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There's Wisdom in the Room - Interview with Dan Mickells

 

Brent Kelly:

Welcome to The Agent Leader podcast, the podcast to help you, the agency leader, gain clarity, build consistency, and to make a commitment to become your best version possible. I have a great guest today. I'll talk a little more about this guy in a minute, but I will tell you, there's some people that when you talk to, you get off a conversation, you're fired up, you're ready to go, this is a guy that's going to get you fired up. I know he gets me fired up because he is passionate about the business and the industry. Can't wait to introduce him here in a second. Before I get into our guest and our great conversation, I always want to mention that we are continuing to look for growth-minded partners as we get into 2023 and moving forward. In fact, partners like a firm, this guy who I'm going to be talking to works with, but those that are really committed to growth, those are committed to being that best version possible.

If you're interested in learning more about what we do and how we work with agencies, our private client group, go to sitkins.com/experience, sitkins.com/experience. Learn more about our process, what we do. More importantly, you can schedule a strategy call talk to one of our coaches to see if it would be a fit for your agency. With that, I want to get into our guest. Without further ado, I built this guy up a little bit, now I'm going to build him up a little bit more. He's someone who fires me up. Dan Mickells, who's a risk advisor, also sales leader at UNICO Group in Nebraska, the great state of Nebraska. Are you in Lincoln or Omaha today? Are you in Lincoln today, Dan?

Dan Mickells:

I'm in Lincoln today. Yeah. I kind of share my time between Lincoln and Omaha.

Brent Kelly:

The capital city there in Nebraska. I've had the pleasure. I was just thinking about, "Gosh, how many different ways have I connected or know... Do I know Dan?" Obviously, UNICO is one of our private client group members and we've had a number of years of relationship with UNICO. Love working with that company and the leadership and their team. Dan also is part of our sales mastery group that we had going on, so I got to know Dan even better. Then Dan was also part of the Agency Leadership Institute, so I got to see Dan there. We run into each other a little bit, but Dan's just a super energetic guy and he's passionate about getting better. He's passionate about helping others get better. I know you, as an agency leader, are going to take some great nuggets from today. Dan, I can't build you up anymore. Well, I could, but I'm not going to. Dan, welcome to the podcast.

Dan Mickells:

Yeah. Brent, you're too kind. Very appreciative to be on here. Like you mentioned, I love to learn and I find all kinds of opportunities to do that in your podcast and other podcasts inspire me. I think the work you're doing is tremendous, and hopefully, I can offer maybe a nugget or two for your listeners, because I think there's always something we can think about and maybe refine. I've been in the business, Brent, a little bit about me, for 30 years, over 30 years. I started with the national carrier and I was really lucky because it allowed me to wear a variety of hats. I was in operations, I was in recruiting, but I was also in claims. It really allowed me a really good foundation to see and understand really what happens when you have a loss.

I did that work for over 25 years, but one of the guys I met along the way was a good mentor of mine, Rick Stokes. Rick is a principal here at UNICO and we constantly stayed in communication with each other. Stars aligned, six years ago, I joined UNICO Group based in Lincoln, Nebraska. We got about 135 to 140 employees right now, 32 million in revenue. We just cracked the top 100 agencies in the United States, something we're super proud of and something that we are continuing to strive to push that number upward. Married, three kids, love insurance and really appreciative with the upchance to be here with you today.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Well, thanks Dan. I won't give too many clues at the national carrier, but I live in Central Illinois, and there's a big one, and they have red as a color. I don't know, you just go with it now.

Dan Mickells:

That's right. Absolutely.

Brent Kelly:

We've talked about that before. I think it's really interesting though because there is... When I talk to people, this is the advantage of what I do for a living and just doing this podcast, is I get to learn so much from people. One of the things that I continue to see is that wealth of background. Even in the insurance industry, just seeing different things and different perspectives. Certainly, I'm sure, Dan, has made you a better risk advisor, and to point now, a better sales leader. I want to start off, I got a list of questions. I'm sure I'll take us off track somewhere because it's sometimes fun for me to do.

But I want to start off, not in a negative light, but I always want to address frustrations. You know guys at UNICO, I know, Dan, you personally had some great success. We'll talk about that, certainly, on some things you're doing. But obviously, there's challenges, there's frustrations too, and the agency leaders that listen to this podcast, they're dealing with stuff too and there's probably some crossover. I'd like to get your perspective, whether it's individually, sales team, agency-wise, whatever direction you want to take it. What do you see is one of the biggest frustrations or challenges that you're dealing with right now and what are you doing to address it?

