The act of empowering others changes lives, and it’s a win-win situation for you and the people you empower.
When you think of customer experiences you have had with your cable company, phone company, or services run by a governmental entity, what are your typical feelings?
If you are like many, the words frustrated, annoyed, or maybe even dreadful come to mind.
I had a recent phone conversation with my cable company to change my billing information for our monthly automated payment. Our debit card was compromised and I needed to give them updated payment information.
I thought this would be a simple conversation. Something like, “Hi my name is Brent and I need to update our automated payment information because our current debit card was compromised.” Then they would say, something like, "No problem, sorry to hear about that, let's take care of that right now."
I should have known better.
Instead this seemingly simple 3-minute phone call turned into a 30-minute frustrating experience. I was told that I could not update the information from the phone and that I needed to login to an online account. The problem was that this online account was attached to an email that I no longer had access to and I didn’t even know existed. I politely told them that I didn’t know the credentials to access this account and that I would be unable to make any changes online unless they could help me with my online login access.
I was then firmly told that they could not do that as that information would be sent to my email address. Again, I told them that the email address was with a previous employer that I no longer had access to. I asked if I could have it sent to another email address, or if I could get new login information, or if there was ANY other way to resolve this situation.
Remember, my goal was to make sure that they receive MY MONEY!
Finally, I asked the service representative if there was anyone else I could talk to and finally…..after about another 10 minutes, spoke to a supervisor. After explaining my entire situation again, I finally was told that they could indeed make this change on the phone. Say what! After all this time, you now tell me that you can collect my new payment information on the phone?
Why? Because the first person I spoke with wasn’t empowered to make that change on the phone. That was their policy. When people aren't empowered to make basic decisions, it leaves everyone frustrated.
The problem with the leadership at this cable company, which also occurs at many insurance agencies, is that the focus is on the wrong thing.
Processes are important, but never more important than the people needed to carry out the process.
High-achieving insurance agencies understand that the emphasis should primarily be on their people…..not policies or procedures.
Successful insurance agencies believe in their people, they encourage them to achieve excellence, and they release them to do it.
Author and leadership expert Tom Peters says, “Techniques don’t produce quality products or pick the garbage up on time; people do, people who care, people who are treated as creatively contributing adults.”
Leadership expert John Maxwell states that, “People under the influence of an empowering person are like paper in the hands of a talented artist. No matter what they’re made of, they can become treasures.”
An agency that understands the effectiveness of empowering others realizes that true leadership is about working with and through people. Growth agencies focus on helping their entire team reach the highest levels in their personal and professional development.
Often agency leaders are hesitant to give away their power to others on their team. It could be due to the fear of them making a mistake or simply losing their power and authority.
You don’t lose anything giving away your authority, you empower others to rise higher.
Think of lighting a candle. When you light another candle with a lit candle, your candle doesn’t go out, it simply creates another lit candle. That’s the magic of empowering others.
Let me be clear, empowering others in your agency is not a quick or easy task. Nothing happens overnight and you must be selective in who and where you will pour your time and energy.
Here is a 7-step checklist you can use to empower others on your insurance agency team to reach greater levels of personal and agency success.
1) Evaluate Them
All people have the potential to succeed. Your job is to evaluate that potential, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and begin to equip them with what they need. This requires evaluating their knowledge, skill, and desire.
2) Model for Them
Even if people that you want to empower have the necessary knowledge, skills, and desire, you must still be a model and show them the way.
As a father of five children, I can clearly attest that people do what people see. If I tell my children to remain calm while I am acting nervous and upset, the words are meaningless. The same is true with your team.
You can’t lead people effectively without first modeling the way you desire them to lead.
I learned this first hand as a young agent. I had been through numerous sales and product training classes, but it wasn’t until I went on appointments with other high-performing sales producers that I truly began to grow and develop as a producer.
I wasn’t told what to do or how to do things on these appointments. I simply watched first hand from other leaders who were modeling success. I learned about work ethic, communication, service, and persistence. These first-hand lessons empowered me to become a better agent in my career.
3) Give Them Permission to Succeed
As an executive coach and speaker, I realize that not everyone wants to succeed at the same level I do and that can become frustrating. I know the same is true for many agency leaders in working with their team.
However, one of the keys in empowering others is to first give them permission to have success. Great leaders transfer their confidence to others through their attitude, their words, and actions.
When you truly believe in others, they will begin to sense it and over time will begin to see they can accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
4) Transfer Authority to Them
Management expert Peter Drucker said, “No executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective.”
Your agency will only become strong and effective when you give others the opportunity to make decisions, initiate action, solve problems, and meet challenges. This is especially true today as emerging leaders (Millennials and more) are continuously looking for ways to make their mark and make a difference.
As your team becomes more effective in certain areas, start to look for more difficult assignments. I was told once that if someone can do a job 80% as well as you do, it’s likely time to delegate it.
5) Publicly Show Your Confidence in Them
Belief drives behavior. When you publicly show confidence in others you are building their belief, which in turn produces more profitable actions.
I recall being at an insurance client meeting with my agency principal several years ago. During the meeting, he edified me several times during the meeting in front of the client. Not only did that raise the confidence level of the client in my ability, but internally, my confidence level sky rocketed.
Because my boss would consistently praise me in public, I wanted to prove even more that I would live up to those expectations.
When you show confidence in your future leaders and their followers, you will find that they quickly become empowered to succeed.
6) Supply Them with Feedback
Empowering others doesn’t mean telling people just what they want to hear. Leadership is about telling the truth while allowing for grace.
Making new mistakes should be encouraged, but repeating mistakes is a sign that you are not supplying them with honest and positive feedback. Provide consistent and clear feedback always.
7) Release Them to Continue on Their Own
One of the biggest responsibilities I feel as a parent is to equip and empower my children to become fully functional adults, who at some point will no longer need me to make decisions on their behalf.
I will always be there as a father to encourage and assist my children well into adulthood, but they need to develop full responsibility and authority for their own lives.
As an agency leader, your goal should be to equip members of your team to a level where they no longer require your input in every decision. That is true empowerment.
Let’s face it, most insurance agencies talk and walk much the same. Many leaders ask me how to differentiate their agency in today’s marketplace. I truly believe that inspiring and empowering leadership is often the primary advantage your agency has over another agency in today's competitive market.
When you empower your agency team, you will improve the agency culture, build confidence, and most importantly, create a world-class experience for your clients and company partners.
Let me wrap up with a powerful quote from leadership professor Farzin Madjidi that sums up the importance of empowering your agency team.
“We need leaders who empower people and create other leaders. It’s no longer good enough for a manager to make sure that everyone has something to do and is producing. Today, all employees must “buy in” and take ownership of everything they are doing. To foster this, it’s important that employees should make decisions that most directly affect them. That’s how the best decisions are made. That’s the sense of empowerment.”
Brent Kelly is a speaker and executive coach with The Sitkins Group.
At The Sitkins Network, we work directly with Sales Leaders to help their team install a set offense for their agency, conduct ongoing training programs, and build a culture of accountability.
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