can choose any day in that year to see how it’s working. You will be able to ask your future self how you did it and get a sneak peak!” I explain with gusto.

The doors make a loud sound as they seal together. “Okay, we will be time traveling to the year 2017. Since it’s a leap year day today, you get to pick which day we land!” I turn to you excitedly waiting for you to tell me the date to punch into the computer. The date“__________ in 2017,” you say with your voice shaking a little.

“Sounds good,” I say hitting the enter button. The box starts to sway and shake and it feels like riding an extremely fast elevator. Suddenly the box halts. You grab the rail to steady yourself as everything stops. “Are you ready to see what it looks like now that you have [hit Forum, written Lives Leaders Summit/ achieved MDRT/gone upmarket/written a million in premium/[enter your dream]]?”

“Yes!” you say with a huge smile.

“There is something I should add. A reporter from Northwestern Mutual's Columns newsletter is here to interview you to find out how you did it! “ I grab your arm and lead you out the doors as the seal breaks and they retract, “You’ll do great.”

As you emerge you can see right away that you’re at your office. Everything looks clean and organized. You have a team of people who look happy and busy. They turn and greet you, not realizing that you have just time-traveled here. Your eyes take in all of the sights, sounds and smells. You reach out and touch the smooth, cool wall to make sure it’s real!

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re back from your meeting,” says the reporter shaking your hand. “I know it’s been a very busy year from you. Thanks for making the time,” she says genuinely. She points at a chair for you to sit in at a table with her. "Please have a seat."

“I just have a few questions to ask and then I can let you get back to crushing it,” she says with an understanding smile. She flips open her laptop and jumps right in with her questions. [Reader: Answer them sincerely as if you are telling the reporter. Make up your answers right now, assuming this is absolutely real.]

Questions: Why did you decide to go for this particular achievement? How did you feel when you made the decision to go for it? What changes did you make to your practice so you could do it? What advice would you tell our readers who want to achieve a big breakthrough? What was the hardest part of hitting this goal? How did you overcome the challenge? On your bad days, what were your darkest thoughts about making it to the goal? What kept you going? Even though it sounds silly—time travel and all!!—if you could go back in time to Leap Year Day in 2016 what would you tell yourself? How do you feel, today, having this incredible accomplishment? What do you think is next up for you?

After you answer her questions, the reporter closes her laptop and congratulations you. “You will inspire many people,” she says, shaking your hand once more. “Your article will appear in the next issue,” she explains.

“Time to hop back in the box!” I say, appearing out of nowhere. “I can tell you are getting pretty used to how amazing this feels.” You nod and feel a fluttering of excitement in your stomach as you walk back into the elevator-like machine.

This time, the sounds and motion don’t worry you a bit. The machine stops abruptly and the doors open to reveal what’s currently happening today on Monday, February 29, 2016. Even though it looks different now than what it did in the future, you have brought back with you a very clear picture of what’s possible and how to do it that you didn’t have before.

“The time machine is accurate,” I tell you. “This will all happen if you start today. Good luck—you’ve got this,” I tell you looking you straight in the eye.

Coaching Tip Visualizing an outcome that you want has been used for decades by performance athletes to increase success. You can do it, too. The time travel exercise is a great warm up. Apply the same technique to anything—for example a talk you’re giving, an exam you’re taking or a client meeting you have. Close you’re eyes and imagine it’s already happening. Take in all of your senses and make it feel as real as possible. Let your mind show you the best possible scenario and play it out just like a scene in a movie. Your brain will start to change and it will be almost as if you have already gone through the situation when it’s game time—giving you an edge.

Is Perfectionism Holding You Back From the Practice You Want?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

“Mommy!” the little girl shrieked with enthusiasm as she pointed at me lying on the ground under the ski lift from the chair she shared with her mom, “that’s my ski instructor!”

