Tag Archives: leader

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

I raised two boys, or, maybe more correctly, they raised me. I was lucky – at the end of the process I have “two sons” who make me proud and whom I love dearly. I was unprepared to be a parent when I became one, but through trial and error, the grace of God and some blind luck I survived. As I reflect back on the experience, I also got a “PhD” in management and leadership. I now realize that parenting, like business, gives the organizational “parent” the opportunity to react to behavior or influence the growth, development and maturation of the child.

As I ponder the process of change and growth in the marketplace and in organizations that serve this global economy, I see parallels. Change is the transition from today through tomorrows. How we address this determines the success – ours and our organizations’ and their members’.

Will we react and manage the behavior of our followers and the change that comes at us, or will we be a leader and design the future we want and grow the people who are our organization?

In a conversation with a friend named Beau (he’s twice the parent I am; he and his wife, Kaci, are raising four children and doing a great job) we concluded that the world of parenting is a great laboratory for management and leadership issues. Consider babies and their crying as a metaphor for the people in your organization.

Babies cry when they are hungry or wet or have some other discomfort that needs fixing. They can’t effectively articulate their issue, but they can manipulate us as the caregiver (manager/leader) through their whining until we solve their problems (and ours, by quieting them). Let’s compare two options: pacifiers and breastfeeding.

Pacifiers have no nutritional value, of course, and left to pacifiers alone a child will starve to death. (In some countries a pacifier is called a “dummy.” Think about that.)

See also: Key Difference in Leaders vs. Managers  

Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is the safest, best and most natural means of nurturing a child. Breast milk alone can sustain a child for the first six months of life. Breast milk and breast feeding are about growing together – a most intimate link between the mother and child. Breast feeding is not about quieting a child but about developing that child. It is a living system. It is the best.

As the head of your own organization, you know that change happens. It makes you tired, sometimes overwhelmed and causes great discomfort in the people you call your team or family. Do you manage the change by handing each “whiner” a pacifier just so the person will shut up and get back to work and leave you alone? Do you accept the responsibility of leadership and do what needs to be done to design tomorrow?

Do you take the time to grow each team member, quieting the person through intimacy and nourishment, making the person better-prepared for tomorrow?

Remember: A pacifier alone will ensure starving, while “breastfeeding” will guarantee growth.

The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager

Entrepreneurs are doers. One of the strengths of successful entrepreneurs is that they get things done. However, relying solely on their own capabilities is limiting.

We only have so much time, energy, creativity and intelligence; it is a finite game. To realize the fullness of our potential, we have to harness the time, energy, creativity and intelligence of others. We need to be playing an infinite game.

To do so, we must learn to lead and manage.

In this complex and ever-changing world in which we live, we typically are dependent on others to get the results we want. As an entrepreneur grows his or her business, the interdependencies multiply. Entrepreneurs have to trust others — and other people have to trust them.

See also: 6 Tech Rules That Will Govern the Future  

The starting point is leadership. My friend and colleague Dr. Herb Koplowitz defines leadership as follows:

“Leadership is the ability to set a direction and coordinate the actions of others in implementing it.”

Leadership is primarily concerned with vision and strategy. Vision is the direction toward which you want to take your business. Strategy is the clear plan of action to get there. Management is concerned primarily with accountability and authority. The challenge for many entrepreneurs is that they lack clarity around their vision; they lack strategy to build the right structure; and they have never learned how to exercise authority or hold people accountable.

For the entrepreneur, the ability to create highly productive working relationships that can fulfill their vision depends on three factors:

  • Effectiveness: Doing the right things to reach their strategic goals.
  • Efficiency: Doing things right to optimize the use of resources and to reduce costs.
  • Trust: Creating a positive working environment where people feel safe, respected and valued for their contributions.

As a leader and manager, it is important to take the time to develop and implement a business plan that includes:

  • A well-articulated vision (where do you want your business to be in five years?)
  • A clear strategy to reach that vision (what needs to happen to fulfill your vision?)
  • A formal organization structure designed to implement your strategy (who and what do you need to support your strategy and achieve your vision?)
  • Staffing and managerial leadership practices to maximize effectiveness, efficiency and trust (how do you need to transform the way you lead your business?)

See also: Incumbents, Insurtechs Must Collaborate  

To take your business to the next level, you need to be a leader and a manager.

The World Owes Me Nothing

I am fortunate to live amid incredibly smart, driven, hard-working people who care about making an impact. Sometimes, some of them trust me enough to come to me for business and career advice.

Before every such meeting, I try hard to set aside my beliefs and biases and just listen. For me, it takes genuine effort to actually listen and remember that listening to someone isn’t really the same thing as just waiting to talk. I do my best not to make someone clearly in pain feel good with the formulaic “10 steps to happiness” psychobabble.

The problem usually starts with a clear symptom : “I hate my boss,” “I don’t have faith in my CEO,” “I deserve more equity,” “I need a bigger title,” etc. Having been in their shoes as an employee, a manager, a CEO, I’ve dealt with many of these feelings myself, so I can often relate to where people are coming from. I suppose that’s the real value of talking to someone—it helps separate problems from symptoms, and knowing the problem is half the solution.

