Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rewarded for Your Wisdom: The Calling of the Master Planner


I’m an aficionado of great planning. I love to observe exceptional planners in action, and I am awed and enchanted by them.               

In my work, I meet planners in lots of different specialties — financial planners, estate planners, philanthropic planners, business planners, and others. I’ve learned that certain things are true about planners, regardless of their specialty.               

I’ve learned that planners come in three levels: apprentice, journeyman, and master.

Apprentice planners are still learning the ropes. They’re trying to get all the rules, regulations, techniques, and explanations down. They are self-conscious and sometimes insecure. They worry about being “found out” as a neophyte. Generally, with sufficient time and experience, they’ll progress to journeyman status.               

Journeyman planners have passed through the learning curve. They know the ropes; they’ve learned the rules, regulations, techniques, and explanations. They keep up to date with current developments and they produce good plans. Their work product and their work style are completely adequate.               

Most planners with a few years of experience move from apprentice status into the journeyman category. But most never move beyond being a journeyman. Only a few become what I call “Master Planners.”               

What distinguishes Master Planners from experienced, solid journeyman planners who never blossom into Master Planners?               

Master Planners have wonderful command of planning tools and techniques, but so do many experienced journeyman planners. They tend to have many years of experience, but the same is true for others who have not achieved Master Planner status, and perhaps never will. They enjoy their work, but so do apprentices and journeymen. These are not what set this elite group apart.               

In my view, Master Planners possess three unique abilities and they understand and apply five profound principles. Some journeyman planners have some of these skills but not all of them or not much of them. It is this rare combination of talents and principles, blended in graceful harmony, that produces Master Planners.               

First, Master Planners have the ability to connect quickly and deeply with clients and donors. They can sit down in a business context with someone they’ve never met and within five minutes the client or donor is pouring out their heart to them. The client or donor feels an almost immediate sense of trust and understanding. The client or donor feels that they are truly being heard, perhaps for the first time by a planning professional. Because of this ability, Master Planners learn more about their clients and donors than journeyman planners ever do.               

Second, Master Planners have the ability to see the future. I’m not talking about crystal balls and tarot cards. I’m referring to the Master Planner’s gift for taking in a family situation, the current state of planning, a business or set of assets, and combining that information with their understanding of human nature and family dynamics, and knowing, literally knowing, how that scenario will ultimately play out. It’s not that they’ve seen it before — often they have not — but they perceive things their journeyman colleagues do not, and they identify as significant certain human details that lesser planners gloss over. With that clear view of the future, they are ready to move forward.               

Third, Master Planners create structures and processes that change the course of the future for the donor or the client or the client’s family or business. Having seen the future, they are prepared to re-write it. They understand the levers of transformation and how to pull them so that outcomes many months and years down the road are changed for the better. They “get” how legal, financial, philanthropic and business tools and techniques operate in the real world with real people. As a result, they orchestrate elegant and effective solutions that work today and well into the future. Their plans are indeed masterpieces, works of art.               

In addition to these three unique abilities, Master Planners understand five critical and powerful principles and how to apply them in their work.               

Master Planners understand that, above all, they deliver wisdom. In a world awash with data and in the era of the “information superhighway” and the “knowledge worker,” Master Planners recognize, in the words of Proverbs, that wisdom is more precious than rubies. They know that wisdom, the ability to apply knowledge and information with discernment and discretion, is that which sets them apart and for which they should be most abundantly compensated. They structure their business so they are in fact rewarded for their wisdom.               

Master Planners understand that they operate in the fifth economy, the transformation economy. They know they are in the business of changing lives. They do not deal primarily in commodities, goods, services, or even experiences, although these are necessarily ingredients of what they do. Master Planners understand that, however their task has been described, they have in fact been hired to be a catalyst for changing people and producing lasting human improvements. Their professional offerings are presented so as to reflect this significant insight.               

Master Planners understand that their most important professional skill is the ability to listen. They practice — or perhaps better said, they embody — transformational listening. Transformational listening goes beyond listening with the physical ears; it is listening with ears of discernment. Transformational listening is not a set of techniques; it is a way of being with another person. It is not based on some clever approach or device; it is based on the deep-down way Master Planners see themselves and others.               

Master Planners understand the art of planning as well as the science. Like Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, once they learn to count and they learn the steps, Master Planners begin to feel the rhythm of planning in their bones. They know instinctively how to move to the music. They have a sense of how things could be done that goes beyond what others taught them. They take their craft beyond great to amazing.               

Master Planners understand that collaboration is essential to their success. Regardless of the skill of the lone violinist, the greatest symphonic composition in the world is incomplete and unfulfilling without the rest of the orchestra. Master Planners are team players, not prima donnas. They are so comfortable in their own roles that they are neither jealous of nor intimidated by the talents of others. They enjoy bringing other world-class talent to the stage for the benefit of their clients and donors.               

This rare combination — three unique abilities together with five profound understandings — is the constellation that produces Master Planners. When the stars align in this way, the result for clients and donors is planning that addresses the deepest and most significant issues in their lives and hearts. It addresses their deepest fears and worries and brings into reality their most important hopes and dreams.               

For Master Planners, the result is the rare joy and fulfillment from comes from discovering the gifts that make them come alive and then employing those gifts to serve mankind. It is doing what they were put on this earth to do. This is the calling of the Master Planner.

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