Time for Financial Professionals to Sharpen Their Saws


Time for Financial Professionals to Sharpen their Saws

How can you improve your professional performance?

“Sharpen the saw,” says Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey uses the metaphor of a woodcutter, straining to fell a tree with a blunt saw, to illustrate the importance of taking time to develop our skills. When we step away from our immediate responsibilities and focus on our professional growth — turning away from the proverbial tree to sharpen our saw — we set ourselves up to do our jobs better and improve our performance over the long term.

Covey’s insights raise an interesting question for financial professionals: What specific actions can we take to do our jobs better?

In The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin recommends combining deliberate practice with effective feedback. A managing director and head of global financial strategies for Credit Suisse, Mauboussin says the tricky part is identifying the right evaluators, especially since our own assessments of our performance can be unreliable. To illustrate his point, he recounts the story of Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who hired a coach to help him develop his skills in the operating room:

“For his coach, Gawande enlisted Robert Osteen, a retired surgeon under whom he had trained. The first operation that Osteen observed went flawlessly from Gawande’s point of view. But later, in the lounge, Osteen told Gawande that he hadn’t positioned and draped the patient as well as he could have, his elbows were too high during the procedure, and the operating light had drifted from the wound. As accomplished as Gawande was, the unusual step of bringing in a coach allowed him to hear feedback that improved his performance.”

The point is we are not always our own best critics, and sometimes an external point of view is essential.

Michael Kitces, partner and director of research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, makes similar points about financial professionals who are looking for ways to improve their practice. He recommends attending at least one conference every year, explaining that “often it takes an outsider’s perspective about the struggles you face to figure out how to move forward.”

By leaving the office, traveling to a different location, and meeting new people, we step outside of our routines to find new ways to observe and interact with familiar concepts.

Conferences are valuable sources of insight because participants encounter new ideas from both sides of the podium. Talking to other attendees can be just as valuable as listening to keynote speakers. In an article about making the most out of conference attendance, Dawn Foster highlights the value of an event’s “hallway track”: the conversations and interactions with delegates outside the conference sessions. “This is an opportunity to build lasting personal and professional relationships with smart people working in similar roles,” Foster wrote.

Foster’s focal point was South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW), an event for the interactive, film, and music industries, but financial professionals have equally valuable conference opportunities available to them. And this May in Atlanta, Georgia, CFA Institute will convene the 73rd CFA Institute Annual Conference, the investment industry’s largest and longest-running educational gathering of investment professionals.

Sharpen your career skills with an unrivaled opportunity to access high-quality, unbiased educational content, including decision-making insights from Annie Duke, approaches for better investment valuation provided by Aswath Damodaran, and other valuable ideas from noted economists, best-selling authors, leading researchers, and successful practitioners.

All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/FrankRamspott

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