“Are you okay?” the mother shouted down, sounding concerned. With my feet pointed uphill and my skis, poles, hat and gloves laying all over the slope I had had what skiers call “a garage sale” on the intermediate ski hill. This is a fall so epic that you lose everything that can come off of you.

This whole thing started when I announced, “I never fall” one day to my fellow ski instructors. I taught children’s ski lessons at a small ski resort during high school and college. (Photo depicts me featured in a Wisconsin State Journal photograph on January 2, 1990.) “Really?” one of the most tenured instructors asked. “That means you’re not skiing to your edge.” He went on to explain that I would not likely progress much more with my skiing if I never pushed myself. He challenged me to practice my technique more aggressively and warned me that I would likely fall if I did.

I have always been a stubborn person. I believe that I can do almost anything if I just try hard. The idea that I was a mediocre skier who’d reached my peak performance at the age of 15 was unacceptable. I had taken so much pride in my lack of falling that I didn’t notice that I really was not progressing with my skiing. I took a lesson with an advanced instructor. Then I set out to try hard.

One run later after my lesson there I was, lying on my back after tumbling dramatically down the slope where I had landed ironically right under the ski lift with my student directly above me. I did not regret it. While I took a lot of heat from the instructors who witnessed the fall, my bruised ego recovered and I went on to learn moguls and perfect my parallel skiing. But better yet (since I can no longer ski like that!) I learned that my perfectionism was holding me back.

Are you playing to your edge in your financial practice? Are you willing to “fall” in the sense that you coach your client to think and act bigger? Do you take risks, like not getting referrals, because you try hard to get a client to take care of their financial health even if it means you might lose them as a client? If you have never encountered any resistance, a lost case, or a lack of referrals given from a client as a direct result of you acting as a professional and doing your job with the highest integrity then you have an opportunity to find your edge.

Do you think prospective clients and current clients meet with you to stay exactly where they are? Do they deep down wish to leave your meeting with no action taken? If so, they are not your client. You are serving no one by playing it safe.

It’s time to put your own worries aside that you’ll scare a client off, be denied referrals, or be spoken badly of by your client because you did your job. Your job is to get insurance in force and to help people start saving for the future. If the people you see are not doing these things consistently and to the degree necessary, ask yourself what are you really focused on? Is it your “perfect” record of being “liked?”

Think of the professionals we rely on to get us results who we may not like along the way: doctors, nurses, personal trainers, police officers, attorneys, accountants and more. There may be moments you despise your personal trainer for pushing you harder but later you are very happy with the results. Are you willing to be disliked in the best interest of the client and the client’s family if that’s what it takes to have a courageous conversation?

Find your edge. Let yourself fall in the interest of finding out how great you can be.

Coaching Tip Playing to your edge is difficult because it requires discomfort, vulnerability and often repeated failure. Acknowledge to yourself and others what you are doing. Plan for your “fall” and imagine yourself being better for it. It is an investment in your self-improvement. You can stay as you are or you can find out what is really possible. If the idea of having a bigger practice and engaged clients excites you, make your move. What do you have to gain?

Is What You Are Feeding Your Mind Fueling the Practice You Want?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Here are several topics you can read about on a quick scroll through popular business blogs:  the morning habits of highly successful people, what bosses should never make employees do, spelling errors that make you look unprofessional, 5 smart ways to increase your IQ

The underlying message is: You Need Fixing

Then, take a look at the queue of helpful business and self help titles in your Kindle and audio books queue, the regular emails with advice and tips flooding your in box and the stack of publications you “should read.” I think most humans could quickly conclude that they are broken, out of touch or badly in need of improvement.

Head over to your monthly Builder or attend your RACE meeting and you may receive another big douse of “help.”

How do you use “help?” This may sound like a funny question, but singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco may be on to something when she sings, "Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right".

Is all of the help you are consuming actually hurting you instead of helping? Have you unintentionally turned it into a weapon? If you buy the assumption that you are badly in need of improvement and you combine that with a regular diet of looking up reports showing your current rank in your Northwestern Mutual office you have a recipe for a shame storm. This shame may undermine your confidence and leave you questioning your worth. You have given away your power by seeking out answers outside of yourself. The insights, ideas and solutions are likely already inside you.

