FOUR QUESTIONS TO MEASURE
YOUR AGENCY’S LEADERSHIP
If you don’t love the results you’re getting,
it may be time to improve your leadership skills.
By Brent Kelly
It’s a question I’ve heard in various forms from agency leaders over the years: How do I know if I’m a good leader?
According to leadership expert and author John C. Maxwell, it all comes down to influence. While I agree that influence is a vital part of leadership, it’s equally important to understand what constitutes influence and how to know if you as an agency leader have it. Furthermore, how do you improve upon it to become a better leader?
To help you find out, I’ve come up with four basic yet powerful questions as a starting point in analyzing and improving your agency’s leadership.
Who is following you and why?
James M. Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, writes, “If you think you are a leader and you turn around and no one is following you, then you’re simply out for a walk.”
Although the title or responsibilities of a leader may provide credibility, it does not guarantee influence. People will follow you for a while, but is it because they have to or because they want to? There’s a difference.
Gaining influence and followers doesn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing process that is developed through expressing appreciation when due, fostering and building deeper relationships outside of the workplace, and earning trust.
When it comes to building relationships, I don’t mean you must be best friends with your co-workers, but I think you should make a concerted effort to know people as human beings vs. cogs in a wheel. It makes people feel valued when they’re commended on personal achievements or asked about their family members.
Trust, on the other hand, usually is gained through actions, not words. Are you doing the things you said you were going to do? Are you believed? If so, the team is likely to trust and respect you. If not, you probably don’t have trust of the team, which makes it less likely they’ll follow you.
“If you think you are a leader and you turn around and no one is following you,
then you’re simply out for a walk.”
—James M. Kouzes
Are your people transforming?
This question may seem odd at first, but the truth is that nothing changes if nothing changes. Are your people changing or adapting to the current environment? Are they improving or staying the same?
Top leaders foster a culture of curiosity. To me, that’s a key component of great leadership, because it encourages team members to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and seek higher levels of performance.
While there’s much to be learned from the past, you can’t live there. Great leaders recognize this. They replace the words that sabotage agency progress—“That’s how we have always done it”—with words that welcome opportunities for improvement: “Is there a better way to do it?” If your leadership typically responds to new ideas by immediately shutting them down, it’s probably not a transforming culture.
As an agency leader, are you inspiring your team to have confidence not only in the future of the agency, but in themselves? Great leadership should inspire both.
- When it comes to “confidence in the agency,” it should include a:
- Vision—Clarity on where we are going
- Mission—Why it matters
- Roadmap—How we will make it happen
Regarding “confidence in themselves,” there are many ways to instill confidence in the people that you lead, including:
- Empowerment. This requires transferring some of your power to others. There is nothing more belittling than doing someone’s job for them because you think you can do it better. “Never mind, I’ll do it myself,” sends a clear message that you think the other person is incompetent or, at the very least, incapable of doing the job to your expectations. While that approach kills confidence, empowerment builds it.
- Asking vs. telling. Certainly, there needs to be the agency’s way of doing business, and leaders need to give consistent direction and guidance. However, great leaders know that producers are out in the trenches daily and may have some suggestions for improvement. For example, instead of telling the team, “This is the renewal process we want you to follow,” a true leader will ask, “How do you think we can improve our renewal process?” By asking people to think about creative solutions rather than simply react and go through the motions, you’re inspiring confidence and transformation.
- Learning through wins and losses. Although I’m sure you’ve heard this, it’s an adage that I think bears repeating: “Experience is not the best teacher; the evaluated experience is the best teacher.” I won’t argue that experience is critical to knowledge and growth. But without reflection, experience is often a matter of doing the same thing repeatedly and garnering the same results. To learn from experience, you must evaluate why certain things are working for you and others are not. Or to quote John Maxwell once again, “Reflection turns experience into insight.” When you question your experiences and learn from them, you’ll transform and grow rather than stagnate.
I’ve seen many successful agencies that never stray from the status quo. Their vision is to “keep the seats filled” by not rocking the boat. However, that only inspires complacency, not the confidence required to transform your agency.
Are your people growing?
While this sounds much like the previous question, there are some important differences that can help you measure your ability to lead.
One of the frustrations I hear from agency leaders is the lack of growth in their business, as well as their people. Usually this is due to complacency or stagnation, and only occurs when the team members stop growing professionally. That’s why I believe the number one job of a leader is to develop their people into becoming their Best Version Possible. Are you helping your team members improve themselves?
Development is all about continual and never-ending growth. The challenge is to avoid the comfort zone. Although the comfort zone feels good, it’s a place where nothing ever grows. It’s barren.
