Tag Archives: leadership

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.

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words!

In the name of simplicity, I’ll be brief.

1. Decades ago in the Louisiana legislature, a contentious debate was raging over a law requiring motorcycle drivers to wear helmets. Representative V. J. Bella stepped to the podium in the Louisiana House with a stool, a sledgehammer and a watermelon.

He placed the watermelon on the stool and slammed it with the sledgehammer. He walked to the microphone, stating, “Enough said!” The legislation was approved.

2. Tomorrow, I’m speaking to a business group. I have 90 seconds to send a message. My left hand will hold a dollar bill. My right hand will also hold a dollar — in the form of 100 pennies. My narrative will be brief.

I’ll drop the dollar bill and let it float to the ground. I’ll roll it up and throw it as far as I can. I’ll reinforce the obvious with, “This is a dollar bill.”

I’ll hold up the 100 pennies and toss them in the air. I’ll clarify the not so obvious with the following: “This is also a dollar. It has the same value as the dollar bill. The difference between the two is the bill was a cohesive unit when I tossed it — the dollar in pennies were individual units — not cohesive.”

See also: With Innovation, Keep It Simple, Stupid  

Occasionally, an enthusiastic manager or leader decides it’s time for a bold step into the future. It’s time to shake things up. It’s time to turn the organization on its head. That may be the right thing to do, but it does not come without risk. To make such a bold move — YOU MUST BE CERTAIN YOUR TEAM IS A COHESIVE UNIT focused on shared values and goals and not just a bunch of individuals driven by their perception of what’s good for us – without knowing what “us” thinks and feels about someone else’s great idea!

3. Presenting to a client organization, I placed the six individual dolls that were part of a nesting doll on the podium.

I held up the first doll and explained, this is you. I then positioned “you” into the second doll – stating, this is you in your family. I followed with – this is you and your family inside of your job/profession/business. We advanced to this is you, your family, your job or profession or business inside of your community. The fifth step was you, your family, your job and your community inside of the marketplace. I closed with this is you, your family, your job, your community and the marketplace inside of the global economy.

I then held up the single assembled mass and said – this represents your COMFORT ZONE. You know where you fit and what surrounds you. Even if you are miserable – you are comfortable. That’s the good news. The bad news is – each and every entity (doll) stacked in here will change drastically in the next few years, and if you can’t or won’t be flexible and adapt you will be crushed by those changes.

No one stood and applauded – but I could tell they heard the message and were squirming with my presentation and the threat it represented to their COMFORT ZONE.

From “The Portable Do It!” by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams we learn:

“The bad news about the comfort zone: The comfort zone is never static. It is either expanding or contracting. If you’re not consciously expanding the comfort zone, it contracts. In the heating and air conditioning trade, the point on the thermostat in which neither heating nor cooling must operate — around 72 degrees – is called “The Comfort Zone.” It is also known as “The Dead Zone.”

See also: A Contrarian Looks ‘Back to the Future’  

In leadership – KEEP IT SIMPLE – speak in a common language and make certain that what is heard and what is said align. When possible, be brief – USE A PICTURE or a METAPHOR that all can understand.


Right Answers to the Wrong Questions?

A few weeks ago, I spoke to about 20 professionals attending a program about their future and the future of their organizations.

I talked about tomorrow. They were more worried about today.

I wanted to venture into tomorrow and look back to today. They just wanted to get through today.

I discussed purpose: Why? They were more concerned about strategies and tactics: How?

My metaphor was a blueprint. They wanted a to-do list.

I was thinking effective (doing the right things). Their concern was efficient (doing things right).

Leadership was my target. Management was their aim.

I quoted Stephen Covey on leadership, “Begin with the end in mind,” because leaders focus on the horizon, a vision for the future. They were thinking management (“Begin with the beginning in mind”), because managers stare down at their desk, facing their challenges du jour and being constantly interrupted with issues about operations and people.


Not theirs.

I misread my audience.

I was there to discuss change management, to talk about solving problem and capitalizing on opportunities as we move from today through tomorrows. (Note the “s” on “tomorrows.” You face a tomorrow every day – one at a time.)