The remedy to recover from and prevent a shame storm of doubt and questioning is self-compassion. In fact, I believe that the road to success is paved with…compassion! This compassion extends beyond you to others, as well. Consider for a moment how you give feedback to children and your best friends. Do you sternly tell them that they are bad at things, have disappointed you and aren’t doing well when you compare them with others? I doubt it! But think for a moment how many times you have thought these very things about yourself.

Imagine for a moment that you have a steady stream of helpful thoughts in your head such as “you tried really hard, you’re doing great, that was brave, you’re good at this, etc?” This is how you will begin to access the internal wisdom was there all along. Or, it may help point you to resources that nourish and genuinely DO help you.

Between the potential external messages telling you “you’re not enough” along with your inner critic telling you that you’re not good enough, it’s time to clean up your internal and external words and make them safe for your psyche.

Here are some tips:

  • Be choosy about the media you consume. If it leaves you doubting yourself and feeling bad, find sources instead that are validating and inspiring.
  • Select books that help you find and build on strengths already inside you versus pointing out your supposed “deficiencies and weaknesses.”
  • Surround yourself with people who have a positive effect on you.
  • Assume that you are already whole, not broken and in need of fixing
  • Consider what feels exciting and energizing and then challenge yourself to grow in a way that feels genuine to you.
  • Limit the number of times you run reports to compare your practice with the practices of other Financial Representatives (FRs). Ask yourself why you are looking at these reports? Is it helping or hurting?

Look at each instrument you’re using right now in your practice and ask yourself: am I using this as tool or weapon? If you’re using something as a weapon to “improve yourself” ask yourself if that really works. Have you criticized, blamed and kicked yourself to success in the past? I doubt it. There is a misleading cultural belief that humans need to be mentally strong, emotionally tough and just take the pain. I have never met a man, woman or child where this proves to be true. I have, on the other hand, met so many who thrive with encouragement, support, authenticity and healthy feedback.Drop your weapon.

Coaching Tip Many of my clients are fearful about dropping their steady diet of critical articles, books that imply that they are deficient and the sense that they need to find answers outside of themselves. The good news is that you are the best authority on yourself! The answers are inside you. Use resources to help you find and make the most of them—not to break you down and shame you.

When is It Time to Hire Staff?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

You will get as many answers to the question, “how will I know it’s time to staff up my practice?” as the number of people you ask. My answer? Consider your options carefully, move slowly and then trust your own gut.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What resources do you currently have? Do you use them well?

Whether you pay for them right now or not, are you using centralized services well? Many Financial Representatives (FRs) do not. They don’t follow the rules/deadlines, they want to do their own PPAs (to “have more control”), or just don’t go to their internal team. What services are you not using now but could be such as having them prep feeder lists for you? Before you hire your own staff, take a look at how you use the resources that are available.

Are you paying yourself regularly?

It doesn’t matter what the amount is that you pay yourself, but are you in the habit of having “payroll” for yourself where money gets transferred into your personal checking account on a consistent basis? If not, set that up before you prepare to take on the responsibility of payroll for another person, too. I believe that business owners who get paid regularly feel more confident hiring.

Do you feel mentally and emotionally ready for hiring and managing a staff person?

Staff will need training, feedback and interaction with you regularly. Are you prepared to give an employee what they need to do the job well? That will mean your time, energy, feedback, resources and patience. If you struggle to set boundaries and expectations because you avoid conflict, becoming an employer will cause you to need to face these challenges. Are you ready?

Are you prepared to compensate a professional well?

I have seen many FRs try to hire people for the least amount possible to save money. This rarely works out too well for anyone. If you are willing to generously compensate your new hire so they feel like their salary is fair (and hopefully a promotion) you will probably get higher performance. If you wish for this to be a long-term hire where you can grow this person into a manager role, save money in other ways than skimping on salary. Consider sharing staff with other FRs so that you can afford to hire the right person.

