By: David S. Williams, CPCU, AIC, PCP, Chief Claims Officer

I’ll readily admit during most of my 36-year career in the insurance industry I was a full-fledged micro-manager.  As a “boomer” I was brought up in the business with many “top down command and control” leaders as examples.  I thought at some level job title, experience and knowledge were most of what a good leader needed to effectively and efficiently lead people and run a business. 

What I’ve learned is a lot of time and energy was wasted trying to make sure those I was keeping a close eye on, for everything they were doing, was getting mixed results and serving to stifle morale and the motivation to deliver excellence.

Today, as I work here in Austin, TX for a not for profit in a very competitive job market, it’s hard to find the experienced talent you need at any cost.  We’ve found the best alternative is to hire smart recent college graduates and develop them into the employees your company needs to be successful. 

Over the last 7 years I was provided with the opportunity to lead and develop several Millennials.  What I’ve learned from them has helped to fundamentally change my leadership style while providing the pure satisfaction of watching young less-experienced professionals learn and grow their careers.

I’m the father of 3 Millennials so I know a little bit about how they think and act and unlike some members of my own generation don’t have much of the perceived or actual animosity toward this younger generation simply because “they don’t do things the way we do things”. 

I’ve seen first-hand how they use technology (taught my wife and me to text since they never answer their phones) and how they build relationships, communicate and collaborate with their friends and peers, for good or bad, during the high school and college years. 

In raising our children, my wife and I thought ahead about where we wanted our children to end up, worked with them to set goals, parameters for acceptable behaviors, to take steps to think through their actions before taking them, and to take smart risks.  Like most children, ours made mistakes.  When that happened, we reminded them to understand what they learned from the mistakes so they would not repeat them.  This approach helped our 3 children grow up to be successful adults. 

I realized when given the opportunity to lead Millennials, the same approach might work with our new less experienced employees.  Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying a leader should be a parent to their employees.  Instead, a good leader may use good parenting techniques to guide their people to look ahead, think about where they want to go with their careers, help them set goals, encourage them to seek out challenges, take smart risks, think through their actions before they take them, and learn from mistakes so they are not repeated.  This is probably good advice for anyone.

So, what have Millennials taught me over the years? 

First, they’re fearless.  Don’t be afraid to challenge them.  They love to solve complex problems and do so in very creative and what some may see as unconventional ways.  Trust them enough to let them do it in their own way, which usually means intense research and communication and collaboration with their peers inside and outside of your organization.  This might take longer, but in many instances, I’ve seen them move faster and come up with solutions many, including myself, may not have considered. 

Second, understand they will not do it the way you might have done it or want them to do it.  Give them the freedom to explore and make mistakes in their approach or solutions.  What damage can they do if ultimately you work with them to make most of the final decisions?  At times they may not deliver the results you expect.  When that happens, use these opportunities as teachable moments, not failures.  

Third, let them get out of their normal office environment to explore options not readily in front of them.  Let them work from home or somewhere they feel more comfortable.  I’ve seen first-hand many times how this works for the better.  Here’s some good advice: If you’re ever struggling to get someone at another company or governmental agency to respond to your inquiries and requests, I’ve learned if you “have your Millennials talk to their Millennials”, quite often they will open up the communication channels you were unsuccessful at opening up. 

Lastly, they want to learn constantly.  Be sure to expose them to as much of your business as possible.  Stretch them by giving them unique or non-traditional tasks or roles.  Immerse them in new and different roles, even if temporary.  Give them the opportunity to learn and establish their key business and personal relationships through a variety of educational courses and especially conferences and seminars where they can meet with their peers and share knowledge and experiences. 

Watching Millennials work, learn, and grow has re-energized me as a leader and helped motivate me to be more open and flexible in my leadership style.  I’ve found my natural curiosity has increased and I find more satisfaction than ever conducting research and learning new things.  I truly believe this will help me be the leader I need to be through the constant change we’re all going through now and for the next ten years and beyond.

I know some reading this might think that spending so much time and energy developing Millennials only to have them leave your organization might not be time and money well spent.  I can assure anyone that the satisfaction of seeing them move on to an even better job somewhere else, knowing you played a part in their success, makes up for any feeling of loss.   It also provides the opportunity to replace them and the satisfaction to start all over again with a new employee making the effort all worth-while. 

By: Bernd G. Heinze, Esq., President of Heinze Group, LLC

Over the past 36 years, it has been a privilege to continue working in the insurance marketplace: first as an insurance defense and coverage trial attorney, vice-president and national chief litigation counsel for a property and casualty insurance company, executive director of a professional insurance trade association, and now as a legal and insurance executive today. During these years, I have been able to observe what makes a leading professional and the values that will sustain them as they ascend through their career. Here are five thoughts to consider:

  1. Differentiate Yourself. There are thousands of insurance professionals in the industry. What makes you stand out from the rest? Be a sponge and absorb everything you can read, observe, hear and see. Then, find one thing, just one thing, and become an expert in it. Be the “go-to” person on that topic in your organization and to its customers. You can start a podcast, blog, or offer to speak at functions.
  2. Stay humble, loyal and caring. No matter what your role is throughout your career, consider the organizational chart as horizontal versus vertical. Take an interest in and treat everyone respectfully and on the same level as you. It is an uncommon trait these days. Remember, what’s more important…a professional title on your business card or the testimony of how you will be remembered? When you’ve made it into a management or leadership role, forget about “empowering” your team. Inspire them! Don’t just give them tools and resources, give them your heartfelt interest, encouragement, and inspiration of goals they can achieve by exemplifying your personal brand of leadership. Share the credit. No one gets where they want to go alone.
  3. Never eat lunch alone. Everyone has a story to tell. The insurance business is still built on trusted relationships. The more we share that golden hour with others, the more we can learn, expand, and foster our professional network. Watch those new ideas and opportunities harvested from a conversation over a salad, soup or sandwich and a Diet Pepsi.
  4. Burn the Boxes. Remember the phrase “think outside the box”? Forget about it. The boxes and those who think outside of them are history. Don’t look back for inspiration from them: you’re not going that way. Think ahead and of writing on a blank canvass or iPad screen and ask the question: “What if?” It’s more important to ask the best questions than having all the answers. In today’s marketplace, we’re all looking for the next big idea or how to change the paradigm. Constantly challenge the status quo and use your own personal skills to creatively develop that new portrait and landscape.
  5. Serve your community. Get involved in a non-profit, your church, temple or synagogue, little league, 4-H, or senior center. Rather than asking “what’s in it for me?” ask “How can I serve?” You will exponentially lift up the lives of others and yours in the process. Life is balancing yourself, family, profession, and spending yourself in a worthy cause.

Today is best time to be in the insurance marketplace. Thanks for what you’ve done and all you’re going to do. You’ve got this. Make a difference. Leave a mark. Be sustainable.