KNOW THYSELF AND CONNECT
Key factors to understand before going down the leadership path
By Dave Willis, CPIA
Are you interested in developing your leadership skills? If you have time—and lots of it—you could head to Amazon and search for books on leadership. You’ll have to choose from up to 60,000 titles. In a rush? Heed Quincy Branch’s advice, and you’ll need to focus on only two things.
Branch, RHU, EHBA, president of Las Vegas-based Branch Benefits Consultants, the July 2017 Rough Notes Agency of the Month, is deliberate about how he leads his agency and how he develops himself and others.
He’s had experience. In addition to his day job—running a highly successful agency in a vibrant city—Branch currently serves as a member of the Federal Advisory Council on Insurance (FACI). He also is immediate past chair of the National African-American Insurance Association (NAAIA), and previously he served as national chair of the Big “I” Young Agents Committee. He also has an example. His dad, Aubrey, is himself an agency leader and also led NAAIA in the past.
Asked what leadership entails, Quincy responds, “When it comes right down to it, leadership involves two things. First is really knowing who you are. From there, it’s about knowing how to connect with people. Those two things are critically important when someone talks about going down a path of leadership.”
Branch, who is in his early 40s, falls right in the middle of the age continuum in his agency. That means he is responsible for leading people a generation his senior and one behind—everyone from Millennials to Boomers.
“At my age—and it really isn’t an age thing, it’s universal—the place to start is just knowing yourself, understanding who you are as a person,” he explains. “That’s really important for someone in or entering a leadership position. Unfortunately, I don’t think people necessarily take time to actually do that.
“For me, understanding myself and being self-aware means I know my motivations, I know my personality type, I know my work ethic, those kinds of things,” Quincy adds. “The flip side of knowing who I am is knowing who I am not. For instance, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed or the brightest bulb in the pack, but that does not need to be a problem because I’m aware of it.”
Knowing and acknowledging this fact brings real value to Quincy and his team. “As a leader, recognizing any weaknesses I might have allows me to be intentional about surrounding myself with individuals who I know have strength in those areas,” he explains. “It’s valuable for me to know that something is not my strong point, my wheelhouse, my niche.
“It’s especially important because, when people put that leadership tag on you, when they identify and view you as a leader, they assume you do everything well—or that you should,” Quincy adds. “That’s not necessarily the case.”
Intimately aligned with knowing yourself is showing yourself. “Too often, people put on a facade or try to be what someone thinks they should be, and as a result they are not being their genuine self. I have found over the years that it’s incredibly hard to lead people when you’re not truly who you are and instead are throwing up a facade.”
It takes more than knowing your own personal style and idiosyncrasies to lead effectively. “The second part of what I believe is key for leaders is knowing how to connect with other people—and then doing it,” Quincy explains. “In addition to knowing yourself, you need to realize that everybody you deal with is not going to be like you.
“When you’re aware of that and when you’re aware of your own idiosyncrasies, you don’t try to project them onto other people,” he says. “To be candid, if I tried to project who I am, what I like to do, and how I work onto other people, I’d probably lose the majority of my staff. As for those who remained, we’d probably drive each other crazy.
“I have the pleasure of connecting and interacting with all kinds of personalities every day,” Quincy adds. Between the dozen-plus team members in his office, clients and everyone else he encounters on a daily basis, he says, “I don’t get the luxury of saying, ‘Okay, I’m only going to behave this one way and everybody has to conform to what I say, what I do.’ That wouldn’t be effective.”
He has found that connecting well involves “people smarts. You have to be in tune with people. It’s not so much about being the smartest insurance person or the best salesman. You need to be able to read people and understand them. The ability to do that sets leaders apart.”
Quincy points out that people’s differences drive the need for individuals to be “handled a little differently. Yes, you need to have certain universal processes in place to ensure your agency runs smoothly. But you need to be able to adjust your interactions with people based on their styles. One person may respond to something differently than the next person, and you have to adjust your approach to maximize what you want to get.”
A prime example is interactions within the agency. “We have more than a dozen employees, and there’s a nice mix—from Millennials to Baby Boomers,” Quincy explains. “I’ve learned that when it comes to leading people, not everyone responds the same way. In terms of incentives, for example, money does not drive some people. So I can’t just come out and say, ‘I’m going to give everybody a $200 bonus if we hit this certain target.’
“Of course, some people love that; others would prefer if I let them go home an hour early one day,” he adds. “When you’re in leadership, you need to be keenly aware that one size doesn’t fit all. You need to know how to connect.”
Make it work
Quincy recognizes that there’s a bit of a twist in the formula, and that involves perception. “You not only need to know yourself; you need to be keenly aware of what others think of you,” he explains. “They may or may not be right, but the fact remains that they see you a certain way. And as a leader, you need to recognize that you can’t live in your own little bubble.”
The whole notion of self-awareness and its integration with leadership got a boost for him in a conversation he had with his dad several years ago. Quincy was branching out (no pun intended) professionally into areas where his dad had not yet ventured, and Aubrey encouraged him to sign on with an executive coach. He did.
“We made that investment,” Quincy recalls. “I connected with someone who wasn’t in the insurance industry, who was not connected to us personally or professionally, but who could come in and see the forest for the trees. That helped me take an introspective look at who I am as a leader and who I want to be.”
More important, it helped him determine what he could do to make himself a better leader. Part of the process was a leadership assessment survey. “My coach asked me to identify 50 people—people who worked in our organization, friends, business associates, people I know through organizations I’m involved in, and other people with whom I have some sort of connection,” he explains. “We asked them to rate me on a range of factors, from written communication to oral communication and more.
“The goal was to get feedback that’s outside my own personal perception,” Quincy says. “How do individuals view me in certain areas, and does that differ based on the type of respondent completing the survey? It’s not necessarily designed to make me change but rather to help me recognize how I work best.”
He encourages young professionals—or anyone in or interested in leadership—to take a similar approach. “Getting involved in the industry made a big difference,” he explains. “Getting involved with the Young Agents and NAAIA connected me with like-minded people and allowed me to step into leadership roles.”
He also sees value in leveraging that industry involvement. “People I met through my involvement were more than happy to be resources for me,” Quincy says. “They were generous with their advice and were pleased to mentor me. That’s the key. Connect yourself with people who want to see you succeed. If you try to do everything on your own, you’ll crash and burn.”
Formal and intentional professional development also can help. “It’s important to be purposeful about taking classes and getting designations,” he comments. “But there’s more to it than that. For instance, for leadership, my involvement with the Young Agents and their annual sales and leadership conference was invaluable.
“Focusing on leadership, learning to be a genuine person with character, that really makes a difference,” Quincy concludes. “It’s purposeful, and while it may not have an immediate and tangible financial payback, it yields significant returns.”