Do you have savings or a line of credit?

Given that the business you write can roll back for up to 13 months, you may have some cash flow ups and downs as a natural part of the business. Having a way to cover payroll will help you feel ready.

Do you know who to hire?

First, contact us to take your Kolbe Index A to learn your MO. It will help you know the timing of when to hire based on what your natural strengths and talents are and if you need someone who accommodates OR complements your style (and vice versa). In other words, you will either be the exact opposite of your staff, or you will share their conation and be much like them.  Make sure that you have your top candidates take the Kolbe A to ensure that you are hiring for the right fit conatively. (Please contact us to send candidates Kolbe codes and for hiring consultations. Gauger is a Certified Kolbe Consultant).

In my experience, FRs who are initiating Quick Starts who are preventative in Fact Finder and Follow Thru need to hire someone with their opposite Kolbe score. These FRs get a fast start in the business, but the “back office” is in disarray because the FRs with this MO do not like to use CRM, to post and plan, manage their calendars and keep everything organized. These FRs usually need to hire as soon as possible—often in the first year if they are serious about the business.

Non Quick Start FRs have more time to hire. Since Initiating Fact Finder and Initiating Follow Thru FRs (who often are preventative in Quick Start) can manage the operations of their businesses extremely well they can get by without staff more effectively. Watch out if you are this style that you don’t wait too long to hire staff because you believe “no one can do the work as well as me” or “I can handle it myself” because there will be a point when it will be costly for you to do admin work when you could be out generating revenue.

Are you prepared for the hiring process? Most FRs dread the time intensive nature of a well executed search! After you have promoted the position and gotten enough candidates there are many steps to the process. In addition to the Kolbe, gather personality assessment results (such as the Culture Index), comprehensive information about your candidates’ skills, training and education and references. Spend time carefully interviewing them. Administer some tests onsite (an email writing sample, a prioritization exercise, etc.) Does your candidate pass the “gut check?” If not, no matter how great they look on paper, trust your instincts.

If you have never interviewed before, seek out internal resources to find out more. Write your questions in advance and ask every candidate the same questions.

Are you willing to ask for help? Sometimes the FR is the worst judge of who she or he needs to hire! Ask staff, fellow FRs, your MD, recruiters and others for help. Allow others to participate in the process. If you have never hired before, make sure you work with someone who can fill you in on employment law. Turn to the online resource called FR As Employer in LinkNet for all kinds of turn key professionally prepared hiring tools such as position descriptions, offer letters and more.

Take your time! Take. Your. Time.

Are you ready to take your practice to the next level? If you have been stuck at a certain level of production and you believe you need more time to prospect, phone and see people, it’s time to consider hiring.

In my experience, most FRs do the exact opposite of the adage: “hire slowly, fire quickly.” If you have determined that you are ready to hire, congratulations! This is an exciting time for you and your practice.

Hiring someone is a really big step. All the more reason to take very small steps as you go. Good luck!

Coaching Tip Most people don’t realize that there are THREE parts of the brain to measure in the hiring process: thinking (cognitive), feeling (affective) and doing (conative). You can access information about your candidates’ cognitive abilities by evaluating resumes and through the interview process. You will also learn about their affective traits in the interview along with the personality assessments you administer. The most common, and critical, assessment that is most often the missing piece of the puzzle is conation. The way your new hire takes action and solves problems along with their innate strengths and talents can only be measured by the Kolbe Index A. Since this part of the brain is “hardwired” you want to make sure the person is the right fit for the position. There is no bad Kolbe score, only bad fit! Contact us to learn more or for help with administering and evaluating Kolbe tests as part of your process.