See also: The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager  

I should have realized that, as John Kotter put it, “management is still not leadership.”

He said: “In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.”

He added: “Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes; it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.”

Don’t repeat the mistakes I made with my audience. Be sure you know and understand the questions (both those being asked and those folks are afraid to ask) before you provide answers. Then make sure the answers you provide are correct and understood by the audience you serve. Communication is the negotiating of meaning. If the audience is not “catching” what you are “pitching” it might be well intended and thought provoking or ego or noise or a hope and a prayer but it is NOT COMMUNICATION!

See also: The Need for Agile, Collaborative Leaders  

As George Bernard Shaw stated so correctly, “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”

Are you providing the right answer to the right questions? If not, start again!

The End of Leadership as We Know It?

As we think about the changes that will inevitably happen within the insurance industry, we also have to recognize that these changes will be reflected in a transformation of the leadership function.

Of course, we have to distinguish between leadership and organizational power. “Power” usually comes from the ability to influence and give direction to others and through hierarchy. The leadership role is often viewed as some form of organizational hero who has the ability to take an organization from a status of failure or inertia, to one of success. But is this hero model still valid, and will it be valid going forward?

Isn’t one of the main problems that the pace and complexity of change is so dramatic that so-called leaders are no longer able to draw on their own experience to help create a compass for the organization? And without experience or adequate understanding, is there a risk that traditional leaders might simply revert to what they know, and create a drag on the business rather than provide the catalyst to drive it forward? In creating this drag, don’t the leaders themselves run the risk of personal criticism if their performance or ambition starts to dwindle?

See also: Inventing Your Future: A 3 X 3 Approach  

The paradox is that leadership can be both the cause of organizational weakness and also the cure if implemented effectively.

Emerging theories of leadership point to a more devolved, flexible and decentralized model of leadership, a model that demands a shared, distributed and relation-based leadership ethos with the emphasis on collaboration – as opposed to the old hierarchical model.

Has leadership become a process rather than a position? If that is the case, then does such an environment present us with the opportunity for a more fluid, richer leadership environment? No more Eureka moments, but rather that the leadership of an organization is constantly shifting and is a reflection of the culture and shared values of the business?

And does it mean that anyone with the word “leader” in their job title – like mine – is toast? Yes, probably, unless as a leader you are personally prepared to change. If leadership is to exist in any form, then it will be by example. Leaders need to show how to collaborate, innovate and be agile. Leadership is no longer about holding the sword and shouting “follow me” or “do what I say.”

See also: The Future of Insurance [Infographic]  

As we increasingly focus on a world of data and analytics, and the associated democratization of understanding and insight, we have to accept that this has the potential to create the collapse of organizational hierarchy. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Data and democratized analytics inevitably force us to think about leadership in a different way. It might also force us to think about our own careers and professions in a different way, as well.

How we communicate these very major issues is also critical. If we accept that the big data genie is out of the bottle, then we must also accept that the metaphorical Pandora’s Box has been opened. Classicists will know that as Pandora’s Box was opened, then all the evils of the world were allowed to escape from that box. Of course, it’s not quite so dramatic – but will big data and analytics provide the catalyst for a revolution in what we mean by leadership?

Best Insurance? A Leadership Pipeline

Insurance leaders, you spend every day helping customers plan for the future, and you know that disaster can strike anyone, anytime.

But have you done all you can to prepare your company for what the future holds? Whatever lines of insurance you sell, there’s just one policy for company longevity: a strong leadership pipeline.

Unfortunately, many insurance companies forgo this essential coverage. Last year, Deloitte found that just one in three insurance companies believes its future leaders are prepared to respond to tomorrow’s business challenges — despite 87% citing leadership development as a priority.

What’s so important about leadership development? For one, leadership quality cuts straight to the bottom line. Equity analysts place, on average, a 16% premium on company stock prices when they see effective leadership. But when they perceive a company’s leadership is ineffective, analysts discount the company’s stock price by about 20%.

