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Executive Leadership: The Next Generation

Eugene Reagan
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 11, 2011

Experienced executives are often called upon to identify and/or groom the younger managers who are the future leaders of our organizations. Stop for a second and think about the best boss you’ve ever had. That’s right—stop right here and visualize that person. (Pause. I’m waiting.) Now that you are picturing that person, I am going to tell you what he or she has in common with the best boss that every other reader of this article remembered.

Your best boss, the one who made the strongest impact on your business life, had a healthy ego. Not strong, not pushy—but healthy. Your best boss was not afraid to share credit for good work or accept the blame for poor work. Because of his or her healthy ego, he or she was able to work as part of a team, as a leader or follower, based on the business need.

As future executive leaders are identified, groomed and mentored, it is important to know the traits that must be innate and those that can be developed through coaching and planning. A strong, healthy ego is obviously an internal trait that usually cannot be coached into an adult. Two other internal traits can’t be externally provided to a potential executive: intelligence and energy level. However, once these internal characteristics have been identified, there are ways to develop other key leadership skills.

Understand the building blocks of the business. Few young people can walk out of business school into an executive post with a successful insurance company without an understanding of the core issues. This means knowledge of things like underwriting guidelines, the claims process, or the impact of system development expenses on the income statement. In the past, this knowledge was accumulated through time and experience. Today, time can be an expensive luxury. Training and mentoring programs should be put into place to provide this basic knowledge quickly.

Learn to set goals and achieve them. Goals serve as milestones by which to measure success. Whether managing to annual budget targets or project deadlines, it is always useful to be able to gauge your progress and then look back and rate effectiveness.

Be charismatic. Leaders need to inspire followers. It helps to be tall, attractive, and have a commanding presence. But that does not guarantee success. We all know successful executives who have less-than-star-quality personalities. It is possible, however, to conjure up charisma by being an effective communicator. And how does one become a great communicator? Once you have an intimate knowledge of the key aspects of the business (see above), you simplify. Few things make as strong an impression as the ability to explain complex concepts or problems in a simple manner. Once you have identified the problem and/or solution, spend extra time to simplify your explanation.

Look for and accept responsibility. One trademark of successful leaders is impatience. They may not feel that they are the most qualified or capable, but they cannot stand to wait around for someone better to show up. As a result, they take on the task or volunteer for the project just to get it done. That willingness to attack a problem is the first step in solving it. This impatience might also be viewed as naked ambition, but the end result should be the same.

Get the vision. It is not enough to understand tasks, activities, and processes. They must be tied to the overarching view of what the organization is about and what it is trying to achieve. This global picture is vital to ensure that individual tactics are consistent and moving the company in the right direction.

Have a big heart. No one becomes a success alone. In today’s corporate environment, successful executives are those who can pull together a team with varied backgrounds and skills and lead it to meet aggressive goals. Building that team requires an understanding of the skills, desires, and motivations of the individual team members. At its best, this understanding leads to empathy, a sense of the feelings of others.

We have all worked with admirable executives—people who are smart, charming, aggressive, and exciting to work with. With a little assistance, the next generation will produce its share of successful leaders. They will face their own challenges, but with proper coaching and support, we will be leaving them with solid foundations on which to lead our organizations into the future.

Eugene Reagan is a Senior Consultant for the Robert E. Nolan Company, a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.

For 38 years, the Nolan Company has helped insurance companies achieve measurable improvements in service, quality, productivity and costs through process innovation and effective use of technology.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

Comments (1)

Great article Eugene - you hit it right on the mark. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of good leaders and what makes them so!

Posted by: JACKIE M | November 11, 2011 12:02 PM

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