A commanding approach featuring John Hoffman with Principal Financial Group
Written by John P. Palen for Minnesota Business Magazine November 2013
George Bernard Shaw said that "youth is wasted on the young." Despite their advantages of stamina and mental sharpness, not all young people take full advantage of life's opportunities.
Even if they do, few rise to the level of leadership often found among people in the second half of life. Some would say it takes more than youth to pursue the fast track. It takes sacrifice and boldness and risk.
John Hoffman, 36, is a rare example of those combined traits. As regional managing director of The Principal Financial Group of the Minnesota Business Center in Minnetonka, Hoffman oversees more than 100 independent financial advisors. And he's been doing it since he was 32.
Consistently an exceptional leader and leading one of the top producing offices for The Principal Financial Group, Hoffman's success hinges on a few key beliefs he has followed since starting his career in 2000.
"I soon discovered that I wasn't the best salesperson in the room nor the biggest expert in financial services" Hoffman says. But, he realized, he didn't need to be – he just had to be the best at helping people. Knowing that makes him "one of the most confident people in the room," he says.
He also makes no apologies about the fact that some people may not like him. "I have high expectations of people. They will either get and respect that or they won't. If I do the right things, then people's opinions of me is none of my business."
Hoffman makes no apologies about the fact that some people may not like him. "I have high expectations of people," he says. "They will either get and respect that or they won't. If I do the right things, then people's opinions of me is none of my business."
The "right things" to Hoffman include treating people equally, being respectful to everyone and knowing how to motivate and get the best out of people. When you oversee professionals who are essentially working for themselves, micro-management doesn't fly, he explained. "My role is to serve, support, motivate and challenge them."
When necessary, though, Hoffman pulls no punches. "We have a vision," he says. "If everyone does what's needed to be done to fulfill that vision, then others know we care about them and have their back. When they do not share our plan, vision or results, we have to go our separate ways."
Such a direct approach has come from past experiences of learning when to motivate and trust the results and when to cut losses and move on. The wrong team members can deplete a leader's energy to pursue the vision. "I prefer to come home at the end of each day still full of energy," added Hoffman, who is also a father and a volunteer in business, alumni, church and health care organizations.
So before we paint a picture of an unfeeling workaholic, you should know that Hoffman takes great care to be accessible to his team, to listen and be honest in his dealings. "People have to know you care about them. Leadership and parenting are alike that way. Sometimes it's not about coaching and teaching; it's just about spending time together."
Not all leaders take the direct, commanding approach that Hoffman does. At the end of the day, though, success speaks for itself. And most leaders I know are paid for their results. Admiration can come later when you're older.
Tips for Bold Leadership
- Be bold and direct with expectations, then work harder than your competitors.
- Conserve some energy for yourself at the end of the day.
- Choose people who are self-sufficient and self-motivated and part ways with those who aren't.
- Accept the fact that a percentage of people will not like you. Do the right things to achieve your vision anyway.
- Be available when your team wants face time, and listen.