To spur growth, you must continually move your team past their comfort zone into areas that will challenge them. Typically, this is accompanied by fear, doubt, uncertainty, and insecurity. (“I’ve never done this before.” “What if I look stupid?” “What if I fail?”) That may not feel good at the time, but it’s where the magic happens. It’s also where great leadership enters the picture.
The best leaders know how far they can push team members to get them to the next level. They understand that growth is a process that involves the development of various skills. Take external communication skills as an example. A great leader will evaluate how team members handle objections, what kinds of questions they’re asking, how they deliver presentations, etc. Growth applies to internal communications as well. How is the team implementing technology and to what extent are they utilizing it? This is a source of discomfort for many people who would rather cling to “the way we’ve always done it” because it’s familiar and comfortable even if it is inefficient. (Remember when we moved from faxing to email? From Blackberrys to iPhones?) Ultimately, those who don’t adapt stop growing and get left behind.
You know people are growing in your agency when the question changes from “Can I?” to “How can I?” How can I do this differently? How can I improve this? The problem with “Can I?” is that it’s a yes or no question, which often results in shutdown. “How Can I?” inspires people to think outside the box and grow, which is what you want.
Is your team getting results?
Results are the scoreboard, whether you’re an agency leader or working for one. Many of the most successful agency leaders started out as producers. Results were expected and easy to measure. You either won (by hitting your goals or having great growth) or you didn’t (by losing an account or failing to close a deal). When you’re a leader, it’s not so clear cut.
For some, making the transition from personal achiever to agency leader can be daunting. What makes a great producer doesn’t necessarily make a great leader. Just because a producer has been there for a long time and makes a lot of sales, doesn’t mean they can train, develop, and inspire others.
For example, when the team struggles, it’s tempting for the leader who has thrived individually to wonder what’s wrong with them. Because these personal achievers often see the team as an extension of themselves, they may think, “I was a successful producer, so why don’t they just do what I did? Why aren’t they winning?” Great leaders, on the other hand, will ask, “What’s wrong with this situation? How can we as a team improve the behaviors and strategies that lead to the desired results?” They believe it’s their responsibility as a leader to determine why and how to get those results, because they know that when their team wins, the agency wins.
One of the tools we use for our sales leader members is the Producer’s Performance Agreement. This coach-led, mutually designed document addresses the three primary strategies and behaviors that will help their team members succeed:
- Clarity. Define and document specific goals. These cannot be ambiguous declarations such as, “I’m going to sell more insurance,” or “I’m going to do better.” There’s no clarity there. Instead, “What would a great year look like for you? Let’s agree on how to accomplish that.”
- Consistency. Agree on set behaviors that can be measured and coached around. Although we need to know numbers, you can’t manage numbers, only behaviors. For instance, I can’t manage your one-pound weekly weight loss, but I can help you create a diet plan and set a goal for you to go to the gym three times a week. In this case, an exercise log and a tape measurer or bathroom scale will indicate if you’ve succeeded. Similarly, you can track your agency’s success according to whether team members meet their goals. If the goal was to write three new accounts and get five referrals, did they or didn’t they? If they did, it’s a win. If they didn’t, why not? What caused that outcome and what must happen to keep it from occurring again?
- Commitment. Adhere to agreed-upon behaviors and strategies and be accountable. We all fall short sometimes, but when that happens, what are the consequences? There must be some level of accountability to get results. Without it, negative outcomes tend to accumulate and, before you know it, two bad weeks can turn into two (or more) bad months. For example, what will you do if an individual’s sales goals aren’t met? Will you accept what happened and say, “Better luck next time?” A good leader will assess what went wrong and why, and help the producer get back on track. (“You said that X and Y were the two most important things to reach your goal, but you’re not doing them. Why is that?”) Was the goal overly ambitious? If so, you and the producer need to agree upon a reset. However, if set behaviors and/or goals aren’t being met due to incompetence or obvious lack of effort, it may be time to rethink whether the individual is a good fit for the team.
The bottom line
The goal of great agency leaders is for their team members to reach their full capability. They do this by fostering an environment of growth that encourages people to transform, develop and become their Best Version Possible. That’s why the best leaders are revered, not feared. People choose to follow them because they trust and respect them.
Are you a great leader or do you think you could become one? Do you inspire transformation, growth, and development within your agency? Are your leadership skills exemplary or are you “simply out for a walk” because no one is following you? If you don’t love the results you’re getting, it may be time to measure—and improve—your leadership skills.
Brent Kelly, president of Sitkins Group,Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who has a passion for helping insurance agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sitkins.com.