My beloved father-in-law passed away last week. 20 years ago I left the “security” of Fortune 500 ladder climbing with ambition to start my own investment advisory firm. My father-in-law asked a lot about my plans at the time and I’ll always remember a particular bit of his wisdom: “The most critical skill of any entrepreneur is the ability to get people to talk to you.”
At the time I believed him to mean that selling yourself and accumulating client relationships depended on securing someone’s attention for the benefit of the “pitch”. But now 20 years in, I understand the much deeper truth that the hinge around which real value swings is the extent to which you can foster meaningful conversations about things that other people value most. My own parents have this skill and delight in the thoughts of other people, and my father-in-law was the master of skillfully curious conversation.
So it’s no wonder I’m attracted to purposeful dialogue. At different times over the last 20 years I’ve had a foot in either the risk or investment management professions and I don’t particularly find them any different from each other. No matter the subject, intimacy comes on the other side of vulnerability and being a good developer and steward of vulnerability is a skill more than a proclivity. And it’s a skill at which I’m committed to constantly work. I’ve found greater success and greater satisfaction pursuing client feedback like, “I’m so glad we talked about that”, and “I’m happy you’re in our lives” than counting the number of clients I have.
So in tribute to my father-in-law, I’ll say thank you for the truth, and you were right.