Management 101 Revealed at Downton Abbey

When I first heard the buzz about “Downton Abbey,” a popular Masterpiece Theatre series, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Then I watched it–and watched it some more. Now I can’t wait until the stroke of midnight following the show on Sunday night because on Monday, it’s available online on PBS (we don’t have cable). For a while I was so smitten with the series that I tried to get my family to call me “M’Lady.” Alas, to no avail.

I’m not the only one who studies the show from another perspective, observing the relationships between the upstairs and downstairs characters for their lessons in leadership. Mark McKenna Little, a financial advisor who blogs regularly at “Mark McKenna Little’s Advisor PACT (TM) Blog” has written an insightful post “The Downton Abbey Service Model for Trusted Advisors.” In it, he confesses his own addiction to the series and profiles the people on the estate as employees within an organization which, in essence, they are. He also highlights a phrase that had caught my own ear after watching the show consistently: the staff, including the maids, the butlers, the footmen and valets, describe themselves as “in service.” That’s their vocation, their calling–to be “in service” to the aristocracy. With some exceptions (the nefarious Thomas comes to mind), the downstairs characters are dedicated to serving the Crawley family with commitment and devotion. Mr. McKenna Little delightfully dubs the domestic service staff “The Deliverables Team” and, indeed, that is their mission: to deliver. Whether it’s an elaborate picnic in the woods or the nightly meal with all its courses, the domestic staff/Deliverables Team are behind the scenes, making it all happen at the ring of a bell.

Mr. McKenna Little and I agree that those of us in the professional services field–financial advising, speaking, coaching, or any other type of service business–would do well to follow this Downton Abbey Service Model. The model as described in his blogpost delineates the keys to its success: an accepted team leader, process, high standards and accountability, integrity and, most importantly, an overriding theme that says “I’ll take care of it, M’Lord.” That last principle, the not-to-worry-I’ve-got-it-handled message, is summed up by Mr. McKenna Little as a single, overriding success principle: “Service is an attitude, not a process.”

Recently I spoke in Phoenix to the Summit Study Group, a collection of talented wealth management advisors who have formed a mastermind group to share best practices and hold each other accountable for their success. My topic? “The Joys of Strategic Planning.”  Many of these accomplished professionals already have some sort of plan in place and for some it was a new model. I outlined the simple model I use, emphasizing that all good plans start with a mission and a goal: To be of serviceFor financial planners, it may be to help their clients build the wealth that will give them financial freedom. For a speaker, it may be to inspire and motivate her audience to action so they can have a life they love. And for a coach, it’s providing the structure and support for clients to accomplish their own big dreams. At the heart of any professional services business is the goal to make a difference. And we can only do this by being “in service.”

I’ll watch “Downton Abbey” with a new eye, thanks to Mr. McKenna Little and his perspective of the Deliverables Team. And instead of feeling a wave of pity for those who appear to be indentured servants, I’ll think about my own service attitude and how that applies to my relationship with my clients. I’ll practice the art of making it all happen, meeting my clients’ expectations with that aura of effortless ease managed by the Deliverables Team.

Now, if I can just get my family to address me as “M’Lady.”

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