What motivates a good financial advisor?

Jon Shuman

By Jon Shuman
Jon Shuman is leader of the workplace insurance sales team for MassMutual.
Posted on Aug 29, 2018

What motivates us to get out of bed every morning and pursue goals is different for each of us.

But understanding and harnessing that motivation is the key to success, especially when it comes to sales or other goal-driven professions.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the seminal work about human motivation that is widely used to measure and describe why humans do what they do, held that “self-actualization” or the attainment of our highest possibilities1, drives most of us, especially the most successful. But self-actualization can only take place, the theory reasons, if other more basic needs as described by Maslow’s “pyramid” or hierarchy of needs are first met.

Self-actualization is all around us. We witness sports heroes win championships, politicians attain high office, CEOs generate record earnings and leaders of charities help thousands and even millions of people in need. For other, less public people, self-actualization could be finally buying the house of our dreams, securing a long-sought promotion, recognition for professional skills, or even the satisfaction of seeing our children and loved ones realize their dreams.

Many people attain the top of Maslow’s pyramid or hierarchy of needs simply because they are afraid not to. These people – many of them in sales – are afraid to fail and do everything in their power to avoid that fate. They seem to be always running to stay ahead of an invisible bogeyman chasing them. That bogeyman is failure.

I once heard a highly successful sales professional say he woke up every morning and started the day as if he had a zero balance bank account. This person maintained a very high standard of living and was probably not exaggerating much about his personal financial situation. He needed to work hard every day just to keep up with his credit card bills.

Should this approach to personal finances – even if it ultimately leads to success – be emulated? Definitely not. But it was an example of the fear of failure. Because this person needed to continually generate lots of sales – and with it lots of income – to continue to pay for his lifestyle. The fear of failure was really a fear of bankruptcy.

For other people, fear of failure is much more basic. Failing at any task can lead to a loss of self-esteem and with it, a loss of identity. These people see themselves as being successful and will do anything within reason to make sure they become and remain so. These people are often the most competitive around us.

Conversely, there are people who are afraid of success. For some reason, they think themselves unworthy or lacking in ability to reach the top. Perhaps they fear an inability to continue that success. Or they are uncomfortable with the pressure associated with not only becoming but remaining successful.

We all know or have known people who we believe are more capable of attaining higher goals, of achieving more or having the talent to be a leader. And yet, something keeps those people from their own self-actualization, from becoming what we perceive as their true selves.

The fear of success can be a huge stumbling block for many, especially salespeople. That fear may prevent them from taking chances, reaching higher or breaking out of their comfort zone.

From a practice management perspective, it’s important to know who you are and to surround yourself with complementary people to help overcome gaps and help meet your full potential. For instance, if you associate with successful people, then it can be reasoned that you are more likely to assume the habits that help make these people successful. Learn what makes them tick, why they do what they do.

Also, having people in your life who support your goals and aspirations is critical. Some believe that you cannot become your true self or realize your dreams unless others in your life share those dreams too. You need others to help you attain your true or self-actualized self.

Motivation is highly personal and sometimes elusive. But knowing and understanding what truly motivates you is a big step in the right direction to becoming or remaining successful. Tap your inner hierarchy of needs and determine your true self. Then – and only then – will you be ready to achieve your destiny.



1  Abraham Maslow, "A Theory of Human Motivation," July 1943.