By KATIE KUEHNER-HERBERT, a freelance writer based in San Diego with more than two decades of journalism experience with expertise in financial writing
SAN DIEGO -- Companies can improve the chances that their future leaders will be successful if their current leaders take the time now to guide them, according to a panel of experts speaking Oct. 12 at the 2011 Annual Convention of the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices in San Diego.
"Someone will always rise up, but to bet on that is foolish," Michael Miller, president and chief operating officer of Scottsdale Insurance Co. in Scottsdale, Ariz., told attendees of the panel discussion, "Developing the Future Leaders of Our Industry."
The panel was moderated by Kristen Skender, the national marketing director for USG Insurance Services Inc. in Pittsburgh, and president of NAPLO's Next Generation, a group within the association that provides leadership, industry training and social networking opportunities for young insurance professionals.
"It's good for companies and organizations to have talent-development programs like Next Generation, than to roll the dice and take our chances," Miller said.
Miller's firm has a formal class for employees who are considering taking leadership roles in the future, but he also advocates that people wanting to advance in their careers informally should take initiative on projects within their organizations.
Steven Guess, chairman and chief executive officer of Metro Insurance Services Inc. in Springfield, N.J., agreed.
"Always give 100 percent of yourself and be prepared to be a team player," Guess said. "You will shine by being a person who is willing to be a volunteer."
Patrick Ryan, chairman and CEO of RT Specialty Group LLC in Chicago, recommends that companies offer "rotational" programs in which novice employees can learn many different parts of their business, to better help them decide how they want to grow their expertise.
"Companies need to constantly bring in young people and give them opportunities to learn from experience," Ryan said. "Give them something meaningful to do very early in their career, and provide them very specific skills training so they can become an expert in a given area."
Companies also need to provide mentors for their novice employees, Ryan said, but novices can also seek out informal mentoring relationships as well.
"I never really had a formal mentor, but I had a lot of people that I considered my mentors, though they didn't know it," Miller said. "Everybody wants to share their story and so you just need to get them to share their experiences."
People desiring to be future leaders within the insurance surplus lines industry should consider obtaining the industry designations such as Associate in Surplus Lines Insurance (ASLI) and the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU)
"It's one thing to be very knowledgeable and it's another thing to be able to communicate well -- either verbally, in written form or when interviewing," said Letha Heaton, outgoing president of NAPSLO and vice president of marketing for Admiral Insurance Co. in Cherry Hill, N.J. "Study how to communicate better because it will have a huge impact on your career."
"Introspection is good for self-development," Ryan said. "If you don't like to speak in public, then you'd better learn how to overcome that. If you don't like writing, then you'd better learn how to do that. Looking at how you can improve yourself is paramount to success."
The panelists also listed a number of mistakes that leaders can make that can cause them to be ineffective.
"A lot of times leaders don't have a vision," Miller said. Their company "becomes an incremental organization -- they can deal with today's issues, but not with long-term success."
Ryan said that leaders can often get "too hung up" on process, which can hinder innovation. "One of the most exciting things about our industry is that it's ripe for innovation."
Heaton said that older leaders today need to "embrace" the different ways that younger generations can relate to others.
"Younger people are able to multi-task. They can be talking on their cell phone, texting and listening to music all at the same time, and we in the older generations just need to let go and realize that's how they respond to things," she said.
While most companies can improve upon their talent-management programs, the panelists believe the industry is on the right track.
"Over the last 25 years we've brought on really good talent and new companies are springing up, so I'm very optimistic about the future of our industry," Ryan said. "More and more people are recognizing that our industry is a great place for a career -- you never see an insurance expert who is unemployable."
October 12, 2011
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