A lot of times, what I discover in these conversations—once we talk through what’s going on and dig deeper into the situation—is that these surface emotions are just really reflections of the real problem, which is larger, more corrosive and harder to admit.


The problem is we all feel entitled to something. Entitlement is a subtle and implicit belief that we deserve things, that the world owes us something.

The truth, something we all know, is that the world owes us nothing. However, it is hard to remember that at the right time, when you are feeling entitled.

I am not suggesting that having expectations, desires and sometimes taking things for granted is unnatural or even bad. I am saying that if you stop for a minute and zoom out, you’ll start to realize that a lot of your pain goes away if you stop feeling entitled and that dealing with the reality of your situation becomes a heck of a lot easier.

So the next time you are feeling upset about something, try it . Zoom out and tell yourself, “The world owes me nothing,” and see what happens.

When I do it mindfully, I can tell you I feel a sudden emptiness, followed by a delightful lightness. Sure, it may only last for a minute, but that little lull puts things in perspective, replacing the heaviness of “I deserve better” with “I am grateful for what I have. There will always be more I want. It will never be enough, but it will all be OK.”

Try this for a week: Every morning, tell yourself , “The world owes me nothing.” See if it subconsciously affects your thoughts, alters your tone and orchestrates your actions throughout the day. Note how that sets you up for a simple but powerful call of duty, to be useful to people around you—your family, friends, co-workers, customers, investors, neighbors, strangers, everyone! Be grateful for the many, many things you have.

We begin life with a cry. In the end, the only thing that matters is how many people cry when we die. Or maybe that, too, is an entitlement.

Originally published on Medium

5 Personal Traits of Great Leaders

Many C-suite insurance executives complain about how difficult it is to find leaders in their organization. Many people believe leadership can’t be taught. “You know it when you see it” is a common observation. Finding a consistent definition for leadership is difficult.

How do you develop/teach/articulate a core set of traits of great leaders if it is so difficult to even define leadership? After leading various organizations ranging in size from several people to several thousand, I realize that there are fundamental core requirements needed to be an effective leader. Whether you are an entry-level employee or the chief executive of a large organization, you need these characteristics to lead.

Leadership doesn’t come from your title. It comes from how you act. People follow leaders; they don’t follow titles. As technology allows companies to be leaner, and as Millennials become a bigger part of the work force, we live in a less hierarchical and more collaborative work environment. Leadership no longer comes with a title. Today, companies need leaders at every level.

You don’t need to be outgoing or have the loudest voice in the room. People with low-key personalities can also be outstanding leaders. Personal leadership is not about self-promotion; leadership is the ability to get others to follow what you are advocating. To trust you. To respect you. To feel that your direction and requests are in everyone’s best interests, not just your own.

So what are the traits of great leaders? Here are five core personal leadership competencies that anyone must practice to be an effective leader.

1.         Integrity: Make sure you do the right thing for all the right reasons. In any leadership role, you will be called on to make difficult decisions. If you act with integrity, you will be respected. People might disagree with your decision, but they will accept your direction. One of my mentors told me, “People can spot someone who takes moral shortcuts.” Never forget: A reputation lost is a career destroyed.

2.         Courage: All leaders have courage. The courage to ask why. To challenge the status quo. To go out on a limb. To do what others are afraid to say and do. Many years ago, when  eight bottles of Tylenol were found to have been tampered with, leading to seven deaths from cyanide poisoning in the Chicago area, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, which produced Tylenol, immediately directed that all bottles of the pain reliever be removed from every shelf in every store. He vowed that Tylenol wouldn’t be back on store shelves until the company knew that every bottle was safe. It was a bold move with a large negative impact on the company’s short-term sales. But when Tylenol did return to the counters and shelves, so did their customers.

3.         Lead by example: Don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. If you are asking others to stay late, you had better, too. When I ran a new business unit, our initial office space couldn’t accommodate an office for everyone. So I sat down with my senior team, and we defined objective criteria for an office. I didn’t qualify, and, much to everyone’s surprise, I sat in a cubicle alongside the other employees. It made a statement — I play by the same rules as everyone else. Likewise, any rule or policy we adopt, I make sure I also abide by. You can’t act one way and expect others to act differently. You have to be a role model.

4.         Be a great listener: You can’t understand what’s going on around you unless you listen to others. Listening is how you learn. Listening is how you gain perspective. Listening is how you understand what’s important and what’s not. Listening is how you discover opportunities. A good listener sends a strong message to others: “I respect and care about what you say. I’m not a tyrant.” Throughout my career, the best ideas always came from people closest to the core operations I was looking to improve. You can’t find those answers unless you ask a lot of questions and listen carefully to the answers.

