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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: 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. 

Your heart is racing and your palms are clammy. You take deep breaths and resist the urge to wipe your hands on your stain-free suit. It’s interview day, and you’re stressed. It’s almost impossible to avoid—nerves and interviews go hand-in-hand, but going in armed with these helpful tips could save your suit and help you land that job.

Preparation Makes Perfect

Do your research. Channel your inner student and study like it’s finals week. Do not underestimate the value of putting in serious preparation time before the big day. Gather useful information about the company or client and the interviewers, and don’t be afraid to use LinkedIn as a tool to help you. They may see that you viewed their profile, but this doesn’t make you a stalker—in this case, it can only serve to show that you’re taking the time to learn about them and the company for whom you hope to work.

Know Yourself

Remind yourself of your achievements; exude confidence with a healthy dose of humility. If you’re interviewing for a claims-specific job, be certain of how many claims you have handled at any given time. If you’re interviewing for a position outside of claims, re-familiarize yourself with your sales numbers if necessary, and be sure of the amount of time you have been with each company. Ensure that you have concrete examples of your accomplishments, and how those accomplishments have helped the company. Furthermore, if a hiring manager asks about your knowledge of a specific tool or software program—such as Xactimate—you should be able to provide real life examples of your experience with it and how it has helped you in your previous positions.

You should also be prepared to address your weaknesses as well as your strengths. When discussing your weaknesses, however, avoid portraying yourself in a negative light. Focus on “faux weaknesses” that could have a positive result for the company, such as working too hard or being a perfectionist. Lastly, think of a few hobbies to share with the interviewer(s) that show them you are the dynamic, well-rounded individual they are looking to hire, not someone whose only hobby is binge-watching their favorite show every night (even if that is the case!).

Suit and Tie

You’ve done all of your research and refreshed your memory with regards to your performance metrics. You’re almost ready. Almost. In order to truly impress the interviewer(s), you need to look the part. It is always safer to overdress—wearing a suit despite the company’s lax dress code shows professionalism. Underdressing in a formal environment sends the wrong message. Make sure what you’re wearing is appropriate for the situation, which means no B’s. Don’t wear an outfit that shows your Boobs, Butt, Back or Bellies. Save the flashy number for a night out on the town after the interview is over. Unless you’re interviewing for a fashion-focused position, keep it simple. It’s hard to go wrong with a clean blue or charcoal/grey suit for men and blue or black suit for women. Avoid brown or tan suits, as these colors don’t tend to inspire confidence.

In addition, avoid distracting the potential employer from your accomplishments and skills with extreme odors at both ends of the spectrum; arrive fresh and clean, but there’s no need to bathe in Chanel No. 5 beforehand, either. Today is about you and your qualifications, not your perfume.

Go Time

The time has finally come. You’re well-equipped with information about the company, your interviewer(s), and yourself, and you’re looking fresh. Now, you need to be certain you have all of the necessary materials to help you. Print and bring multiple copies of your resume, just in case there are more people in your interview than you anticipated. It’s a simple gesture that proves your level of preparation. In addition to your resume, you should also bring a pen and a notebook with a few questions to ask. Even if your questions get answered during the course of your interview, a quick flick through at the end to check that all of your questions have been answered will show the interviewer that you came fully prepared. If you happen to arrive early, instead of sitting while you wait, stay standing. This helps you maintain decent posture, and means you’re ready for a handshake as soon as they come out to greet you. If you’re kept waiting long enough, have a look around the lobby. Take stock of your surroundings and try to use them to your advantage. You might find some information on the wall such as a recent award or staff announcement, or even just the age of the business, which could give you an edge in the eyes of your interviewer(s).

During the interview, don’t ask about benefits or PTO. Think of the first round of interviewing as a first date—you wouldn’t ask your date how many kids they want when you shake hands, so don’t ask your interviewer what the company intends to do for you when you first meet. Save those questions for when you know you like each other.

The End is Nigh

The interview is coming to a close and you’ve done just about as much as you can to show them you’re the right person for the job. But it’s not over yet! Before you leave the room and breathe a sigh of relief, ask the interviewer(s) if they have any reservations about your application, your resume, or yourself as a candidate. Let them know you’re happy to address any concerns they may have. Addressing any doubts that the interviewer(s) may have in person means that you can leave safe in the knowledge that you’ve shown them your best self and all that’s left is for them to decide. Before you run through the goodbye handshakes, be sure to ask about the next steps. This reaffirms your interest in the job, shows that you are proactive, and brings the interview to a natural but firm close. Lastly, remember to ask for the interviewer’s business card or contact information so you can easily follow up with them after the interview.

Don’t You Forget About Me

Show how much you care about the job by following up with a thank you note for every interviewer within 24 hours of your interview. Make sure each note is specific to the person you met, not just a generic note that you’ve copied and pasted for the whole team. If you really love the job, send an email and follow up with a hand-written note. Writing the note by hand adds a personal touch and helps you to stand out in a crowd over-saturated with technology.

Remember that people hire people they like, so go in with a friendly, positive attitude and let your awesome self shine. Follow these tips, take a deep breath, and go get ‘em. You’re destined for success.

These tips are from Chelsea Buzer, Head of Recruitment at Insure National Staffing, and written by Rebecca Kirkpatrick. For more information please contact Chelsea Buzer at [email protected] or go to Insure-National.com

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?