Strong leaders build value because they know people are an insurer’s greatest asset. They recognize that empowering team members pays off in loyalty, reduced turnover and enhanced customer service.

I’ve seen my company through nearly a quarter of its centennial life, and through the course of my career I’ve learned a thing or two about insurance leadership.

Like many of us — be honest — I didn’t grow up dreaming of a lifetime in insurance. California Casualty was my first job out of college, though, and it’s been the incredible career I never expected. The company’s mix of challenge, inspiration and flexibility has helped me grow from sales consultant to team manager to vice president.

But I’d have never reached the position I’m in — not to mention stayed for two decades — had I, too, not learned from strong leaders. Now it’s my turn to find the company’s up-and-coming leaders, and I look for five traits in tomorrow’s standard-bearers.

See also: The Insurance Renaissance, Part 4

First and foremost, effective leaders have integrity. Integrity is difficult for some, but it’s actually a simple concept: People with integrity do the right thing even — and especially — when no one is watching. In our industry, policyholders depend on us to fulfill our obligations, often when they’re most vulnerable.

That’s why California Casualty created a written code in 1965 to act as the company’s moral compass. It champions integrity and the singular importance of doing the right thing for our customers. The code reminds me — and future leaders — that it’s better to fall short of our goals than to meet them through dishonesty.

Strong leaders must also be able to influence others, and I’ve seen firsthand the importance of inspiring, motivational leadership. Before any sweeping change, my company informs key influencers and involves them prior to the full-staff rollout. This creates buy-in and helps them serve as role models to team members who might not feel as comfortable with changes, and provides hands-on leadership experience before they truly take charge.

Confidence, tempered by humility, is another quality I’ve found is essential for insurance leaders. These leaders surround themselves with team members whom they can learn from — and whom they can teach — when exploring issues and making tough decisions.

Confidence also means being transparent with your team. I don’t always make the right decision, but I’m confident that, if I make a wrong move, my team and I will work together to adjust, learn and improve.

Alongside confidence, I look for flexibility balanced with accountability, which helps to unlock a team’s potential. When I first became a team manager, I learned that my sales strategy didn’t necessarily work for others. I had to step back and recognize that there’s more than one way to exceed targets.

There’s one final trait all successful insurance leaders share: strong communication skills. To build a successful team, you must clearly articulate goals and the drivers behind them. At our sales rallies, we talk about targets, of course, but we also seek to understand the “why” behind our numbers.

We recently implemented underwriting changes, for example, that made it more difficult for sales consultants to sell policies. Taking time to discuss policies’ loss ratios and profitability issues has helped our sales team adapt to these changes and improve the company’s future.

See also: Can Insurance Innovate?  

With all the important qualities an insurance leader must possess, it’s tough to find tomorrow’s perfect leadership team. But once you’ve identified promising candidates, you’ll need to help them rise to the challenge.

First, start with face time. Get to know tomorrow’s leaders on a personal and professional level. To help them define what they want to achieve — both in their current role and in the next — work with them to create short-term and long-term goals. Boredom lurks behind turnover, so setting “stretch” goals is a great way to keep up-and-coming leaders engaged.

Second, find opportunities to let them shine. Never underestimate delegation as a leadership-building tool. When employees are given ownership, it builds their confidence, showcases their talents to others and prepares them for their next positions. I give young leaders opportunities to assist with recruiting and hiring, mentoring new associates, and leading annual meetings.

Next, give them a say in company decisions. Employees at all levels have fresh ideas that can benefit the company. By giving them a say, you nurture growth, learn their thought processes and cultivate buy-in at the same time.

Finally, build bench strength. Don’t wait for a position to open. Employ an approach of continuous development to ensure you can tap the right talent when you need it. Plan ahead as you hire: Employees who understand technology and analytics will be increasingly important for insurance leadership.

In the end, insurance leadership isn’t about titles, nor is it about sales figures. In our industry, it’s our job to be there in policyholders’ times of need; we have the chance to truly improve lives. So while I may not have always dreamed of an insurance career, it has been an incredibly fulfilling one. Now it’s my job to find new leaders who feel that way, too.