5.         Be a great communicator: Leaders learn to master the form and substance of communication.

Let’s start with the form of communication: the way you communicate. You can’t lead unless people understand you. Language, tone, facial and other physical expressions all send messages that affect what you are saying. (This also applies to listening. If you look away while people are talking they know you are not listening.) Here are a few tips to master good communication form:

  • Keep your message clear and concise. We live in a world of short attention spans. People get drawn away quickly. Spend time thinking about what you want to say and how best to communicate it quickly. I like to pretend I only have 30 to 60 seconds to talk. That forces me to get right to the point.
  • Use examples. They reinforce your points by tying them to real life instead of dry theories.
  • Think like a teacher. Great communicators understand that, when they are speaking to someone or to a group, they are in effect teaching others what they want them to understand.

Mastering the substance of communication means the ability to move people to react to what you are saying in the way you want. In other words, you want your words to motivate, educate and inspire.  By motivate, I mean the ability to get people to want to do something as a result of what you say. Your words ignite your listener to want to react in the way you desire. Educate means you explain why you are asking them to do something. People will follow direction — but only grudgingly if they don’t understand why they are being asked to do something. Good leaders know how to get people to understand why they should take a specific action. Inspire means the ability to touch someone with your words. Engender a positive emotion that enables them to do something they otherwise might not have done.   Inspirational leaders provide the fuel to allow others to find success.

Today’s ever-changing work environment is creating opportunities for people at all levels of an organization to lead. Those who master the personal leadership competencies that I’ve described will enrich their work experience and create wonderful opportunities for themselves and others. Enjoy the journey.

How to Be Visionary on Mental Health

Once upon a time, there was a national leader who said, “To remain as I am is impossible. I must die, or get better.”

Fearing that he might take his life by suicide, his friends confiscated his knives, guns, and razors — anything he could use to harm himself.

This leader? None other than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln called his mental health challenge “melancholy”; today, we would call it a life-threatening depression.

Because of his strength, Lincoln was able to disclose his despondency and received the support he needed from friends and colleagues. If he were alive today, he’d likely be letting others know they are not alone and that getting to the other side of one’s darkest despair is a journey worth taking.

As someone heavily involved in the suicide-prevention movement, I can think of no more compelling call to action to our leaders than to lead boldly about their lived experience with overcoming mental health challenges. Stories of hope and recovery are unparalleled in their ability to shift culture and eliminate the stigma that prevents so many from getting the help that can save lives.

One in four people – at any given time – are experiencing a mental health condition like depression, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or substance abuse, and many leaders have experienced these challenges, either firsthand or by supporting someone they love. Yet most leaders remain closeted about these experiences, succumbing to the stigma that keeps us all stuck in isolation and suffering.

This needs to change.

When leaders are able to be vocal, visible and visionary in sharing stories of their own recovery or experiences supporting others, magic happens. When they fight for the mental wellness of people who follow them, leaders can spark the hope that others need.

Yes, there is risk, but the reward of leading the way through this particular darkness is so great. I know. I speak from experience.

I am a clinical psychologist and hold multiple leadership positions in suicide prevention. Yet, after a perfect storm of life stressors, I experienced an episode of major depression in the spring of 2012. It crippled me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I had daily panic attacks that left me heaving. As I was going through this, I had a parallel process. On one hand, I worried about how bad it would get. After watching my brother Carson spiral down in his ultimately fatal depression, I was scared about my own suicide risk. I was also worried about how my vulnerable state would reflect on my ability to maintain my responsibilities. On the other hand, I believed that not only would I get through the depression eventually but that, when I did, I would publicly share my experience. Four months after I pulled through, I wrote a piece that connected my recovery to running a marathon — persisting through the pain until hope of a new reality emerges. I remember watching my finger hover over the button as I made the final decision to publish it, still worrying about how others would respond. Within minutes, I received support from around the world. People let me know how my transparent testimony gave them hope for their own recovery. I felt for the first time a new level of credibility that comes with vulnerability.

Look at those in major leadership roles who have taken the same risk with the same reward. Just to name a few…

  • Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik spoke candidly about his depression and how ultimately it changed him for the better both as a human being and as a politician. He was elected for a second term.
  • Mental health challenges touched icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom attempted suicide as teens or young adults and also experienced depression in adulthood. Many credit their angst as the fuel behind the movements they led.
  • Former congressman Patrick Kennedy tells his story of bipolar disorder and drug addiction and advocates for legislation to eliminate mental health disparities.

Nassir Ghaemi says in A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness that “the sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader — quirky, odd, even mentally ill — is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.”

When establishing cultural norms, all eyes are on leadership. If leaders say one thing and yet behave differently, the message is loud and clear. What people experiencing mental health challenges crave are role models who have walked the walk of despair and are now thriving. They want to know there is not only hope of getting to the other side of the long dark night of the soul, but that the struggle will be worth the fight. That perhaps their new insights to recovery, persistence and empowerment will help them achieve their dreams.

Rather than live in fear, leaders can boldly advocate for dignity for people who are experiencing mental health challenges. Leaders’ voices of compassion and courage will help accelerate the tipping of the scale of change and help to save the lives of millions suffering in silence.

It takes great courage to be vulnerable. Everyone is touched by mental health challenges; we just don’t know this about each other. When leaders are able to acknowledge this, compassionately relate their own experiences and call for change, transformation happens.

Be bold.