 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

Gracemarie Mende

Claims Manager Arch Reinsurance Company

While providing some insight about her day to RISE Director, Katerina, Gracemarie states, “The best way to find productivity in my day is to make a to-do list of even the littlest things.” We spoke beyond her day and more in depth about the positives of pursuing a career in insurance in the following Q &A.

What time do you wake up?

If I had to pick a specific time, I’d say around 6:45 am however, with my husband’s work schedule, I tend to fluctuate depending on the time he gets home at night. Most days lately he’s been working from 1 PM to 9 PM which results in my stay up closer to midnight.

How do you get to work?

My morning consists of about a 45 minute drive to work. Throughout my career thus far, I’ve experienced the worst and the best commutes from as short as a 20 minute drive to as long as an hour and a half train and car ride one way on unreliable mass transportation.

What is the first thing you do when you get to the office?

They say your first few agenda items upon getting in the office would be to get yourself situated, get your coffee, straighten up your desk, etc. However, as my career has developed, I find myself dropping my coat in the same spot, logging on and immediately jumping into emails. Half the time it’s over an hour or so later when I pick my head up and realize I need water, breakfast, and a bathroom break. It’s probably not the most productive way to start the day, however, when your mind has been racing the entire way to your desk, you don’t want to lose your train of thought or momentum.

Who do you work most closely with at work?

In this role, I work closest with a number of TPA firms and adjusters. My job requires supervision and oversight of the firms, programs handled, and individual assigned adjusters. However, part of my job is collaborating with the other departments like Operations, Compliance, Legal, Finance and Underwriting.

What does 9-12 look like in your day?

99% of the time, my day begins well before 9 am. From those morning hours through mid-day, most of my time is spent diffusing situations, resolving questions and concerns, and dealing with the last-minute emails not addressed from the night before. If I’m lucky, that will consume the first hour and a half of my morning allowing me to begin my to-do list for the day. The best way to find productivity in my day is to make a to-do list of even the littlest things. It can become daunting if you sit down and realize all the things you still have spilling over that can never get accomplished. Once my morning emails are done though, I find myself able to actually supervise and monitor the claim files being handled. Of course, all of this only applies IF there are no meetings scheduled. Let’s not even begin to address the monkey wrench that throws into the day.

Lunch?

I’m lucky, or unlucky, enough to work for a company who is obsessed with food. At least once a week, there is some sort of lunch being ordered, however, it’s important not only for your health but, wallet to plan your meals. This enables me to not only work through lunch when necessary, but, step away from my desk to accomplish those little things I may not have time for after work, get a manicure and other beauty maintenance, stop at the cleaners, make a doctor’s appointment, etc. At least 2-3 times a week, I step away from my desk for at least a half an hour to sit and socialize with a number of co-workers, but, the rest of the time, I take the opportunity to accomplish personal things. That time is what I make of it. I sure won’t be leaving any earlier if I don’t step away which drags out the little tasks needed to get done in life. Theoretically, it sounds like my lunch time enables me to get it all done, realistically, it never works out according to plan.

What does 1-5 look like in your day?

The second half of my day I try to break up into setting aside time to accomplish tasks and diffusing more problems that arise. Upon returning from whatever I do during that lunchtime hour, I take some time to answer a few emails and calls. By mid-afternoon though, I’ve tried to set that time for meetings, projects, and closing out the needs of others, unless that’s the project I’m working on. By closer to 4/4:30, I circle back to the outside world and begin closing out emails and calls for the rest of the day.

Who is home waiting for you at the end of your day?

I’m blessed to be married for the last almost 2 years to my husband, although after living together for the last 4, the honeymoon stage has long passed. Our children consist of 2 fluffy big brown dogs and a bossy cat. All of whom require an excessive amount of attention when I get home.

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

I actually enjoy the work I do and what I’ve learned. When asked what my job is like, I’ve related it to law and order. There’s a claim behind almost every action nowadays. Think of a horrific car crash, hurricane, #MeToo, product recall or the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee complaint. All of these breaking new stories result in some sort of claim regardless of the carrier or who handled the claim. Whether news worthy or not, the claims department of an insurance company is tasked with investigating a complaint and allocating responsibility. It not only provides dinner conversation but, always keeps your day interesting.

When you were 18 did you envision your life to be like this?

At 18 years old, I still envisioned myself as a Special Education teacher working a set work day, lesson planning, summers off, and hoping to have started a family by now. I never wanted to be in the industry nor high powered as I grew up an only child of a successful single parent in the industry. I never appreciated the demands and work. At 18 you’re still jaded by decisions that you may not have appreciated growing up.

What advice would you give to any 18-22 year old making decisions about their career goals?

Try not to pigeon hole yourself. Appreciate the ability to learn and challenge yourself to new skills and career options. As much as you want to believe you’re not trying to live up to expectations from movies, TV shows, social media, etc. Your future and career can be much more enjoyable without having to be some version of TV glamorous. Don’t close off a possible career path because you don’t know what it is or it may sound boring.  There’s a cheesy fortune cookie saying I keep on my desk. It doesn’t always work on the daily, but, every once in a while, it keeps me grounded, “Aim for the sky, because even if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars.” Like I said, cheesy, but, if you think about it, if you keep trying and open yourself up to anything, you’ll still find joy and success at the end of the tunnel regardless of whether it’s part of your initial plan.