As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kali Hassinger CFP® CDFA® Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. (The Center) in Southfield, MI.
A team member since 2013, Hassinger has been involved in the Financial Planning and insurance profession for more than a decade. She hosts educational webinars on topics such as managing student loans and planning for Medicare. She is also a frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog. Hassinger is a member of the firm’s Financial Planning Department and Health & Wellness Committee.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My introduction to financial planning was pretty interesting and a great learning experience. I started working with an advisor who, unfortunately, didn’t share the same values and priorities of my current firm. It was a situation where everything appeared one way on the outside, and then the façade disappeared when you stepped inside and experienced the practice culture. It showed me the kind of financial planner and leader I didn’t want to be. When I started working at The Center, it was a completely different atmosphere. Education, growth, honesty, and putting clients first were a requirement for team members, which was a refreshing change.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Mistakes are rarely funny when they happen, especially when you are handling other people’s finances. In most cases you know more about their financial situation than their closest family and friends. But I guess it’s important to look back and see the humor as long as no one was seriously harmed. I had a fairly harmless experience when I called a client by a nickname that I didn’t realize they hated. They called me back specifically to ask me to never use that name again, and I was so embarrassed and flustered. In retrospect it was an honest mistake but I never assume a client uses a nickname.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many people who helped along the way, but the first person who comes to mind is Laurie Renchik, a partner and planner at The Center. She and I have worked together for the last seven years, and she has shown me so much kindness and patience. She would provide constructive feedback while also being encouraging, which is a tough skill to master. After every joint client review meeting, we would recap what went well and what could be improved. After months of doing that, I learned how to focus on what clients cared about and how to structure a meeting effectively, while also gaining confidence.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The Center focuses on holistic Financial Planning, which has become a bit of a generic term through the years, but the original partners, who started over 35 years ago, were pioneers at the time. Although investment management is a key component to financial success and the firm’s business model, we are still committed to looking at a client’s entire financial picture. The firm’s original core desire and purpose was to help others achieve their financial goals with quality advice and service, and this still lives on today. In fact, our first firm value is still “Commitment to the Financial Planning Process.”
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Earlier this year, our firm, like many, switched to primarily working from home during the height of the Covid outbreak and an extreme market downturn. I was part of our firm’s Safety Taskforce, which was assembled to research and provide recommendations for how the firm should safely and thoughtfully move forward with the threat of financial and medical unknowns. In addition to compiling information, this taskforce provided an opportunity for team members to express their concerns, provide input, and actively participate in the firm’s path going forward.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Being a financial planner constantly requires leading others through uncertain times. As Laurie Renchik, who I mentioned earlier, likes to say, “No one has a crystal ball.” 2020 has certainly proved that life is almost always uncertain. What we can control is how we react. Focusing on what I can control has always helped me stay focused on the end goal. In this situation, we knew that our clients were feeling as scared as we were, and we wanted to provide a clear message to ensure both our team and our clients that we could continue to work together effectively and efficiently.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Conveying a consistent and honest message is necessary to guide your team through difficult circumstances.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Try to make time to directly engage with others. Reach out to individuals to show that you care and are invested in them as human beings. It’s also important to maintain normalcy, as much as possible. If your team had a fun tradition or gathering, try to provide that consistency, even if the event needs to be modified. That period of team bonding is so important to creating a positive culture.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Again, being honest is most important. Even if the news is difficult and will negatively affect yourself and the team, be authentic in your delivery. Your team will appreciate the transparency. Difficult messages are never easy, but hiding or avoiding communication will only prolong the issue and create a culture of distrust. If there are any silver linings, be sure to outline those as well!
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Planning for the unpredictable sounds impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. Think ahead and assume there is a 30% reduction in business and revenue, what do you do? How can you stay afloat? Regardless of the catalyst, at least you’ve visualized the plan and gone through the steps, hypothetically. If or when those worst case scenarios do arise, you can then implement that logical plan separate from the emotions that would otherwise take over.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I don’t know that there is a number one principle that is all encompassing for all companies, but I think it’s important for each company to make their own. What is your company’s vision and purpose? If you know that without a doubt, you’ll find your guiding principle.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I’ve seen companies not inform their employees that tough times were on the horizon. Instead of being honest and trying to navigate the issues together, their leaders completely withheld information from their team until layoffs were already in process. This happens all the time, but it doesn’t mean it’s right. Show your team the respect they deserve and grant them the ability to help if able.
I personally have sat through a companywide meeting where a CEO told the team, “I know I’ll be fine, but you probably won’t,” which was an example of tactless and unkind delivery. No one is perfect and we will all look back at some experiences and wish we had handled things differently, but try to display some level of compassion.
Try to give team members a voice and opportunity to be heard. Pushing a message “down” without being open to feedback will create a culture of resentment.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
In a primarily referral based business, we are also focusing on serving clients. Small tokens to show your appreciation for their loyalty can go a long way. It’s also important to remain open to new approaches to old strategies. During this pandemic, we haven’t been able to get out and interact with future clients in person, so we’re pivoting to use technology.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Manage your emotions — Being a leader doesn’t mean that you have a crystal ball or that you know more than others, but it means that they are looking to you for comfort and reassurance. If you appear unnerved and upset, that will only spread amongst your team. This doesn’t mean that you need to be stoic. You can acknowledge uncertainty while also projecting confidence in your message.
- Be Transparent — Be sure that communication is honest and authentic. If you don’t believe your message, neither will your team. Although there are times when we may be asked to deliver a message that doesn’t feel good, think through how you can phrase it so it best fits your personality and beliefs. When you’re being your authentic self, your message is best received.
- Be Consistent — Whatever your message, it should be reiterated throughout by your entire management or leadership team. Nothing is more confusing or frustrating for team than to receive inconsistent feedback during already difficult times. You can make the delivery your own, but the message should be the same.
- Be Accessible — Check-in with others frequently, and be open to their feedback and needs. Be responsive when others reach out, even if you don’t know the answer yet.
- Remain Committed to your vision — A good plan should address the possibility of future unknowns. If yours doesn’t, now is a good time to think through what needs to be implemented to protect the wellbeing of your clients, your team, and your business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote doesn’t mean that the language we use isn’t important or that our actions are meaningless. To me it means that our emotions hold so much value that they cannot be overlooked in the name of logic, profit or any other circumstance. The teams and clients we deal with on a daily basis are fighting their own battles. Keeping that in mind when interacting with others can ground us in humanity, regardless of the uncertainty we are facing.
How can our readers further follow your work?