Dan Mickells:

Yeah, good question. I think when I was thinking a little bit about challenges, one is, as you mentioned, I'm moving from a risk consultant to helping on the sales leadership team. In and of that self, making that transition has been a little bit of work in trying to recalibrate on how my schedule looks and things like that. But I think really what it comes down to for me, Brent, is this, this business is about patience and you need to be patient. I think that can be a frustration because I'm a high performer. I want to see it yesterday. I want to play the game before the field's chalked. I want to get out there and get things done because that's how I'm wired. I think what I'm really challenged with right now is knowing this is a larger sales cycle and having the patience to stay the course.

It gets back to what you can control, the day-to-day things. You talked about stacking good days. Stacking good days, stacking good weeks is how I overcome it. It's things that I can control. That's getting meetings, getting appointments, taking care of my clients, managing processes and procedures, because I really do think patience is something that you need to have in this business. Unfortunately, sometimes people don't have it and they start to do desperate things. For me, when you get into that desperate time, a lot of times, you do desperate things that aren't probably the best things you should be doing. I'd say patience and how I overcome it is a lot of the tools Sitkins' given me.

Brent Kelly:

Well, Dan, boy, there's a lot we could unpack there. I mean, I've taken notes as you're saying things. I mean, first of all, and I want to hit a few of these areas with some follow-ups to get your thoughts on this, but you are moving from that risk consultant, and you obviously have your book of business, and it's a very nice book of business that you've built and earned. Now from the leadership, a development role, and you had mentioned schedule, which is obviously a critical piece. How do you figure that out and allocate time? You've heard us say before times you're only diminishing asset. I'd like to get your thoughts and you could talk about that. But I also, what I was interested Dan and I would ask you is, there's a time issue, but there's a mindset issue.

That's a big thing we see with agency leaders. This is not uncommon, to have a player coaches or successful producers that have earned the right, and have a book of business that are now in leadership role. One of the things I see, it's like, "Gosh, how do I go from 100% focused on hunting, and now the patience to slow down and have these conversations that, quite frankly, might interrupt my own growth of book of business?" I gave you a lot there, Dan, but how do you approach that?

Dan Mickells:

It's a great question and I've really been wrestling with that. But what I'm finding right now, Brent, frankly, is trying to take the people that I'm working with, my team, and pretty much putting each one of those as one of my clients. They become part of my client relationship calendar, if you will, so that I am making sure that I'm getting the right touches with them, giving them what they need, really going through a sales process, which each of my team members on what they need. I've tried to use that model so that I'm not over complicating it. I treat them like they're a client and my whole job is to make them better, to make them more efficient, to make them more effective, to make them more money, just like I want to do for my clients.

That's really been my transition. What has really helped me the most is that Sunday planning or that weekend planning so that you spend some time really getting organized, so that you can attack the week, attack the month, attack the quarter. That, to me, has really been helpful. I've taken the people that I'm working with and integrated them into my client relationship calendar. It seems to be working, but certainly, it's not perfect. You get the phone call, you get the question, and then you get off kilt, but that's what I'm trying to do.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Well, boy, first of all, I'm glad I asked the question because I think some great... I hadn't really thought about it that way before, but when you think about some of the top producers, what they're great at is proactive relationships with their clients. You're just taking that approach on a more personal level with your team members, which I love. I also think too, and this is my thoughts on this, you talked about patience, which by the way, is really hard for an aggressive entrepreneurial-minded salesperson. I mean, that's a hard thing. You get to play the short game in the long game knowing that there's short-term behaviors that lead to long-term outcomes. Again, that's a challenge of discipline and patience.

I always chuckle. Roger Sitkins, he says many times, and of course I borrow/steal a lot of these sayings, but he said, "People think it's a get rich quick scheme, is it's not, but it is a get really rich slow." It's like, "Okay, how do you want to build this?" One of the things, and every organization is set up a bit different, but obviously, you've got your own book of business, Dan. A lot of the producers that are player coaches certainly do. Question is, gosh, what would it look like in three, five, 10 years if you're able to accelerate and expand all those books of business around you on your team? My guess, there might be some value there as well. Is that fair?

