I was thrust into the biggest career change of my life at the age of 34: CEO. It was exciting and there was much to accomplish but admittedly, I didn’t know anything about leadership.
As I prepared to take on my new role, my father offered some sage advice: “Always be the dumbest person in the room,” he said. In other words, hire the best people and go from there. From that day forward, it’s been a proven formula for me and a hallmark of my leadership style.
I believe leadership is fairly simple: Look at things differently. Question everything. Embrace challenges. Hold yourself accountable. Have humility and integrity. Be generous. Take risks. Hire smart. Above all, be trustworthy. You simply cannot lead others if you don’t have their trust.
In my career, I’ve learned from a few successes, but I’ve learned a lot more from failures. We are fortunate to work in an industry where failure is viewed as a certain type of success, as it’s often a catalyst to new and innovative things. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the saying, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.” Embrace that sentiment. Learning from mistakes is very motivating. Once you find a weakness, you can attack it and turn it into a strength. That’s what the smartest among us do.
In the pages that follow, you’ll read about industry giants who came before us (see “Game Changers” on page 50), and industry hopefuls of the next generation (see “Building the Future” on page 52). As you peruse them, think about how we, as leaders, can use the examples and experiences of our past to better cultivate the best and the brightest waiting at our doorsteps. Rather than leaving these students wondering if they’re on the right career path, let’s work to make sure they make the most of this insurance brokerage track we’re leading them to find. With more than two million insurance industry jobs in the U.S. alone, and with a healthy number of individuals preparing for retirement, what are we doing—or what could we be doing—to bring them along in a more engaging and encouraging manner? It’s a great challenge and one I know we all have a sense of urgency around.
A recent New York Times article explored how CEOs lead their employees, highlighting differences (and some similarities) in management, human behavior and trust. It got me thinking all sorts of things. Namely, that there are all kinds of leaders in this world who can move you to be better—even bad ones! But at the same time, the article brought me back to Dad’s advice—be true to who you are and hire smart. I finished the article and felt good knowing I surround myself with a team that learns from experience, sees things before they happen and moves us in the right direction day after day.
As we head into 2018 and beyond, I encourage all of you to “bring it” and work to make a lasting impact. Whether you’re 34 or 54, it’s the kind of life advice that translates in any generation.