We All Benefit When Men Feel Free to be Human Beings

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Are you living in a man cage? While socially, economically and politically, men are considered privileged in most societies, I believe that they are often emotionally imprisoned.  While gender roles impact men and women differently, we need to talk about the impact they have on everyone.

In general men are expected to be strong, stoic and not exhibit vulnerability. Showing emotions like sadness or fear may be viewed as weak. If you are a man, do you allow yourself to tell the people in your life how you really feel? Do you let them see who you are as an authentic human being?

Men often shoulder these things alone: Afraid he will fail Going broke Putting on a front that “everything is great” when it is not Spending more than he can afford to create an appearance of confidence and success Believing that he needs to be able to be the sole provider of his family (even if that’s not true) Burying his real feelings Being the “strong one” so his partner can fall apart Solving problems alone and bearing the stress himself Feeling judged if he admits something is too much for him Assuming if he shows his real feelings people will think less of him Avoiding deep human connection because it might reveal his pain Exploding in anger instead of tears Suffering with depression, anxiety or other struggles in silence Not seeking help (medical care, mental health support, someone safe to talk to)

We ALL live in the cage as long as men are in it. Men, women and children all feel the pain when half of humanity is not free to be authentic and genuine. There is more awareness than ever in the media about the many “cages” women must navigate. Let’s bring this one out into the open, too!

If you are a man, think about coming out of the cage. Start small. Begin by sharing things with other people that you have told yourself you cannot. Tell someone you trust about something that is causing you stress. Gradually let people see you, help you, and support you. Find someone with whom can navigate this journey.

If you are a woman, try to encourage men to be more real with you. Show your own strength and make sure he knows you’re both in it together—neither one must go it alone. If you’re feeling something, chances are he does too. If it’s his “job” to be the shoulder to lean on he will probably offer it. I bet having all four shoulders available is stronger for figuring out almost any problem. Take turns leaning on each other and problem-solving together while each standing on your own two feet.

If you have a financial practice, chances are if you are a man you keep many things to yourself. For example, you might have emergency line of credit (and you have had to use it), your last “paycheck” was a loan from the Managing Director, or that you are afraid that you might not succeed. Turn to the people in your life knowing that it’s strong to ask for help. It will not compromise your masculinity and strength to tell the truth.

Let’s join forces to bust everyone out of any and all cages. Human beings are pretty amazing when they are free to be themselves. We will all benefit when we all embrace the fragile, strong, fearful, confident, capable, scared, talented and brave people we are.

Coaching Tip Recent changes in our American society have caused men to grapple with many new things. Men over age 40 have been most affected by job loss in recent times at a time when they are expected to be at the top of the game. The family structure has changed drastically even from the last generation. Cultural messages are more prolific than ever with the internet, social media and the speed of information. All of this means it’s time to talk! Whoever you are, throw open the doors to communication. Try to make it feel safe for anyone and everyone you care about to be real with you. You do the same in return. I think you will be surprised and delighted at the whole new level of human connection possible. It is powerful beyond what most of us can imagine.

Lost Your Motivation? Constantly Tired? Learn the Signs of Burnout to Stay in the Game

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

We've all been there—your cell phone battery dies at the worst possible time. You were warned that it was depleting. It changed colors to tell you it was fading. And yet, you pressed on—trying to send a couple more text messages and one last email until the fateful power down, right? Once the screen turned black you accepted that it was over. No more phone for a while. You understand that plugging a dead phone into an outlet won't bring it back instantly, so you simply wait.

Do you treat yourself like this? If you are like most Northwestern Mutual Financial Representatives, you treat yourself even worse! Even though your battery dies (you're sick, exhausted, feeling burnt out), you do not let yourself recharge. We all accept that when the phone dies, we need to leave it alone for a while and let the battery charge again. However, do you ever catch yourself criticizing yourself for getting tired, worn out or needing a break? It's time to learn how to read your own "battery low" signs!

Here are 10 signs you're burning out according to a Forbes article "10 Signs You're Burning Out—And What to do About It," by Lisa M. Gerry.

