On Jan. 4, 1988, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was named Time magazine's Man of the Year. On Jan. 1, 1990 he was again Time's cover, but now as the magazine's Man of the Decade. On that date he was the most powerful man in the second most powerful country in the history of the world. Less than a year later he and his country were gone. This is the power of change.
In recent months we've witnessed the Arab Spring. Powerful leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen were deposed by their minions. This is the change of power. These are the two sides of the same coin. The currency is power.
In yesterday's world, power was autocratic. It rested in the hands of the few -- those with control over capital, land, might, jobs or contacts. Leaders chose their followers. Today power is more democratic -- it rests in the heart and souls of the people. The desire for human freedom is proving its power every day. Today, followers make or break their leaders.
It's still unclear what changes the Occupy Wall Street movement may bring, but it certainly exemplifies yet another contemporary power struggle.
Changes in power can also occur in organizations. Established professional partnerships made up of CPAs, attorneys and MDs dissolve. More often than not when I ask why, I'm told that the young professionals are tired of carrying the "old" partners on their backs. Simply stated, to attract and retain the best talent you must earn their respect, trust, and power, and work to sustain these. Just being the "oldest guy in the room" no longer assures control.
Today the independent agency system is finding itself in the same sort of power struggle. Carrier contracts now have limited franchise value -- almost any agency and any producer can access any carrier as needed. The "noncompete" contract may make the agency principal feel better but in reality it has limited value since the only individual with the absolute power to dictate control of a renewal is the buyer of coverage -- the policyholder. Consumers are going to buy where and what they want regardless of your noncompete contracts.
In the new world where everyone has options, your success rests in your ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest employees, policyholders and carriers. You are no longer in charge as an autocrat. You are no longer served by the followers -- you must serve them.
"The servant-leader is servant first," according to The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. "It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions?The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
The future belongs to the agency principal who knows power has changed and respects the diversity of the followers. He or she must clearly articulate a vision based upon shared values that earns the commitment of their "followers." Then the principal must align interests of stakeholders, balance conflicts and orchestrate harmony.
Feudal systems have been overthrown -- tomorrow is about being "talent magnets" which can and do attract and retain the best talent and assure sustainability by their humility not by coercion. The future is not about young or old, black or white, male or female. It is about diversity, contributions, responsibilities, results, teamwork, commitment and wisdom. Collaborative change is good.A positive, sustainable, enthusiastic culture is critical to the future! Great leaders will innovate, not evaporate!
Steve Jobs said "Death is life's change agent. It gets rid of the old to make room for the new." I hope all of you live a long and productive life. I hope when your time is past you can step aside graciously and gracefully for new-power successors to lead in new ways. Rest in peace!
MICHAEL G. MANES is owner of Square One Consulting, a New Iberia, La.- based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change management and architecture. He has over 37 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
November 29, 2011
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