Our nation’s beloved poet, now among the immortals, was Maya Angelou. Recently, I stumbled on one of her exquisite sentences: “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” Are your clients a priority or an option? What would they say about you? And, most importantly, how do we engage the client relationship art form so advisor and client become a priority with each other?

At the very least, making others a priority demands that we first value ourselves as individuals of worth. I have begun reading Jordan Peterson’s new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. This former Harvard and now University of Toronto professor has as his second rule “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” With deft insight, he notes that the majority of human beings treat their dogs and cats better than they treat themselves. His research suggests less than half of men and women given a prescription by their physician will either have the script filled or, if filled, take the prescribed dosage. Whereas the majority of us fill and make sure our pets receive all the medication prescribed by the Vet. Really?

It is impossible for us to place priority on others unless we first love and care for ourselves. Poor diet, lack of exercise, dangerous sleep habits, toxic friendships, and lack of self-esteem are but a few of the poisons we take while attempting to counsel others on right living and wise money management. In a word, the message becomes a heard “option” rather than the client feeling he or she is a priority. How can we expect others to take us seriously when we don’t take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual health?

Second, others become a priority when we place the relationship above a business recommendation or decision. With the rise of AI and model-driven platforms in all areas of commerce, advisors must re-visit the value they bring to the table. If all we have are ideas, void of deep, personal, and warm connections to those we serve, clients will soon begin to ask what barriers exist to take their business to a non-relating, algorithmic machine. They may one day do so because we conveyed to them by our behavior the relationship was not that important.

Instead, make the human connection to prospects and clients priority and see them open to recommendations because how we act reveals to them how valuable they are. Start with learning their story. Make notes, ask questions seasoned with warm curiosity, and give your heart permission to feel the emotions tumbling out of their narratives. When you make a presentation, infuse your data with snippets from the stories they have told you. Like a beautiful tapestry, keep knitting into every conversation those moments from their past that touched you deeply.

The day is fast approaching when we will cease to be—if we ever were—the priority to those with whom we have worked if our sole focus has been about us, how smart we are, and the products we have to offer. You can delay, defer, and ultimately wipe such a day from the future by starting now, today, with the next client visit, to make the others who sit with you priority knowing they have so many other options. I don’t know about you, but I want my clients to see me as a priority because they believe I know and care about their lives, their dreams, and their stories. When you inject that way of relating to others, you will become their priority in an ever-crowded sea of soul-less options. Thank you Maya Angelou: Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”


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