Profile: Colleen Affeldt, performance coach and managing director of RGT Wealth Advisors
- July 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 7

Profile: Colleen Affeldt, performance coach and managing director of RGT Wealth Advisors

by Mike Consol

It is American novelist William Faulkner who has long been quoted as saying: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Indeed, the battle between the “past” and what is regarded as the “present” is a battle fought daily by Colleen Affeldt, managing director of Dallas-based RGT Wealth Advisors. Affeldt is not your typical RIA executive. She doesn’t pick investment products or construct portfolios. Her role is to move the professionals at her firm from the thought patterns of the past to a more self-aware mode of thinking that addresses issues of the present — all in the service of achieving optimal performance.

And, as it turns out, one cannot fully understand Colleen Affeldt without looking to the past and traveling to the suburbs east of Detroit, where she came of age during what might be adequately described as trial by fire. Affeldt openly ponders whether she had an actual childhood, having been born into a home where the parenting relationship was often reversed, and she found herself assuming adult responsibilities long before children are prepared for such burdens. The problem? Her parents had suffered emotional wounds of their own during childhood and were not fully equipped to fulfill their parental roles.

She often found herself attempting to stabilize the household and keep familial relationships functional, including protecting and providing guidance to her younger sister.

“I can’t think of a time that I wasn’t trying to understand human behavior,” Affeldt recalls. “From my very earliest memories, I was trying to figure out why what was happening was happening. When I finally understood enough about psychology, I could no longer be mad at anyone. People do the best they can with what they know in the moment. I have good relationships with my family, but there was a long period of time where they weren’t all that available — literally. I was on my own at a very young age.”

Affeldt began taking community college nursing and psychology classes while still in high school, when her concerns about the welfare of her youngest sister, Erin, age 17, began to grow. She knew her younger sibling was caught in similar circumstances from which Affeldt was emerging and didn’t want to leave her sister vulnerable to the hardships. Affeldt dropped out of college and moved with her sister to Plano, Texas, in the Dallas area, and continued to offer Erin support and guidance right through her sister’s earning of a master’s degree.

“I had every job you could possibly imagine, including a paper route, just to keep us afloat. In fact, I made us both work at a restaurant so we could get the free employee meal several times a week to help make ends meet.”

“Grit” is the characteristic Affeldt most associates with her emergence from the childhood crucible she was born into, and the guidance and assistance she provided to her sister would prove a lifelong theme.

“I have always known I was put here to help other people,” she says. “There is no job I have ever had that my success is not measured by other people’s success. My sole job at RGT is to help other people grow.”


It was that innate desire to help others that led Affeldt to establish Orbitas ECR in 2001, her own consultancy focused on leadership and management development. Orbitas is a fusion of two words, “veritas,” the Latin word for truth, and “orb,” which refers to a circle — a universal symbol indicating notions of totality, wholeness, infinity, eternity, cyclic movement and spirituality. The combined term translates into “whole truth.”

Among Orbitas’ years-long clients was RGT Wealth Advisors. As part of her standard operating procedure, Affeldt met annually with her retainer clients to plan for the next year. One year she sat down with RGT founder and CEO Mark Griege, who posed this question: “At what point does it make better sense financially to bring in-house the type of training you are providing?”

“At the time, RGT was my third-largest retainer client, so I told him RGT was probably close to that point and offered to help him find somebody for the firm,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Well, it’s you.’ I laughed and said, super flattering but no thank you.”

Affeldt — who had long since gone through the hardscrabble early days of building the business when she wondered if she was going to be able to keep the lights on — had painstakingly built her practice into something formidable and remunerative by this stage, and did not have an interest in abandoning her creation and clientele.

Griege persisted.

“He just hit me right one day. He said, ‘Look, I don’t even know what this is supposed to look like; it is totally entrepreneurial. I am not handing you a blueprint to build something. I am asking you to build what you know we need.’ I started to think to myself, ‘what if I took all my tools and techniques and put them in one place? What could I build?’”

Affeldt took the offer and joined RGT in 2014, and the firm has since been a best practices and developmental laboratory for her and other members of the firm.


The chief impediment to optimal performance is the tendency of people to get in their own way, in Affeldt’s experience.

“We will do more to get in our own way than anything or anyone else. I so far haven't met anyone that this is not true for,” she observes.

