Exemplify humbleness: All leaders should exemplify the art of being humble. The concept of humility is huge for me. I don’t care if it’s a team member here at the firm, one of the partners, or senior financial planners, one of the operations people, or one of the younger staff members that work at the front desk, or if it’s the people that clean our space every night after we leave so that we can show up the next day and have a beautifully clean and pristine spot to work again, or if it’s the construction crew that helped us build out this space that we would meet with every week to make sure things were on track and correct; I want to honor and acknowledge every single team member at the firm and every service provider of the firm and let them know that what they’re doing is important and that it makes a difference. To me a definition of humility is to always remain teachable and take none of our success for granted.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Keen.

Bill Keen has a passion for helping others achieve their retirement dreams and founded Keen Wealth Advisors with this goal in mind. Bill’s vision is to build one of the country’s most trusted retirement advisory firms, acting at all times in the best interests of clients. Bill and his team work with an array of clients from all walks of life. They also specialize in advising those within the engineering community on issues related to ESOPs, employee compensation, taxes, and benefits planning.

Bill has nearly three decades of experience advising clients. His interest in finance was sparked by the financial hardship he experienced in his childhood. By age 10, Bill knew he would need to learn about saving and investing in order to eventually help his family. He opened his first investment account in high school. Today, he and his team members treat all clients like family members. They understand first-hand the importance of planning for one’s financial future.

Bill shares his wisdom and experience in his bestselling book, Keen on Retirement — Engineering the Second Half of Your Life, which is available on Amazon.com. He also co-hosts a regular podcast series, Keen on Retirement, in which he shares his insight on current issues related to retirement planning and investing. He has been featured in national media outlets such as U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Forbes, and Yahoo! Finance.

Bill has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Central Missouri. He has lectured on investing at the University of Missouri Bloch School of Business graduate program, and at several corporations in the Kansas City area.

An avid aviator, Bill is a volunteer pilot and serves on the board for Angel Flight Central, a non-profit that assists those in need by arranging flights for healthcare and other humanitarian purposes. He is an instrument-rated private pilot and carries the high performance, high altitude and complex endorsements. He is a member of the Malibu/M-Class Owner and Pilots Association and regularly flies his Piper Meridian to destinations across the country.

Bill has served on the board of the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, which helps children with visual impairments reach their highest potential. He has also been involved with the Boys and Girls Club of America, Family Conservancy, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Camp Quality Kansas, Camp Quality Missouri, The Veterans Community Project, Make-A-Wish, The Grooming Project, Exodus Cry, Kansas District Optimists, and the Aircraft Pilots and Owners Association.

As a cycling enthusiast, Bill is also a supporter of the cycling community and Keen Wealth Advisors serves as the title sponsor for the Big D Cycling team. The team competes throughout the U.S. and participates in bicycle rodeos to conduct helmet fittings and bicycle repair for children. In 2013, along with The Kansas Cycling Association (KCA), The Keen Wealth Cup was created as an annual recognition of the top KCA team, as well as an opportunity to support junior racing in the state of Kansas.

Bill and his wife, Carissa, enjoy the outdoors and the joys that come from having a blended family of five children.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

We recently signed a 10-year lease and moved into our new 20,000 square foot office space, taking over the entire 10th floor in a beautiful building in Overland Park, Kansas. There are windows everywhere with a great view of the Kansas City area. I’m excited about it because it allows us to grow even more — which means we can serve more people with our special blend of retirement planning and investment management. We currently have 24 team members and have room for up to 80. Our new space has seven conference rooms, a client education and staff training center, a central kitchen and congregation area, a mother’s room, and a video/podcast recording space.

My favorite part about it is the ability to hold community events in our training space. We recently held a Valentine’s Day lunch for widows and widowers. We know that these clients, in particular, can be prone to depression, so we like to do something to ensure it’s a good day for them. This year our special guest was the person behind the Kansas City Chief’s wolf mascot, Dan Meers, who has been KC Wolf for over 30 years. Dan shared his story about when he fell off a guidewire and almost died in the mascot uniform. His story is about living life to the fullest. He came in to join us for this special gathering just a few days after the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, so there was a lot of excitement.

