How to Approach the Most Difficult Person to Lead at Your Agency

One of the questions I often get when I work with insurance agency leaders is, “How do I best lead my team?”

Like most agencies, you probably have challenging people on your team—people with egos, complacent people, people with drama, people who are unable to listen effectively. But none of these challenges are your most difficult.

The most challenging person you will ever lead is you. No other person you lead will have a bigger impact on your business.

Leadership is personal, and it doesn’t get any more personal than leading yourself. Many of us are our own biggest fans, as well as our own worst critics. In other words, we don’t often see ourselves the same way others do.

And as if leading yourself isn’t hard enough, you must also realize that everyone is watching you while you do it. Your agency team is watching when you show up and when you leave, whether you follow through, the way you treat others, your values, and whether you understand and respect them.

While that may seem like a great deal of pressure, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to set the tone for the culture of your agency. Here are four ways to become a better leader by leading yourself:

1) Serve first. The best leaders are servant leaders. That means you must be more than just a leader—you must also be a follower. Arrogant leaders are rarely effective because, at some point, their followers simply tune out.

To avoid that outcome, spend time each day serving your team by asking questions, listening and trying to understand their situation. You don’t always have to have an answer or fix something, but remember: An open ear is far more powerful than a mighty mouth.

This approach will not only make your employees feel like a million bucks, but also give you important ideas on how to make your agency more successful.

2) Discipline starts with you. Self-leadership is challenging because the mirror doesn’t lie. As stated earlier, as a leader, everyone is watching you. If you ask your team to be disciplined, you first much be disciplined, or your message will fall on deaf ears. Agency discipline starts with you.

For example, if you require your producer to make 50 cold calls a week, you need to be willing to do the same. Or if you require your team to show up for a Friday afternoon event, you need to be there as well.

Of course, as a leader, your time may not be best spent doing certain activities that your team is doing. That’s why you have a team. But you must be willing to put in the time, work and effort to be the model of discipline.

3) Slow down. Michael Jordan won the scoring title several times before the Chicago Bulls eventually won their first championship. He could have probably won the scoring title every year of his career if he wanted to, but it wasn’t until he realized that to achieve the success of several championships, he would have to sacrifice some personal success.

While there is value in thinking and moving quickly, it also has its weaknesses. Many agency leaders are also top sales producers. But to be a highly effective agency leader, you must also learn how to lead other top producers. Winning agency leaders understand that it’s not about finishing the race first, but rather how many you can take with you across the finish line.

That requires patience. If you are too far ahead of others, they will eventually get frustrated and stop following. For high achievers, slowing down may feel completely unnatural, but high-performing agencies are filled with leaders who value long-term success over short-term satisfaction.

4) Accept accountability. Every insurance agency I work with wants to sell more, retain more clients and earn more profit. And one of the most important steps toward achieving those goals is making teams be accountable to each other.

 As leaders, we sometimes find it challenging to find accountability partners, because many people on your agency team don’t want to challenge your authority. That’s why you must welcome and encourage others to disagree with you and hold you accountable.

Who is willing to tell you the truth and hold you accountable? The best agency leaders are the ones who seek the truth, even when it hurts. No matter how self-motivated we are, everyone performs better when we are held accountable.

Brent Kelly, vice president of insurance agency consulting firm The Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer.