By: Donna Friis, PE and Brad Gronke, EdD

The First Step

There will be awards and recognition throughout your career as you excel.  When you resiliently pursue your own vision of superlative quality, and consistently exceed your goals, people will notice.  Some may not enjoy the public recognition.  A simple thank you is good enough for these individuals yet others enjoy being a public example to follow and lift people up with them.  Recognition is a natural human need and according to Maslow falls just below our self-fulfillment needs as a psychological need.  Esteem needs such as prestige or a feeling of accomplishment can come through many different forms of recognition.  One very valuable source of recognition is from a promotor. Think of a cheerleader at a football or basketball game.  They want nothing more than to have their team win the event, or at minimum, a friendly enthusiastic and vocal supporter.  They are not the referee and cannot control the rules of the game.  They are not the coach and cannot improve the technical skills of the competitors.  They are promotors.  They will motivate with everything they have to encourage their team to win.  Promotors in the professional world are very similar.  Promotors work very hard to ensure visibility for their people both inside and outside of their organizations.  Have you ever wondered what people say about you when you are not in the room? Promotors inform anyone that will listen to them that you are the best person for whatever is being discussed.  As you build your career, find as many promotors as you can. While you are building your own leadership skills, advocate for those deserving of recognition too.  Be a promotor.

The Best Award

One of the greatest recognitions personally received was when it came from a mentee and someone that was promoted.  A personal note communicating that an impact had been made in someone’s life.  They were changed because of the relationship, time, and effort that was put forth.  They were successful.  Their success is our success as promotors and mentors.  

We have these formal terms such as promotor or mentor.  Do we all really know what they mean and how we can achieve our own best awards through our work in these areas?  Exploring the true meaning and value of the relationship are the specific areas of focus for this journey.  Setting out on our journey we will come across some additional questions like can you be a promotor and mentor, for the same person or are they mutually exclusive?  We all have time constraints, should we be promotors or mentors?  What about the investment of time by mentee?  Lastly, it’s always important to know we are just getting started! 

We need to look forward and see the importance of goal setting.  What steps do we need to take to find our next mentee? Will they find us? Just remember, if someone doesn’t look like you, they probably don’t think like you, and if they don’t think like you, they can help you think differently![1]

Subtle Differences Make All the Difference in Mentorship

There are intentional needs for each of the ways to provide lift to others.  Building people can be very rewarding but before we begin doing so, we must understand how we can do so.  Mentoring relationships need some very specific focus areas in order to achieve successful, measurable outcomes.  There are seven total focus areas for the mentor-mentee relationship including transparency, authenticity, time commitment, process, feedback, accountability, and intentionality.[2]

A mentor and mentee need to allow themselves to be transparent about the relationship.  There needs to be an understanding that there will be a safe space created for growth and development.  Boundaries should be established clearly at the start of the professional relationship with the understanding that keeping an open mind will allow growth to happen.  It’s okay to be a little vulnerable.  Sometimes people are scared when they hear the word vulnerable.  They may think that if they are vulnerable they are weak.  Quite the opposite is actually true.  When we open ourselves up, we are being authentic.  We need to realize what we don’t know could fill mountains yet we still have a lot of information we can learn from each other. An authentic leader can easily invoke trust from their peers.  Creating a safe space allows the mentor-mentee relationship to be more authentic and allows for the efficient use of everyone’s most precious commodity, time. 

When mentoring we want to ensure that each session starts and ends on time as well as we keep our promise to meet when we say we are going to do so which builds trust.  Starting and ending each mentoring session on time is about respecting everyone involved but it is also about following a process. 

There are several different processes for mentorship available to utilize.  We will not dive deep into each of those now but will leave that for future discussion.  The specific process that you implement is not as important as your commitment to follow the process once started so that you do not get distracted.  Focus your journey on what’s important now.[3]  In many processes and in all mentoring relationships there needs to be a feedback mechanism without either participant in the relationship becoming defensive.  Instead of feedback, I like to think of it as feedforward.[4]  A mentor wants to always improve and grow just as much as a mentee.  Feedforward is a concept to be able to help identify opportunities and build upon strengths through goal setting.  This reinforces another part of the process likely present no matter the one chosen, having your mentee selecting goals and writing them down.  The concept of feedback, at best, offers a sandwich approach with a positive observation of past performance, a negative one, and then ending with another positive observation.  Instead of focusing on past performance use feedforward to focus on the future. 

In considering goals and writing them down as a part of most mentoring processes there also needs to be accountability.  Mentors should be positive leaders and engaging their mentees but being positive is not nirvana.  Showing your mentee professional love and commitment through positive reinforcement requires holding them accountable throughout the relationship. 

The last piece of good mentoring summarizes approach to each of the previous focus areas and that is intentionality.  Setting up clearly defined roles, goals, and boundaries at the onset of the mentoring relationship with intention will yield the most successful outcomes for all involved. 

Be intentional about your transparency, bringing your authentic self into the relationship, time commitment, following the process, feedforward, and holding each other accountable.

These are the basics for a successful mentoring relationship. 

Once we know the basics of mentorship, we can then see the advantages of finding a mentor and serving as one.  We learn from each other.  We will build upon our technical skills through mentors that are in our same area of professional focus and industry.  Mentorship does not have to be only about technical skills; it can and should be about human skills as well.  We will not call these soft skills as they can be very real and some of the most challenging to learn so we will call these human skills.  Human skills can include active listening, empathy, holding effective courageous conversations, intelligent disobedience, being a partner follower, and many more.  These essential skills for growth and development can certainly be learned by someone in your same professional focus area and industry but why limit yourself. 

The world is massive and yet becoming smaller by the second through global organizations as well as technological advancements in communication.  Seek out mentees and mentors within your professional focus area and outside of it as well.  Success will come through the mentoring relationship not because of what your mentor does each day but because of why your mentor does it.  The passion is what drives us to get out of bed each morning with an attitude of gratitude.  You don’t need to limit yourself to just one mentor or mentee either.  Learn from as many as you can.  Make an impact in as many lives as you can.  Just remember your time commitment.  It’s also okay to say no in order to produce a quality relationship.  As you build your career, find as many mentors as you can. And, as you are building your leadership skills, increase the knowledge of those willing to listen and learn. You owe it to yourself to increase your knowledge, you owe it to the world, to help others be great by being a great mentor.   

[1] Bakalar, Kristin, Subtle acts of inclusion, In2Risk, 2020

[2] Fitch, Beth, Effective mentoring, 23 March 2018

[3] Holtz, Lou, Winning every day: The game plan for success, 1998

[4] Hirsch, Joe, The feedback fix: Dump the past, embrace the future, and lead the way to change, 2017

By: Shannon Harjer, Vice President of Personal Lines, Founders Insurance

At a leadership conference many years ago, I received a “sticky note” holder engraved with the wording “Attitude & Environment Matter.”  While I do not remember the specific details of the conference, I do remember who designed this special item – and his legacy of being a leader whose value system was based on serving others. This keepsake has been on every desk I occupied in the last decade as a visual reminder of the importance of professional leadership attitudes and the impact it has on the workplace environment.

Recent studies on psychological safety and work product improvement corroborate the importance of creating a culture of inclusiveness through a myriad of leadership behaviors and corporate strategies.  Studies also indicate that more work needs to be done on leadership inclusiveness wherein positive psycho-social climates are examined from a diverse group perspective. Even without these studies, we can act now with a focus on deterring the effects of status difference on engagement and our environment by examining three contributors: leadership, culture and strategies.

Leadership. From a leadership vantage point, developing an inclusive, genuinely collaborative workplace starts with each leader, at all levels within the organization. This is not driven by Human Resources as a mandated leadership behavior or class, but within oneself to build self-efficacy to truly “walk the talk” of inclusionary leadership. It is a deep conversation you have with yourself, analyzing your thoughts, decision-making processes and actions impacting others. Performed with honesty, it can develop your self-awareness beyond normal feedback and personnel surveys.

Culture. An organization’s culture is often guided by value drivers – not the mission statement. For many organizations, value is derived by who they serve. It is ingrained in their attitude and decision-making processes, noticeably impacting customer and employee retention. They exist to serve their customers’ needs, quickly adapting to new expectations faster than their competitors because they are value focused. They lead with intensity because it matters to those they serve.

Strategies. Strategies are a piece of the environment often overlooked. You might think they only exist in the silos across your matrixed environment. Organizational strategy is the sum of all strategies and the beacon to which all strategies align. When business functions are not in congruence, cracks begin to form. Collaboration across the organization and genuine service to those you serve may be inconsistent, feigned or nonexistent, resulting in unsustainable deficiencies.

Transforming an organization where your leaders execute the behaviors and actions aligning with your value drivers is key to success beyond revenue. It starts with being true to oneself and those around you through true service. Here are my personal commitments that help me stay the course:

  1. Focus all strategies on organizational value drivers.
  2. Inspire others through an unbreakable spirit of service to others.
  3. Recover quickly from disappointments and learn from them.

As we move into late summer, please take the time to discover more about yourself. Your attitude and impact on the workplace environment do matter!

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Utica Mutual Insurance Company, its subsidiaries and affiliates.

Join RISE at the ACE conference as we interview David Vanalek, Chief Operating Officer of Claims at Markel. We learn about his scariest interview question, advice for those looking to move up the ladder, what skills he’s hiring for, and some innovative initiatives he’s involved in.

Stacey Jurado

Claims Casualty Manager
Atlas Financial Holdings, Inc.

Stacey spent time with RISE founder, Amy to discuss her daily routine along with some advice for the new insurance professionals entering this space.

What is your morning regimen?

I get up at a quarter to 5 am, and my regimen is: coffee, shower, and play with my dog for a while to clear my mind to get ready for the day.

What is your commute like?

I’m very fortunate, I live less than 5 miles from the office so drive in.

What is the first thing you do when you start your work day?

The first thing I do is get some administrative tasks done. I get in before everyone, so I am able to get all my end of day reporting from the previous day done. This way I’m ready to field whatever people need when they get in.

Who do you work most closely with?

I’m in the casualty department within claims. I have one supervisor and a total staff of 11. Currently I’m looking to fill 2 open positions. I work most closely with my team, legal staff, and outside counsel. I also have one property damage adjuster as well.

How do you balance meetings, email, solving problems, and your own tasks?

 I try to schedule my day, and I allow certain times for different activities. Each person has a specific time, so if they need attention, we can address it at their time. I live by my calendar, both personally and professionally.


 Lunch is usually at my desk. It includes a coffee run which takes about 15-20 minutes to reset and refocus, gets me outside for fresh air, and allows me to step away, because that is important.

You never get through a day without ______.

Having plans change. You must always be ready to roll with it!

Can you name an innovative solution that made a huge impact for your area of responsibility?

We’re using an outside vendor to manage our legal billing, and we moved to flat fee scheduling, which gives better control over spending. I used this before at a prior company and it works very well. I’m also working on putting in place an early settlement bonus. I’m going to tighten up the plan because it will benefit both us and our outside counsel, and it will cost less in the long run.

What changes in the role of technology have you noticed in your department? Does this change the skills you hire for?

We’re now paperless so that gives people the opportunity to work pretty much from wherever. Everything is more advanced so we look for people who can be more independent. We do have several people who work from home remotely several days a week.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the results and seeing people succeed professionally. I enjoy winning cases. I also enjoy building rapport with others in other departments. Watching peers receive promotions is amazing. Seeing my team expand their roles is the best, because that’s how I got to where I am today.

What is your biggest motivation in getting up every morning to do it again?

My family is my motivation. I just want to make them proud. My mother owns her own successful business so I’ve always wanted to make her proud.

When you were 18, did you envision this to become your career?

 This is definitely not what I thought I was going to be doing. I don’t think I had a clear vision at 18. I would encourage others to find something they are passionate about. Just be open to try things because that’s the only way to figure out what you love. I happened to fall into it, but I love it. Insurance is much more interesting than it sounds! People have a preconceived notion that insurance is boring. No two claims are the same, and you constantly have to think outside the box to come up with innovate ways to achieve the results, whether it’s utilizing resources that have served you in the past or finding an outside vendor. Insurance is anything but cookie cutter.

What advice would you give to other women who might be considering a career in insurance?

Work hard! Try to get as much exposure as you can, whether that’s working in different departments or forging relationships with other departments. Become well rounded so you become a resource. Surround yourself with the people you want to emulate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help