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Leader or Lemming: Which are you?

Denise Garth
Insurance Experts' Forum, July 11, 2013




If you lead, they will follow, or so the saying goes. To be a leader you need exceptional qualities such as vision, knowledge, determination, and innovation. A leader also leads by example, by putting him or herself out there, influencing and showing others the way to the future. Through careful evaluation, innovative thinking and deliberation, a leader sets a course towards the future whether it is a well worn path or uncharted territory.

On the other hand, as we all know, there are the lemmings. They are followers who trample in each other’s footsteps and, as their reputation goes, are in danger especially if there’s a cliff nearby! These are the people who continue along a set path with everyone else, not considering what they need to stand out from the crowd, or what the options or possibilities might be, just charging forward in the pack. They follow the path that everyone else is.

This scenario holds true when it comes to selecting a new core insurance system as well.  A leader will be there setting the expectations on what is needed to be market leaders, leap frog the competition and to not only retain customers but attract them today but well into the future.  A leader will look to innovate and change the competitive landscape.  A leader will have that vision for a new future and be ready to implement, advance, and make the organization future-ready.

This is why more time and attention needs to be paid by insurance leaders to evaluating where their organizations are today, where they need to be in the future to be competitive and to seek strategic partners who will enable them to be competitive, agile, flexible and innovative for a future that is increasingly changing.   Just picking the solution that everyone else is may seem the “safe choice” ... but is it really?  If everyone else has it how will you be competitive and innovative?  

The strategic question is what partner and solution ... in terms of experience, business capabilities, deployment options and other services ... will help fuel innovation, offer real agility and flexibility and avoid the “lemming effect”? This is what will separate leaders from the lemmings and determine a company’s future.

History teaches us that the “leading incumbent”, in this case whether vendor, solution or deployment option, gathers many followers who go along unquestioningly with popular opinion or what everyone else is doing, but with potentially dire consequences. Just like lemmings, when they gather large numbers it may seem exciting at first, but can lead you mindlessly down a path that does not allow you to differentiate, compete.  

In the case of the insurance business, the depth and breadth of change from customer expectations, distribution options, product innovation and service excellence requires insurers to rethink how they will deliver products and services from a market, product and financial perspectives.   This requires leaders to think about what they will need for their unique future rather than taking the “safe route” and doing what everyone else does.   Taking the safe route was not what Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Walt Disney, Henry Ford or Bill Gates did ... they took the route of differentiation, competitive positioning, innovation and a commitment to their vision of a future that often was not what the “lemmings” were heading toward.  

This is what makes a great leader.  It is someone with vision, innovative thinking, and foresight to explore the options to find the right solution. It is someone who can make strategic decisions that ensure the company future-ready. More insurance leaders need to take a chapter from these leaders books to rethink their business and the solutions need to underpin the business.   What worked a decade ago may not, and problem is not, be the same methodology that works in today’s world.

Sure, it’s easy to stay on the same course doing the same things everyone else does year after year in hopes that it all comes out well in the end. But what happens when your competitor changes course and blazes a new and successful path? Where does that leave you? On that cliff looking down?

This is the dilemma that confronts many insurance leaders today. With a focus on today alone or playing it safe to be like everyone else, the future is barely a passing thought. Yes, things may be going along today and they may tomorrow and next week. But as everyone knows, technological revolutions are coming fast and furious. If you’re not on the path and preparing for the future, you may be stuck looking over a cliff and hoping for the best.

Now is the time to take action. Examine the options that are before you and see how they can best serve your company. You need to be out in front of change, not part of the herd mentality. The choice is yours ... are you a lemming or a leader?

Denise Garth is the executive vice president of strategic marketing and industry relations, and global head of market strategy for Innovation Group North America.  She can be reached for further comment or information via email at garthd@us.innovation-group.com

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