We also have a huge open house coming up in May which everyone is invited to attend. If it’s anything like our Holiday Open House in December, it will be quite a gathering; in December we had over 400 current and prospective clients, friends, family and staff members in attendance. We enjoyed beautiful music by a professional harpist, a scrumptious brunch buffet, a holiday photo booth, and a lot of great conversation — plus everyone took home an signed copy of my book, Keen on Retirement.

I’m very excited to see our team grow and how we will be strengthening our community over the next few years.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

There’s a consultant in the financial services industry named Nick Murray. He’s wrote the books The Excellent Investment Advisor and The New Financial Advisor. He’s been around for 50 years in our business and is probably in his early 80s now. I read The Excellent Investment Advisor back in the late 90s. I still subscribe to his newsletter.

He is great at making the point that it’s not about points on a chart, it’s about places in the heart with clients and getting to know clients personally and intimately, really understanding what their great goals of life are and not just the investments.

It’s funny because here, all these years later, my book is out in second edition and I talk about how the investments are the engine to the retirement plan so the plan itself has the objective — the intention and the vision — of a client’s life and then the technical execution of the plan, with respect to taxes, spending, insurance, estate planning, and the things that you have to make sure are all in alignment, those are very important, but the investments, the actual investments are simply just there, simply the engine to the plan.

The focus then is not the investments. Don’t get me wrong, the investments need to perform, of course; they have to do what you expect them to do within the risk parameters that you’ve set the portfolios up for, but you can’t skip that process of knowing your clients, knowing how they arrived at where they are today, knowing their family history, their values, what’s important to them, what they’d like their life to look like in the future — all those things are important.

You can’t skip that “places in the heart” part because a good financial plan is formulated on that. Many in our industry just have a product pitch — here’s this stock, here’s this mutual fund, here’s this insurance policy, here’s this annuity or REIT — and they forget the first part, and that was what Nick Murray helped me understand early is that this business isn’t about transactions, it’s about relationships.

There are real people on the other side of a financial plan — their lives, desires, goals, excitements, the tough stuff, the good stuff — and it’s a privilege to create that financial plan. It goes far beyond just the numbers and the investments — that is the kind of thing that Nick still talks about today. He reminds us that there are different types of clients and to be disciplined about who you accept as clients. At Keen Wealth, we do not accept everybody that appears at our door. We work with people who share similar values, and we don’t deviate from that. We work with people who want to partner with us, to do their part, to collectively help them get to their destination.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

The biggest mistake I’ve made as a leader would be not trusting the next generation soon enough, failing to delegate with authority soon enough, and trying to hold on to things too long.

I’ve learned that there are highly capable people out there. I’m able to delegate so many of the firm’s initiatives and objectives to the highly qualified people on our team. What I found is in a majority of the cases, there are people that handle the initiatives better than I would, so I’m not delegating down, I’m actually delegating up.

To that point, Matt Wilson, who is the President of the firm, has things running so well that the firm essentially runs, from an operational standpoint, without me present.

We all have our unique abilities, the things that really bring us energy. We talk about working with people who bring us energy, and we should also apply that same concept to initiatives or objectives that bring us energy and those that weigh us down. The things that bring me energy are going to be what I do here at the firm, which is to protect our culture and generate the strategic vision. I get to do those and delegate the things that don’t bring me energy to people that do get energy from those things. That’s huge for any business to understand. You’re not trying to get out of work. You shouldn’t feel guilty about delegating.

I think falling into the trap of feeling guilty about delegating things, feeling guilty about “getting out” of the things that are going to bring you down, and only doing the “fun” stuff, well, that’s fuzzy logic. It’s weird we would feel guilty about that but so many do until they can get their mind around that concept.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

My definition of leadership changed when I realized I shouldn’t feel guilty about delegating to people that are completely capable of handling the initiative. Empowering those around you to succeed in their objectives is a sign of a true leader.

Ensuring that I’m adding energy, verses taking it, is how I measure my leadership. If I’m not adding energy to the project, I will step aside and allow those that do add energy to do their part.

I started my firm with just four employees. Over the last eight years we’ve grown by over 20% year-over-year. The key to making that happen was to get out of my own way.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

The legacy leadership behavior that I stopped was the micromanagement I mentioned. If you have the right people, the right team members, with the proper cadence of communication, and there’s an accountability process in place, it’s my job to stay out of their way. Then I can stop thinking that I’m not doing my job if I’m not nursing them along. I trust my team to manage the details; they let me know if they need me for anything.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

There’s a term out there called “servant leadership” which means that you prioritize serving the greater good.