Self-impediment issues primarily revolve around our thought patterns, the mental defaults or “habit thinking” we tend to fall into that go unchecked and un-interrogated. It is these faulty thinking patterns that leave many people frozen in place. The antidote, says Affeldt, is to revise our thinking models, to update them into thought models that are healthy, functional, relevant to the current situation, and open to being frankly questioned or challenged.

Affeldt makes a fine distinction regarding the objective organizations should aim to achieve with their people. Most companies ask how they can get the most from people, but they are actually better served by viewing that objective through a slightly different lens: How do we get the best from our people?

“When you look to get the best from people, turns out you usually end up getting the most too,” she explains. “One way to bring professionals to this mindset of growth and improvement is to elevate the conversation, understanding what the objective is, and focus on what moves the needle while staying out of the weeds that don’t really push us toward that objective. Companies and people are really good at repeatedly repeating the problem instead of focusing on the outcome and solution they want.”

Again, it is people’s thought patterns that must change to make those advances. She observes that people tend to create internal narratives about the situations they find themselves in that have nothing to do with reality. Why? Because in the absence of information, it is human nature to fill the void with that which we fear. That kind of faulty thinking penetrates our interactions with others and diminishes the quality of our outcomes. To underscore her point, Affeldt cites some lyrics from the Pearl Jam song “Crazy Mary,” which she paraphrases as: That which you fear the most will always meet you halfway.

“I think about that all the time when I am coaching people. Rarely have I worked with someone whose challenges weren’t about some underlying fear. It’s actually rarely incompetence.”

What’s needed is greater self-awareness, though Affeldt points out that “self-awareness” is a misleading phrase because one’s self-awareness cannot be improved by one’s self. Rather, increasing one’s self-awareness is almost impossible without a feedback loop.

Self-awareness is especially important because, though we like to think we are logical, rational beings, there is no science to support that self-image. Rather, we are emotional beings with biases, and those biases take the form of thought filters that are not consistent with the situations we are dealing with at the time. Recognizing this becomes a huge advantage, she says.

What’s critical to addressing this type of cognitive misalignment and other adjustments related to optimizing our thinking and performance is a willingness to be challenged, which is no simple matter for most people. The import of improving one’s self-awareness and achieving lucid thinking and optimal performance rests in this observation from Affeldt: “If there is any one thing that I can tell you for sure that I would debate with anyone is that every organizational challenge and success can literally be traced back to leadership. There is nothing that happens inside a company, whether good or bad, that you cannot draw a map back to leadership. If I go back to the decision to join RGT, it was hands down the leadership. A group of people willing to be pushed out of their comfort zone and do the hard work that so many others just avoid. That’s not to say it was easy at first. I know I probably drove them a bit crazy for a while. But to their credit, our leadership team, including our CEO, have allowed me to continuously push them well outside of their comfort zone. Now they do it to me! We are not perfect, but what I love is that we are always growing, as individuals and as a community.”


One of the ways Affeldt brings a steady stream of new information into the organization, as well as challenging her own assumptions, is by constantly reading — between 50 and 60 books a year, in addition to countless articles and reports. That book-a-week reading tempo is actually down from 100 books per year Affeldt read during her earlier years, when she used an aggressive reading regimen to help compensate for the college degree she never had the time or financial resources to complete.

“I read like a maniac,” she says.

Affeldt also sharpens her thinking by working with an executive coach (“it would be kind of hypocritical for me to recommend everybody else have an executive coach and not have one myself”), as well as having organized a circle of successful executive women who run large enterprises and regard one another as members of a board of advisers. They convene for monthly breakfast meetings.

“We are kind of all in the same age range, mid-40s to mid-50s, and it is no holds barred,” she says. “Do not come with thin skin, because you are going to hear what you need to hear. The only sugar here is in the coffee, not the words. It is awesome. It’s probably the place I have laughed and cringed at myself the most. It’s a great feedback loop, and I cherish them immeasurably.”


Her life has not been without its failures. Affeldt points to her 2002 and 2013 divorces, though she is quick to point to the lesson those episodes brought into full view.

“I learned that when you get knocked on your behind, even the times you put yourself there, all you have to do is make the next best decision,” she remarks. “You don’t have to know what the outcome is going to be. Sometimes you have got to get really narrow and just focus on the next best decision, and if you string together a series of next best decisions you will end up in an okay place.”


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.


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