Jul 01 2022
So, you want to be in a study group
By Elizabeth Diffin
Juli Y. McNeely, CFP, CLU, a 15-year MDRT member from Spencer, Wisconsin, USA
Clay Gillespie, CFP, CIM, a 21-year MDRT member from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Nelson Kenneth Wood, a 12-year MDRT member from Dallas, Texas, USA
An MDRT study group can help your practice go from good to great because you’re collaborating with fellow advisors to share insights, best practices and fellowship. During a December 2020 webinar, several members discussed how they started their groups and what happens at their gatherings.
McNeely: The main reason to join a study group is to find people who will push you, both personally and professionally. When we started our group, we spent a good amount of time trying to figure out a name. We came up with Maia. Maia is the goddess of growth. We are all women, and we wanted to grow. We’ve been together since 2014, and I know I would not be where I’m at today without the help of these four amazing ladies in my life. It’s beyond just business now. It’s deep, long-term friendships. As a financial advisor, I can tell you being in this business is lonely. Knowing that you have a group of people who will be there for you anytime, anywhere, on any topic — there’s nothing like it.
Wood: My dad and I used to joke about a quote turned from its original meaning. “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” I would encourage everybody: Just start. You may not end up right out of the gates in the group you dreamed of, but if you get momentum going, you’ll be surprised at where it’ll take you. Just get out and participate. You’re going to meetings and bumping shoulders with a lot of other advisors who are doing the same thing. Those people are the ones who you want to be in a group with.
We have seven members in our group, and I personally can’t imagine managing a group much larger than that. I think as you look at valuable relationships, you see a common thread between balancing disclosure and feedback, and that’s hard to do with a very large group. So, we’ve sifted down to a group that balances both the appropriate intimacy that we want in those relationships with diversity. We’re not all the same, and we’ll challenge each other.
McNeely: We have five. I don’t think it’s so much about the number as much as it is about connection and personality fit. We’ve had lots of conversations since we started about adding more people. But we’re such a close-knit group now that adding someone would be a disadvantage for the person coming in. If you’re looking to start, ask yourself, What do I really want? Do I want people who look just like me, or do I want to be stretched? For us, we knew we wanted our group to be all female and MDRT members. Our group has affiliated and independent advisors, so that part didn’t matter as much.
Gillespie: The problem with groups is if you don’t get the commitment, then there’s a conflict. If someone sees somebody is not pulling their weight, then they won’t pull their own weight. Never let somebody who is not doing their part slip. Call them out on it. In our group, we expect you there twice a year, and you must have a good reason not to do that. If you don’t want to be part of it, great. You’re not a bad person. You’re just not going to be part of our group. If you have those high standards, people tend to stay committed. It’s when your standards are low, the commitments drop.
McNeely: We have a set agenda for our meetings. It’s an informal one. Each person gets a certain amount of time and if we’re talking for a 1 ½ to 2 hours, we divide it up, so no one dominates the conversation. A member talks about what’s going on. Then we review their goals; we brainstorm and hold them accountable. If there’s a speaker, then that obviously takes a little bit of our meeting time. We typically don’t have speakers unless we’re in person, and those meetings have a more formal agenda. We include some fun in there, so it’s kind of a social/work agenda when we get together in person.
Gillespie: Our agenda is sent out in advance, so everybody knows what they have to prepare for and what the expectations are for the meeting. If we didn’t have an agenda, then we’d just sit there and talk. I think an agenda is important to make sure that you don’t waste time. Common topics at our meetings are what’s working well both professionally and personally, and what’s not working well. It’s kind of like taking a temperature. Each meeting is a bit different based upon what the host has decided, but usually the check-in both professionally and personally is at the start.
McNeely: Besides the friendships, probably the very best benefit I’ve gotten out of our meetings came from another study group member who brought the book “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential.” We started to talk about it and agreed to write a growth plan for 2020. That was before we knew COVID was going to be such a crazy time in our lives. We listed all the Whole Person categories and the areas that we wanted to grow in over the course of the year in all aspects of our lives, not just work. It was perfect timing to do that because our worlds have been completely flipped by the pandemic. I brought that concept back to my staff, and they wrote their own growth plans. It ended up being an incredible exercise that allowed us to be more united as a study group and as a staff.