I want to honor them for that, and I want to exude my gratitude. I’m going to honor each person and let them know that “I know you might not think this, but what you’re doing right now has a ripple effect to allow the team to come in and do what we do and it’s priceless to us.” Honoring people from where they’re at, demonstrating that to the rest of the team, and maintaining that humility around what we do is super important.

Another way that we make sure those around us feel valued is to treat each interaction with the importance it deserves. We meet with a lot of people. There are weeks where we have 40 meetings on the calendar and I just continue to tell my team that each person with whom they meet, whether it’s virtual or in person, even if its their 18th meeting this week, remember that to the other person this meeting is important. Clients may have had one or two meetings this past year so, to them, it means a lot.

It’s a privilege for us to interact with our clients. It’s a privilege for me to interact with every single one of my team members, too. It is a privilege to be a part of their lives and it’s a privilege to be a part of our client’s lives. It’s a privilege to be able to work with the people that clean our office space. If I look at it this way, I realized the world does not center around me. I’m a grain of sand on the beach of this world.

So even though my name is on the wall, I hope that when our team sees me interacting with everyone, they will know that I’m not some uppity guy who is going to walk around the corner to avoid them altogether, but instead I am someone who values everyone and the role they play in our success.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

Anyone who’s stuck in bad habits or patterns would be wise to utilize peer groups. We will rise or fall to the level of our peer groups, so no matter what it costs — money, time, brain power — figure out how be involved with a quality peer group — one that will raise your standards and expand your thinking. If you do that, without question, you will be better off. If you’re on an island by yourself, you’ll likely hit ceilings of complexity that you are not able to think your way out of or want to even think your way out of; but maybe there’s a way to do things differently. When you put yourself around quality peers you can constantly expand your skills and abilities. This is a lifetime job because as you grow, you’re going to be constantly needing to improve and upgrade your peer groups.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

The advice I would offer to new and emerging leaders is to understand what your vision is, believe in it, and regularly communicate your collective vision of the enterprise. You must know where you’re headed and competently and confidently communicate all the time. You must walk the walk and as you look toward for the answers. Adopt the thinking that there is no problem we cannot solve.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

Leaders need to exemplify vision, credibility, capability, competence and humbleness.

