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6 insurance leadership lessons from a warrior culture

Insurance executives can learn important principles from military advisers.

Leaders have the ability to inspire other to great achievements, the responsibility to teach those who work with them, and the ability to defuse a crisis or make it worse. What kind of leader are you? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Leaders have the ability to inspire other to great achievements, the responsibility to teach those who work with them, and the ability to defuse a crisis or make it worse. What kind of leader are you? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Strong leadership is a cornerstone of the armed forces, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that ex-military officers tend to do well in the business world.

A comprehensive study of 500 CEOs cited by Business Insider a few years back found that 8% of the top execs were ex-military officers, yet only 3% of U.S. men serve as officers.

The fact that military experience translates well to business leadership was exemplified by Navy SEAL Commander, turned best-selling author, Rorke T. Denver when he spoke at the recent Property Innovation Summit.

Many leaders fail to understand that the behavior they project to those under their command or leadership permeates the entire organization. They also determine what is or isn’t acceptable and set the tone for their direct reports. (See Number 6.)

We’ve picked out six inspiring quotes from that presentation to highlight how they apply to the insurance industry, and the wider business world.

Related: Claims magazine recognizes insurance industry leaders for innovation

Tape measure that measures beyond expectations

There is always room for improvement and don't be afraid to set high expectations for your team. (Photo: Shutterstock)

 1. “You can always find room for an extra inch.” 

There’s always room for improvement, so don’t be afraid to ask your team for more. You can’t find limits without pushing. Today’s claims adjusters need a variety of soft skills and they should work on improving their emotional intelligence, self-control, and listening skills to better serve your customers and the company. Giving adjusters some flexibility and making them responsible for their own workloads can also lead to process innovation.

rival business factions having a fight with arrows Challenge your teams on multiple levels to gauge their dependability and expertise. (Photo: iStock)

 2. “Get your rookies in the gunfight early as possible; throw them into the fire.”

Whether it’s new hires fresh out of college, experienced pros, or short-term help, the sooner you find out if they can do the job, and learn whether you can rely on them, the better. Challenging caseloads and high expectations mean that not everyone is cut out to be an adjuster. The only way to find out for sure is to see how they perform on the job. The insurance industry has one of the worst employee retention rates, according to TINYPulse research, with one insurance CEO admitting that only 11 out of 100 employees last longer than 36 months.

Related: Talent search: Recruiting innovative insurance professionals

A king leads the board in chessLeaders show their teams how to handle tough tasks and inspire them to test their limits. (Photo: Bigstock)

 3. “Be a Spartan King – Be the one to pick up burdens first and lay them down last.”

Lead by example
. If you expect others to take on difficult tasks, you must take on burdens yourself. When leaders show that they have what it takes to do the job and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, it serves as inspiration for their employees. It’s also important to avoid pushing undesirable tasks down to the rest of the organization, because it can lead to resentment.

Boss yelling at workerIt's a small world, and relationships matter, especially in the insurance industry. Create a positive environment for your direct reports. (Photo: Shutterstock)

4. “Don’t seek revenge; aspire to higher principles.”

Never burn bridges or relationships, because you never know what will happen in the future. Be fair and create a culture that’s positive. Every person you meet is on their own journey and you simply don’t know where they might end up. People prefer to do business with people they know, so every relationship you foster could lead to a business opportunity down the line. It’s also good to remember that others don’t need to fail for you to succeed.

Related: How to empower others to reach greater levels of insurance agency success

woman speaking to a small group of millennials

Mentoring is a great way to learn from colleagues, and those who mentor learn as much as those who are mentored. (Photo: Shutterstock)

5. “Be a mentor to young people.”

Encourage young people and accept that they’ll get things wrong sometimes. Oscar Wilde put it best when he said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Foster the strengths of newcomers, help them to develop awareness of their weaknesses and suggest constructive steps to address them. As a leader, a crucial part of your job is to inspire and teach the next generation.

Related: 7 traits of true insurance leaders

man traversing a maze that's on fire

The attitude you project during a crisis or heated discussion will be observed by those around you. Be the calm in the crisis. (Photo: Bigstock)

 6. “Calm is contagious.”

If you’re nervous, angry or fearful, it will impact your performance and permeate the room. Even if you don’t feel calm, projecting calm is a necessary part of being a manager. This is especially true in a crisis. When you lose your temper, you lose the argument.

As a leader, you need to be aware that everyone is watching you and many people will take their cue from how you behave. If you shout and rant, then that will be interpreted as an acceptable way to act. Project the calm you want to see and ensure a healthy working environment for everyone.

With so many positive principles being taught in the military, it’s no wonder that many P&C insurers provide job opportunities for veterans and their spouses. This advice applies to anyone currently in a leadership role, or hoping to be in one in the future, and they’ll serve you very well in your insurance career.

Joel Makhluf is a vice president at Enservio and the director of the Property Innovation Summit. Enservio is a provider of contents claim management software, inventory and valuation services and payments solutions for property insurers. Contact Joel at

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