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​by David F. Smith, Ph.D., CFP®

Getting the right work done the right way is crucial to every financial planning practice—and it requires teamwork. A practice leader, office manager, or lead planner who builds a high-quality social exchange relationship with each team member individually will benefit from having high-performing individuals and a high-performing team.

Leadership studies show that teamwork relies on the one-on-one relationship between the team leader and each team member individually.1 The social exchange relationship between a leader and an individual member is foundational to building the trust, communication, and rapport for effective teamwork. Effective teamwork results in team members accomplishing the tasks agreed on with their leader. These tasks might include getting financial plans done on time, ordering supplies as needed, and scheduling client meetings.

This article focuses on inclusion, a specific leader behavior that Five Star Leadership®2 finds positively associated with high-quality social exchange relationships with individual team members.

A leader has a choice on how they work with team members. When a leader needs a complex task completed, he or she could tell a team member what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and how high to jump. Alternatively, the leader could exhibit inclusion by simply including the team member in the planning. This inclusion need not be an in-depth discussion, although it can be if appropriate. Here’s an example using a fictional leader and team member to help clarify what inclusion looks like:

Cassidy Markowitz, CFP®, (not a real person) is the lead planner and the managing partner of a five-planner firm. The firm includes the normal retinue of employees, including junior planner Terry Jamison, MBA (also fictional). Terry needs no instruction on planning duties having been in the firm learning the ropes for five years. Cassidy, however, needs something new completed—a review of new planning software made available by a change in their RIA compliance rules.

Cassidy doesn’t have time to review the three new offerings, and a decision for the firm to stay with what they are using or make a change is important. Cassidy needs data to inform the discussion with the other partners, and decides that Terry has the skill set to review the three software packages and prepare a report.

Cassidy has a choice: assign this to Terry with a detailed “what and how to do” memo, or a broad “this is what we need, please have it on my desk by the end of the month” email. Although potentially effective, neither of these methods use inclusion—they do nothing to build a high-quality relationship.

To use the inclusion behavior, Cassidy should behave inclusively in these three areas: (1) defining the task; (2) ensuring resources; and (3) delegation of responsibility and authority.

Defining the Task

Defining the task, including what is needed and why, would have Cassidy dropping by Terry’s office to discuss the main goal: deciding on what software to use going forward. Cassidy would ensure that through this discussion Terry understands what the result would be and the importance, thus getting “buy-in” from Terry. Cassidy would consciously keep the discussion open and productive by asking for authentically desired input on what Terry could do to help achieve this goal.

This inclusive discussion ensures Cassidy is made aware of potential challenges to getting the job done. As a matter of fact, in this case, Terry reminded Cassidy of an upcoming vacation that could affect the timing of the report. Inclusive discussion defining the task builds a common understanding of the scope and importance of the task the leader needs completing. This is an essential part of the trust relationship—participating in decisions that affect the team member.

Ensuring Resources

Ensuring resources so the team member is confident of success includes ensuring time to get the task completed before the upcoming vacation. Cassidy continues including Terry in the decision-making by asking Terry how long it might take to complete the work; Cassidy listens, responds, and discusses options and ideas. They agree that it could be done before the vacation provided Terry could get some time carved out during the next two weeks. Terry wondered whether comp time would be allowed if weekend work was needed. In this example, time is the main resource to be planned for, but all resources should be discussed in an inclusive manner.

The inclusive discussion about resources continues to build the trust that the work can and will be done, and the confidence that comes from helping a team member feel important to the goal. Note that Terry implemented a member behavior by asking for something important (comp time) that the leader could provide; teamwork is not just a one-sided affair.

Delegation of Responsibility and Authority

Delegation may be one of the most misunderstood topics in leadership. One reaction of leaders when asked about delegation is along the lines of, “That’s letting the inmates run the prison.” Another common reaction is, “How can I trust the work to get done?” These statements are evidence of dysfunctional teamwork. Functional teamwork would never equate team members with inmates, and functional leaders understand there is a broad range of delegation to manage and that is their responsibility.

Cassidy and Terry have agreed on the goal and resources to get a great review done in time for the next partnership meeting. Cassidy inclusively discusses with Terry what authority is needed for Terry to complete the report. Terry responds, “I need to be able to get help running the same plan on three platforms if I need it.” Cassidy assures Terry that at the next day’s staff meeting there will be a discussion of the goal, the importance of that goal, and that Terry is in charge and may need to call on others for help. Cassidy will ensure that this is understood and check with the rest of the team to see if all is fine. Cassidy’s assurance and follow-through on this lets Terry know that delegation of responsibility and authority will be communicated and be understood by those who might have to help. People generally enjoy the empowerment that delegation provides. This inclusive method of communicating builds the trust relationship between leader and member.


Inclusion, if consciously and authentically implemented, is associated with effective teamwork. Practice leaders, office managers, and other team leaders have work that they need to get done; they rely on others to help accomplish those tasks to meet goals. Through inclusive behavior, the goals get better definition, resources are used correctly, leaders gain valuable time for themselves as they are relieved of some duties through delegation, and the work gets done as desired.

This inclusive behavior is just one of several behaviors leaders and members can consciously implement to build the one-on-one team relationship between the leader and team member that creates the high-quality trust and confidence that is carried over to all the tasks that need to get done together.


  1. For a good understanding of leadership research, see Leadership in Organizations, eighth edition, by Gary Yukl (2012, Pearson)
  2. Five Star Leadership is run by the Oahu Adventures Foundation Inc. (, a non-profit that supports activities that promote leadership training for several audiences.

David F. Smith, Ph.D., CFP®, has been involved in financial planning for 38 years. For the past eight years, he has also been the non-paid director of research for Five Star Leadership®, a behavioral-based leadership development and coaching platform run by the non-profit Oahu Adventures Foundation Inc. (

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