  1. Exemplify vision: A leader with a vision sees into the future while remaining in the present. Here at Keen Wealth, we have a long-term vision to build one of the country’s most trusted retirement advisory firms. It’s my job as the leader to ensure that everyone on our team understands the vision and direction the company is going. We recently built out our new 20,000 square foot space to accommodate many more team members than we employ today. And some may say, “what a waste, all those empty offices.” But when I look at those open spaces, I see the opportunities that they offer. We plan to add new skilled advisors and team members in all departments who share our values to always put the client first. We have a very intentional timeline for those adds. Additionally, we did not want to be in a position to have to move again in five years because, wouldn’t it be great if it turned out that we were thinking too small today. We recently endowed a scholarship to the Kansas State University financial planning department. This is in addition to the robust internship program that we offer to students each year. We are looking toward the future to help ensure longevity of quality, fiduciary services within the investment and financial planning industry.
  2. Exemplify credibility: Credibility is one of those traits that is earned. Our reaction to the pandemic is a perfect example of our credibility. Everyone was looking to the company leadership about what was happening with the markets, our lives, health, and our business, and we stayed steady as things played out. We carried on — we did town hall meetings every week with clients and the team. We stayed rock solid because we knew it would eventually pass. We stayed calm and therefore our staff and clients stayed as calm as possible as well. Even better, we were proactive in hiring and harnessing opportunities for our clients during the down market. And finally, we launched on a plan to triple our physical footprint as we secured the contract for our new space. Our leadership team was able to set the intention that we would carry on despite everything else going on. Our steadfast cadence showed our clients that they could trust us to handle things during turbulent times and we did it with patience and with the understanding that everyone was experiencing the world differently at that time.
  3. Exemplify capability: Leadership capability is to know who you are and what you want to achieve. I decided later in life to fulfill my dream of flying an airplane. I’m now an instrument-rated private pilot and carry the high performance, high altitude and complex endorsements. I am also a volunteer pilot and serve on the board for Angel Flight Central, a non-profit that assists those in need by arranging free flights for healthcare and other humanitarian purposes. Learning to fly was something I knew I had to do and with that skill I’ve also impacted the lives of many through my time helping those through Angel Flight Central. Another key to demonstrating capability is acting out one of our core values: Always Growing and Learning. We seek out the best consultants, coaches, mentors, and peer groups to continually raise our standards and to stay out ahead of the rapidly changing economic and business environment. You cannot take others farther along than you have travelled, and we attract and retain clients and top-notch team members by continuing to grow our capabilities personally and at the leadership team level which flows down to those we serve and employ.
  4. Exemplify competence: Leaders must show they are competent if they are going to have a successful team. Throughout my book I relate the seriousness of flight planning and the execution of a safe flight operation to financial planning and navigating the path across a lifetime. I write about navigating turbulence and trusting your instruments in tough conditions. Leaders know to trust their instruments. At Keen Wealth we use the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS), which keeps us all on track. This people operating system helps to harness the energy through a simple set of tools and principles. It reduces everyone’s stress and allows us to keep each other accountable. Another key here is to be a thought leader in your industry. Through my multiple books being published to our long running podcast, monthly webinars and live events, along with our community involvement, we demonstrate clarity, confidence and competence to those that want to work for and with our firm.
  5. Exemplify humbleness: All leaders should exemplify the art of being humble. The concept of humility is huge for me. I don’t care if it’s a team member here at the firm, one of the partners, or senior financial planners, one of the operations people, or one of the younger staff members that work at the front desk, or if it’s the people that clean our space every night after we leave so that we can show up the next day and have a beautifully clean and pristine spot to work again, or if it’s the construction crew that helped us build out this space that we would meet with every week to make sure things were on track and correct; I want to honor and acknowledge every single team member at the firm and every service provider of the firm and let them know that what they’re doing is important and that it makes a difference. To me a definition of humility is to always remain teachable and take none of our success for granted. Another core value at Keen Wealth is being Humbly Confident — we know our craft but are always respectful and humble. We are real people that care deeply for our clients and each other.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I have a morning routine which is to put something in my mind, before I let the outside world in, that is uplifting spiritually. Before I let news, emails, texts, or any social feeds come in on my phone, I go through my spiritual practice.

I created a gratitude list many years ago where I write five things that I’m grateful for every single morning. In the process of that I usually read some spiritual literature and then I’ll note the five things in my phone. I can go back then and scroll through and see years of gratitude captures. So, on days I’m not feeling so well I go to my phone, and I’ve got years of gratitude captured to serve as a great reminder of the masterpiece I’m working on over the course of my lifetime. I can see back, for instance, 18 months ago that I had that test that was coming up and I passed the test and I remember how I felt after I passed that test; it was so good. I take a moment to remember that experience and how it felt.

We’re really good as humans at resenting and resending anger. We are not always very good at generating and projecting gratitude and happy thoughts. So sometimes you must force yourself through with little tricks and gimmicks. I’ve created this morning routine as a habit and now I’ve got to do it every morning. I get to recall what I’m grateful for and realize the practice of that spiritual movement.

I find that when we start from a place of gratitude, the circumstances will seem different than if you don’t start there. Gratitude helps you experience the world completely different. This is how I maintain a healthy spirit.

I also like to start my day on the treadmill or an exercise machine and that helps me to start off in the right mindset.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

The legacy I aspire to leave as a leader is one of service and generosity. I hope people will say “he was generous, he was kind, he always took the high road.”

I strive to be of service and to make a positive impact on the lives of our clients our staff, and in the community — really, everyone we meet. We hope that our work — whether it be the books and special guide booklets, podcast and video episodes, webinars and in-person financial literacy sessions — reach people who need them. Even if they never become clients of our team, we still hope to make a difference in their lives.

And since we live in a material world and cannot operate without dollars today, financial planning is where we can make a difference and help people operate more efficiently and effectively with less stress and anxiety. I hope that this might open them up to be better versions of themselves for their families, friends, their communities and so forth.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

The best way to learn more about our company is to visit our website at www.KeenWealthAdvisors.com or to find us on LinkedIn and Facebook. If anyone would like a copy of my book, Keen on Retirement: Engineering the Second Half of Your Life, there is a form on the website, and we’d be happy to send you a copy.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!