How Affinity Insurance Executives Can Become Resilient Leaders
Anton Gunn — a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, CEO of 937 Strategy Group, bestselling author, international speaker, and consultant — offered thought-provoking insights on the topic of business resilience at PIMA’s 2023 Winter Insights Conference. If you missed the event, here are a few of the tips Gunn shared on how affinity insurance leaders could leverage the power of radical recovery.
What Is Radical Recovery and How Can Insurance Professionals Master It?
As Gunn pointed out, radical recovery is a business management and leadership practice that makes it easier for executives and their teams to bounce back from tough times. However, it can be challenging to become resilient and confidently lead change in an industry that’s morphing all the time like affinity insurance. What Gunn proposes is that leaders in this position embrace five key strategies to effectively guide their teams (and the industry in general) toward prosperity and innovation.
1. Stay informed.
The best way to overcome change-related fears is to stay informed. Having the right information gives leaders the courage to understand the challenges and changes coming toward them. Although they might still be afraid of what’s on the horizon, their self-education and situational awareness gives them the courage to move forward.
Gunn noted that for affinity insurance leaders, PIMA was one of the best knowledge assets around. By keeping up with PIMA’s research, findings, and data, members can stay prepared and understand what’s happening not just “down the street” but also “around the corner.”
2. Keep asking questions.
Not all knowledge comes pre-packaged in a whitepaper, blog, article, or YouTube video. Leaders must be ready to make inquiries and have tough conversations based on the answers they get.
Gunn mentioned that topics like the DEI space deserve questions. Subjects like equity and pay are on people’s minds, and leaders haven’t figured out how to fix these types of DEI-related issues. However, if they don’t ask questions, they won’t come to any conclusions or have “Aha!” moments.
Silence is always the enemy of progress. Asking questions of trusted resources is a best practice for anyone interested in developing a business recovery plan that’s ready for the needs of the modern era.
3. Respond to tough times — but don’t react to them.
What is the difference between responding and reacting? A reaction is instantaneous. It’s lacking thought and is merely an action. Often, reactions end up being embarrassing for leaders due to their thoughtlessness or negativity. A better philosophy is to always wait a full 24 hours to process complicated things. After 24 hours, it’s much simpler to create a thoughtful response that acknowledges realities without having toxic consequences.
Along those lines, toxicity isn’t always associated with pessimism. Toxicity can come in a deceptively positive form. Bosses who say, “There’s nothing to see here” when the world is falling down are toxic. They’re reacting by pretending that nothing’s wrong when their direct reports know otherwise.
It’s difficult for a leader to be an inspiration if the leader keeps reacting left and right. Consequently, leaders should give themselves the room to process change so they can lean in and lead from a more informed posture.
4. Talk with transparency.
Gunn made no bones about one thing: Transparency breeds trust. The importance of transparency in business can’t be overstated. People may not like what transparent leaders tell them, but they will always value and trust that their leader isn’t keeping them in the dark.
For leaders new to engaging in transparency with their employees and colleagues, a good way to start is by minimizing the fear of the unknown. That is, share what’s happening with direct reports down to the last-minute detail. Gunn talked about when he was an executive at a health system. After each executive team meeting, he would give his direct reports all the information he had just learned. This allowed everyone — including those who were naturally resistant to change — to become believers in him and in transparent leadership.
Transparency isn’t just offering information, though. It’s also talking about all the steps in a longer process. Leaders can’t just tell their direct reports three steps in a 26-step process. They deserve to see the whole picture.
5. Cultivate people who are future-forward.
How does a team or industry own the future? By focusing on it. From a practical standpoint, that means elevating efforts to make things better today with the goal of changing tomorrow. Leaders can cultivate their mindsets to be servant leaders and change-leadership role models. They can also empower those around them.
The old saying goes that you need to teach someone to fish. Gunn goes a step further and says that’s not enough. True leaders who want business resilience must teach their teams where to fish, how to pick out a rod, how to choose the right bait, and more. It’s the only way Gunn feels it’s possible to promote genuine workforce empowerment.
Handing over responsibility in difficult times is simply the right thing to do. For instance, that might look like putting someone else in charge of DEI efforts so they can help the company outperform the competition. Whatever it takes, leaders have a responsibility to not just thrive themselves but prompt those around them to thrive as well.
Times might be tough. Nevertheless, by following Gunn’s business management and leadership recommendations, affinity insurance leaders will be able to leave their industry and the world better than they found it.
Want to stay on the leading edge of industry trends? Attend a PIMA conference and learn from a master keynote speaker like Anton Gunn.
Published on Oct. 24, 2023.
PIMA® (Professional Insurance Marketing Association®) is a member-driven trade association focused exclusively on the affinity market.