“Pursue professional education and engagement outside the expected requirements of one’s position. To advance, one has to distinguish oneself as a knowledgeable leader. By taking courses and attending events that involve networking and activities that encourage a broader perspective an agent (or any insurance professional) can show that they perceive themselves as a potential leader and in fact obtain the knowledge and connections they in fact need to make that perception a reality. CPCU is a credential that I think every insurance professional seeking to advance professionally should consider, and the CPCU Society is a great organization for lifelong learning and engagement.”
— Paul Tetrault, JD, CPCU, ARM, AIM, Executive Director, The Insurance Library (Photo: Shutterstock)
“I think the single biggest thing an insurance professional can to do advance is have confidence: Confidence you can learn to run an organization, and confidence that you can hire and train a staff to carry out your vision and confidence that you’ll have enough business to get you through the early days. Your employees and colleagues need to see confidence to believe in you and your mission. Your companies need confidence that you can actually place (and retain) business and your customers need to feel your confidence to trust you to do that job. There’s no manual on being an owner (or leader), you just have to do it to learn it. Confidence in yourself goes a long way. You can hire any skill you need, but you can’t buy confidence.”
— Gregory Hogan, CIC, CRM, CLU, RHU, President, Curabba Agency (New York)
“First and foremost, know your own value and what value you add to the firm. Spend time on that performance review and know the talent value and revenue value you bring to your current role, and make sure your direct manager and their direct manager know as well.
Second, declare that you want to bring more to your organization and that you want to lead. Leadership is a talent that not all individual contributors have, so make sure you are honing that skill set, as well as your technical abilities.
And lastly, find a strong SPONSOR, not a mentor but a sponsor, who will know your value and worth, know the skill set you bring and know that you want to take on leadership responsibilities. Having that voice in the room is critical, so make sure you are laying the ground work for them to be confident to recommend you.”
— Nina Boone, Managing Director | M&A and Transaction Solutions, Aon (Photo: iStock)
“Pay the price to be competent in your area of endeavor, it is not the only thing that matters but without it nothing else will. Decide that character matters and then always tell the truth. Do not aim to become the boss, aim to be the kind of person that people want for a boss so aim high; not for position but for the respect of others, for your degree of personal discipline and for your pursuit of excellence. Think before you speak and think longer about what you will put in writing so that when someone is on the receiving end of a communication from you they will look forward to the specificity in your words and the common sense in your advice. Do not take short cuts or be artificial with superiors or co-workers; no one wants that in a superior. Be the real you but try to be a better version of yourself every day. Be the one who asks for the tough assignments and stays on task. Make time to find balance in your life; work should not be the most important thing, you will be better at work if you have relationships that transcend work and you are a person who has found meaning in living.”
— Craig Poulton, Owner, Poulton Associates LLC (Utah)
“Focus on being an authentic advocate for the business and the people that you work with. But most important, it’s critical to broaden your skillset as the skills that help you produce are typically not the same skills needed to lead well and manage a P&L.”
— Heath Ritenour, Chairman & CEO, Insurance Office of America (Photo: iStock)
— Linde Hotchkiss, ARM, MBA, West Region Leader for Large Accounts/San Diego Market Leader, Willis Towers Watson (Photo: iStock)
“If you want be an executive, then you need to think like an owner. The most successful executives are passionate about what they do and take complete responsibility for their outcomes. They are laser focused on achieving results and they set audacious goals. They get into the details and ensure a complete, successful outcome for the policyholder. None of this can occur without the right mindset.”
— Jim Albert, Chief Executive Officer, Neptune Flood Insurance (Florida)
“Build a strong network of industry contacts, advisors and community leaders who can support you in personal development, professional growth and awareness of changes and opportunities impacting you and your agency or firm, is how I would answer that question… Advance areas of corporate social responsibility within your organization is another important way to demonstrate your leadership capabilities and commitment to the communities where your business operates.”
— Bill Ross, Chief Executive Officer, Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF)
"Start with a good attitude and desire to grow. Then, the single best thing an individual can do to advance to an executive position is constantly work on their critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills set you apart from everyone else.”
— Troy Korsgaden, Author, Trainer, Speaker, Consultant and Owner of Korsgaden International (Photo: Shutterstock)
“I believe the best thing an agent could do to move into an executive position is to be ethical. At G&N, I started as a ‘do it all sales helper to the owners.’ Today, in only 5 years, not only do I head up the Sales Department, but I am also part of the Leadership Team (Board of Directors). This shows that commitment, work ethic, authenticity and dedication have its rewards.”
— Monica Adwani, Sales Manager, G&N Insurance (Massachusetts)
“As brokerages and agents have moved more into the role of being trusted advisors to their clients, it’s important to take a broader look at the types of behaviors that best align with the goals of your business and to structure an incentive program accordingly. Going beyond traditional commission-based incentives and focusing on causes instead of effects can result in better long-term outcomes for both insurance agents and their clients, while still being beneficial to your bottom line.”
— Mark Herbert is President and CEO of Incentive Solutions, based in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo: Shutterstock)
“Being an executive means you are taking on leadership responsibility. It is not the things that you are responsible for, it is the people you are responsible for. You are responsible for their success, you are responsible for their growth, and you are responsible for leading those people to their greatest potential. Leadership is always about the people you lead. As an agent, you may be only concerned with your production and your achievements. As a broker that starts to change. And, as an executive, you are fully charged as a leader of people. Get to know people. Learn what their desires and dreams are. Build connections. Serve. These are all characteristics of the accountable leader and as you work on developing those you will be developing to be a leader and an executive.”
— Sam Silverstein, Corporate Leadership Consultant and Keynote Speaker (Photo: Shutterstock)
That’s the spirit and inspiration behind Oprah Winfrey’s newest book, “The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose,” (Flatiron Books, 2019). The book weaves together Winfrey’s personal anecdotes with pearls of wisdom from such well-known contemporary luminaries as Jay-Z, Ellen DeGeneres, Elizabeth Gilbert and Eckhart Tolle.
The media magnet says her hope for the book is that it will help readers discover not only who they are but who they’re meant to be.
“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling,” Winfrey writes. “It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.”
If your calling is to be a leader in the insurance world, the path may not always be clear. But as Winfrey illustrates in her book, it can be easier to find when those who’ve gone before you help light the way.
In this first installment of our periodic series offering pointed peer advice to insurance professionals, we asked insurance and business leaders what they believe is the single most important thing an individual can do to advance to an executive position. Their insights are included in the slideshow above.