Dan Mickells:

No doubt. No doubt about it. Right now, how they're kind of slotting me from a sales leadership is to really work with our newer advisors. I'm also working with some advisors that I haven't done a lot of work with. Maybe offering them a fresh perspective, a fresh point of view. We've kind of changed up the cadence on what that looks like. I think it's been helpful for everybody because it's fresh faces, fresh ideas. But you're right, working with the new advisors, my goal is to get them validated and get them contributing, become a shareholder. I win when they win because we're making more money, our values higher, and the world's a better place when that happens. You're exactly right. I enjoy that part of it because I think probably one thing that I've had some success with is just building out good processes and procedures and staying steady with it. I think newer people, it's really easy to get off track, and so continuously helping them stay the course on what's going to work for them, that's what I've been pushing, things you could control.

Brent Kelly:

I think that's critical. You mentioned too, just about the proactive scheduling, we talk so much about that. But I think I wrote down, and this is really hard to do and I struggle with this. I do my best on it, but it's like I want to be so prepared and proactive on the week ahead. I don't want to have to be thinking about what I need to do. I just need to do what I wrote down really, really well. It takes-

Dan Mickells:

Love that.

Brent Kelly:

... a bit of that pressure. I just need to show up at this appointment prepared, I need to be prepared for this and that. Now the reality of it is, Dan, and you hit it, does that mean you're not going to get the email, the call, the knock? Yeah, right. And then it becomes, "Well, how do I deal with that?" Part of this too, and this is something I've learned from leaders and I try, it's one of those where it's always, "Can I get five minutes? Do you have a minute?? Do you have a second?" You don't want to be dismissive, but part of this is, "I want to give you my full-time and attention. Let's make sure we have a proactive, intentional discussion around this versus some random discussion that is half serving you, half serving me, and throwing us all off-course for the week." There's a balance there. I don't know if you agree or disagree with that.

Dan Mickells:

No doubt about it, Brent. I agree. I think one of the things that I've found that is very helpful is when you are clear with people you're working with, and all people really want is to know the ground rules and to have an understanding of what that all looks like. My son the other day said, "Dad, you gave me an invisible expectation. How was I supposed to know that?" I said, "Oh, boy." I go, "You're right, son. I wasn't clear with you on what I really wanted you to do. I assumed a couple things and it was unfair." He called that an invisible expectation. It was just a great reminder to me that you can't assume things and it's important to be very clear in what you're wanting so that everyone's on the same page.

Brent Kelly:

It's always so amazing what we learn in leadership and relationship, communication with our kids. Obviously, I've got them strong across all over and we have a five-year-old in my house still. I have a college student, but I have a five-year-old. The one thing that five-year olds don't care if you say, "Let's find a time and I'll give you my full attention," they don't really care, Dan. They'll just say, "Now, now. Look, look, look at this. Look at this." But outside of five-year-olds, Part of that is even with your kids, it's amazing what they'll learn and listen to. Dan, if you were someone I was working with or I was trying to mentor you or coach you in certain things, I'd say, "Hey, Dan. Listen, let's face it. When you pop in and you get half my attention and you're half asking a question, how successful are we really? Not really. Let's do this. Let's be really intentional and I'm going to delegate some time in my calendar. I'm going to give you my full attention and I can answer your question thoroughly and with intention and I'll promise you that. Is that fair enough?"

Dan Mickells:

That's right.

Brent Kelly:

Of course. Of course.

Dan Mickells:

Absolutely, Brent. In my prior life, I did manage a lot of people and I took a survey one time. It just was the blinding... What's Roger say? The blinding flash

Brent Kelly:

Blinding flash of the obvious.

Dan Mickells:

Obvious. I was going through and I was meeting with this person regularly, and all this and that, and I just felt like it got stale and I really wasn't making that connection. Somebody said to me, "Have you ever asked him how often you guys should be meeting and what that looks like for you?" Because I might have one employee who wants to meet once a week for 15-minute check-ins and I have others that it's once a month. It's like, "Have you asked?" Now you have some things that seem so obvious, so now it is. I asked my new people, "What does it look like? It's your business, I'm here to support and help you. What does our relationship look like? And how often do we need be meeting formally, informally and what that looks like?" They were like, "Well, I've never really had that question asked." I'm like, "Well, let's figure that out," and then we get it a roadmap for the year.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. You're instilling so many thoughts on this. It is funny, we use a term blinding flashy the obvious if people don't work with us, and there's so many of those. I mean, I have them all the time and you're like, Someone asks you a question like, "Why is that?" It's funny, it comes back to defining expectations on some of these things. It's like what would it look like for you, Dan? I mean, I think back when I talked, for example, account managers or we're doing some talking about having a top of the stack submission to insurance carriers, what would that look like? "Well, we do this and we do this and we do this." I just stop and I said, "Well, who are your top carriers, X, Y, Z?" Would it make sense just to pick up the phone and ask them? Yeah. I'm like, "Isn't it more important that they're aligned with what it is you want versus what you think?" It is true with relationships in office as well, isn't it?