1) Exhaustion

2) Lack of motivation

3) Frustration, cynicism and other negative emotions

4) Cognitive problems ("fight or flight" or The Lizard)

5) Slipping job performance

6) Interpersonal problems at home and at work

7) Not taking care of yourself

8) Being preoccupied with work...when you're not at work

9) Generally decreased satisfaction

10) Health problems

“A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress,” says Dr. Ballard, who is the head of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors," according to the Forbes article.

If you are showing several of the 10 signs of burnout, what is your plan? Here are several tips:

Make self care a priority—sleep, eat nutritious food, take breaks Check in often with yourself—are you okay? Figure out where the stress is coming from and see if you can establish better boundaries Make relaxation a regular habit Build quality life outside of work—make friends (who are not your clients), get involved with sports or hobbies Have fun, play! Use technology strategically

Take signs of burnout seriously. If you are showing signs, take a day out of the business to really unplug. Take a nap. Rest and be a couch potato for just one day. You might be amazed at how your motivation springs back. You are excited to get back out there. You and your cell phone have the need to recharge very much in common.

Coaching Tip Preventing burnout is much easier than recovering from it. Try to create a self care routine that you can realistically stick with. For example, make a point to eat well, move throughout the day (use an activity tracker), drink water, set a bedtime and let yourself have some fun. Plan some half days and full days off and mark them on your calendar months in advance. Notice how seeing days off in your future improves your outlook? Taking good care of yourself is just a (lucky) part of being a business owner.

Are You Ready for the Baby Boomers as They Enter Their 70s?

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Did you know that the first Baby Boomer turned age 70 on January 1, 2016, according to U.S. News & World Report? As a financial advisor, you know that there are many important steps for your clients to take in their 70s such as signing up for social security. And, after decades of saving for retirement, they now need to figure out how to actually retire and use their money to fund it!

This is where you come in. According to Ed Slott, author and public speaker, "they want hand holding." Slott was a General Session speaker at Northwestern Mutual's Eastern Regional who made a compelling case for using permanent insurance as a tool for clients beginning in their 60s (if not much sooner!).

Can you be the hand-holder? Are you fully educated about this opportunity? Are YOU sold on permanent insurance? If you answered no to any of these questions, now's your chance to make a big impact in your clients' lives by examining your belief system as well as your base of knowledge to make sure you're ready for the Boomer generation.

With the United States stock market "off to its worst start to a year ever" in 2016, according to USA Today, Slott said the timing could not be better to talk about permanent life insurance with your clients. The shaky start makes Boomers (and anyone invested in the market) feel a loss of control and may make them more open to a discussion about using whole life as a retirement tool in their portfolios.

"You have to really explain the benefit," he emphasized, explaining that an IRA or 401(k) is a problem in retirement because it's a diminishing asset with a tax liability tied to it. Instead of positioning whole life as a death benefit, talk about it like "moving money from one pocket to another," said Slott.

Slott said he hears clients ask, "What's in it for me? I pay all this money and drop dead and other people get the money." He explained that your clients will need your help to see permanent insurance in a new light. You can reposition retirement savings into a benefit instead of an expense if permanent insurance is an option. While there is a death benefit, Slott emphasized educating clients on all of the other ways permanent insurance is a very appropriate part of overall tax planning.

For example, your client's IRA or 401(k) is an expense with a lot of unknowns. Since there is a tax exemption for life insurance and no penalty for withdrawals in your 60s, Slott said to help your clients by setting up a system of withdrawals from their IRA in their 60s. He advised the audience to coach clients to pay the taxes now--while the amount is known and can be planned for since taxes will likely continue to increase over time, not decrease. Putting those dollars in life insurance provides the ability for your client to take withdrawals on their own timeline (instead of the required distributions which may increase their taxes) instead of having that mandated to them.

Some of my coaching clients have personal objections to selling whole life. If you are not convinced that this tool has a place, your clients will not see it either. Work on your own "objections" to selling this product if you have head trash getting in your way of using this tool when it is right for your clients. Consider investing in it yourself, if you haven't already, since you are in a "live it to give it" profession.

Coaching Tip Running a financial practice is a lot of work! Do you take enough time to educate yourself about financial and market trends and to learn what your clients need from you? If not, you're in the same boat as many well-intentioned advisors who are swamped working IN the business and not ON the business. How can you make time to keep your skills and knowledge fresh? Start by setting your intention and writing down the goals that will get you there. See if you can break it down to the daily actions it will take to bring your intention to life.

Play Bigger by Announcing Your National Practice

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Do you draw imaginary lines around your practice as far as geography that keep you playing small? Without realizing it, most Northwestern Mutual Financial Representatives (FRs) think of their markets as local and within driving distance. Without realizing it, this impacts prospecting and phoning as well as your mindset.

Imagine if you told your clients: "I run a national practice."

Let your mind react to this thought for a moment. If you are like most FRs, you start to see new possibilities, feel a little excited at whom you can now work with and sense the boundaries expanding. What kind of advisor would you be if you worked with clients all over the country? How might this change how you conduct meetings (your use of technology, for example)? What new possibilities open up with this fresh outlook?

Another change you might notice is that your practice feels bigger. You can play big and create greater impact with better clients. Whatever excuses are keeping you playing small in your own market are erased.

Let's look at how prospecting would be impacted. "George, I have really enjoyed meeting with you today. What did you enjoy most about our meeting?"

[Client answers]

"I'm so glad to hear that. We'll be sure to discuss how to balance saving for education and retirement at our next meeting. As I mentioned at the start of the meeting, I'd like to spend a couple of minutes discussing anyone you know across the country who might enjoy having this same conversation that we just did. I run a national practice and focus on executive level leaders and business owners."

What do you notice? First, you just threw the door wide open for the person you are prospecting with to provide you with great referrals. If you can guide the client to thinking bigger and widening a national scope, it's far more likely they know someone who fits your ideal client. It's tougher for them to say they don't know anyone when you've just blown the geography out. Also, you have a stronger chance of going up market since you have cast a wider net and elevated your practice.

Another impact of working at the national level is that more of your meetings will occur on the phone and via technology. This can save you time, resources, and allow you to keep more meetings each day. There is efficiency in this format for both parties.

Now imagine how phoning might change. Mentioning that you run a national practice means you can call anyone in the United States. You can specialize if you'd like in certain types of clients or cases (and really provide more relevance for specialized clients) without worrying about your local market size. A specialist would naturally work at a national level. Might it give you permission to focus on more of the work you really enjoy and the kinds of people you like to work with most?

You can live anywhere, work anywhere and connect with nearly anyone. With time zones, you can expand your workday on either end potentially, depending on where you live. There is tremendous flexibility in broadening your reach and raising your sights. Go big! Erase the lines and step up to serve the market you most want. There are no boundaries anymore!

Coaching Tip It's easy to get overwhelmed when you go from a regional market to a national one instantly. While it does start with a powerful mental shift, the next steps are smaller. Begin by changing your language in phoning, prospecting, in meetings and anytime you're describing what you do. Refer to your "national practice" consistently. You can make slow, incremental changes in your practice. For example, prepare for all of the phone meetings you'll be holding by getting the right technology and practicing using it. Acquire better equipment such as a higher quality webcam that is built-in to your computer. Examine your systems and processes to ensure that they serve a virtual client just as well as one sitting in your office.

Walk Together on Life's Bumpy Road

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

A tan and black striped butterfly with hints of blue in its wings literally landed on my client's shoulder as she spoke. Britney* was ironically doing a metaphor coaching exercise with me outside using a butterfly as the metaphor for her career. Britney was smart, attractive, quick to smile; and, though still only in her late 20s, already considered to be extremely successful in her career by her friends, family and colleagues.

Success was in the eye of the beholder. Secretly, Britney struggled privately and worried she had chosen the wrong career. The butterfly served to emphasize her point that, while the insect was so attractive and drew her in, she felt she could never really get that close to feeling good about herself in her work. We were doing equus coaching on that summer evening in Wisconsin. As the evening progressed, the horses helped to uncover even more agonizing pain that Britney had been holding in and suffering with. We gently explored it together as it showed up.

After the session, I recommended that Britney talk with a therapist and get a checkup from her doctor. I added that talking with a psychiatrist would also be a good idea as another resource. She waved my suggestions off, saying she'd already done all that. She assured me she was fine, even though she had shared that she felt hopeless, trapped, anxious, unable to sleep and had not told anyone but me what she was going through. She confessed to me she was happy she had a life insurance policy that would "cover her" just in case she "couldn't go on." I offered to help her find the right fit in a professional, to work with her health care team, to check in with her regularly--really anything to connect her to help.

As a life coach, we are not trained to treat mental illness or people experiencing thoughts of suicide. We are, however, always on the lookout for symptoms and warning signs that let us know it's time to connect our clients with mental health resources and professionals. Someone like Britney appeared to be very happy and successful to others, and yet confided that she felt like a burden to her husband and that she felt very isolated in her pain. She said sometimes she couldn't get out of bed, but that she could call in sick and get by. As a financial advisor, you may find yourself being confided in. Are you prepared?

More people die by suicide than by homicide. According to the Centers for Disease control, 2013, there were 41,149 deaths by suicide in the United States. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death; homicide ranks 16th. It is the second leading cause of death for 15 - 24 year olds.

When you work in an intense career such as running your own financial practice, mentoring others, working with stressed out clients and pushing yourself to your personal limit, I think it's important to equip yourself with some information that you hopefully will never need. Watch your fellow Financial Representatives with compassion as they navigate this challenging career. If someone jokes about cashing in their policy, seems like they are not coping well or talks about wanting to "end it" check in with that person privately to make sure they are okay. Keep checking. Keep checking again.

Take a moment to put this phone number in your phone: 1-800-273-8255. It is a confidential lifeline. If you or someone else calls it will not go in anyone's medical records. If you are ever in trouble or talking with someone who is, you can just push call on your phone or 3-way call this number with the person who needs help if you have it ready to go. It's free. It's a resource. You never know, right?

I bring this topic up because I know many of you have already been impacted by suicide. The more we can support each other and talk about it, hopefully the more lives can be saved. Despite aggressive therapy and treatment by mental health professionals, Britney ended her own life to the shock and bottomless pain of everyone who ever knew her. Her light went out and the world will never be right without her in it.

My hope is her death can help others. There may be people you know just like her who appear to have it all together who really need to know that life can get better and that people care about them.

If you observe any of these warning signs in yourself or others, please see your doctor, a therapist or at the very least call 1-800-273-8255 and go to

·  Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.

·  Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun

·  Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

·  Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

·  Talking about being a burden to others.

·  Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

·  Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.

·  Sleeping too little or too much.

·  Withdrawing or isolating themselves.

·  Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

·  Displaying extreme mood swings.

From National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

Know that you are loved. That life will get better. Please know that there are SO MANY resources to help you and the people you love. Please don't be shy about approaching someone you think might be struggling. The worse error is not doing enough. Sometimes doing everything you can isn't even enough. Asking and offering help may be the most courageous thing you ever do. Let's band together so that each of us know we are never, ever alone and life is worth living because we have each other.

*Name changed

Coaching Tip If someone confides in you that they are thinking about suicide, always take it seriously. Try to assess the timeline, if they are preparing and how immediate the threat is. You may need to call 911 in an extreme situation. Mentally rehearse this so that if this should ever happen (let's hope not) you are better prepared. Tell the person what you are doing in the situation and try to stay in contact (in person, on the phone). If you lose contact, call someone else who can get to them as you continue to get the person help.