Dan Mickells:

It's so interesting. I just had a business meeting this morning before I came on. He had pitched UNICO on some services and we decided to go in a different direction, but I enjoyed her and I wanted to get to know her. She offered some things that I think might be helpful to my clients. We get together for coffee and she kind of the pleasantries, and she said, "Hey, can I ask you something? What the heck happened?" I said, "I'm glad you asked that." I go, "Let me ask you a question. What do you think we need?" She goes, "Well, I'm not sure." I said, "Yeah, you didn't ask." I said, "You came in with your whole program and you threw it out there," and we all looked at each other. She's not taking the time to really understand why we invited her to the meeting. It was another blinding flash. She goes, "Good point." I said, "I mean, I'm sure you have your style and the way you do things, but pausing for a second and figuring out truly what's going on is helpful, which gets to what we do day to day."

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah. Part of that too, knowing you, Dan, that's like one of those things where you experience the other side of it. Again, we all have chinks in the armor and I've done stuff like that, certainly. But when someone points it out to you like, "Oh my gosh, thank you," but that's something like a story you can tell your sales team, right?

Dan Mickells:

That's exactly right.

Brent Kelly:

"This is what happened." How often do we do that?

Dan Mickells:

A lot.

Brent Kelly:

Where you come in and go, "This is how cool we are." They don't really care how cool we are, what they care about is them. Right?

Dan Mickells:

That's right.

Brent Kelly:

"Go figure." All right. I want to hop in, and you shared some of the... I mean, in just our discussion here, but I'd like to know, just thinking back, and this could be this year or as far back as you want to go, but you have had, at UNICO, some successes. I mean, obviously, I know you guys very well. You had a great year, which is testament to your leadership and your team and communication. Again, it's just there's so many kudos to throw your way, but I would like to know, looking at that, what do you think has been your greatest success? Why and what are you doing to replicate it? Because one of the last thing you want to do is get momentum in it and then just take your foot off the gas pedal. What do you think?

Dan Mickells:

That's a great question. When I was reflecting on that a little bit, the word focus kept coming on the scene, but it's like what we've talked about before. You really get what you sow. We really wanted to become a sales organization. We were a great company, we took care of our clients, but I don't know if we had the growth levels that we really wanted. When you start to put a focus on new business and really talk about new business, that really has become a mantra for us. We built a sales process around that. In the past, it was around taking care of the clients, and we had a good retention levels all the time, but what does that new business process look like? I think, Brent, honestly, our greatest success has been, number one, to focus around that, and then building out key performance indicators that are tracked weekly so that we do have a scorecard that allows everyone to see where we're at.

If things aren't maybe going the way we want, we can have some data to point to and learn from. I think when everybody's in that mode, it really does create some healthy competition. That has been a success. Now, the other side of it, and I would say this, is you have to be careful, going back to that patience, because you can start doing things that maybe cut corners. You may miss a coverage, you may not have the full discovery, you may win the account because they were wanting a better premium amount. But, I always say, if you win on price, you're going to lose it on price. It's important for us to really make sure we're following throughout that process, that sales process, but it has been focused on growth. There's no doubt about it. When we started putting future ideal clients in front of them, tracking that, keeping score, it changed the flight for UNICO Group, in my opinion.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Part of that too, it's interesting, I'm taking a bunch of notes as you're saying that, because it is... The word focus is used a lot, but it can be, and I do this too, where you say something, but if you start to ask questions to go deeper, is that really true? Some of the things I know that you guys have done, but this is certainly for the listeners out there, it's like, "Gosh, Dan mentioned about being a sales organization." One of the things that I'll say a lot, and I think this is very true in the industry, and it is what it is, that there are a lot of really great service organizations, agencies out there that do sales when it's convenient, and then there are some great sales organizations that also provide exceptional service. This doesn't have to be one or the other.

Because a great sales process done right, builds a great continuation slash renewal process. It's a long-term relationship. Those two should be going together anyway. But your thing on focus, I'll just throw some questions. I know you guys have done some things, but for the listeners like, "Oh, we're focused on being a sales organization." Okay. What's your people development process? What's your sales playbook process? What's the weekly or ongoing communication about sales in the organization? How is it visible? How is it measurable? How is it accountable? Those are things you look at, and those are all part of that. If we're focused on, it gives us something to talk about. I think it's really important, the last thing that you said, Dan, it is critical and we believe in this. What can happen? Especially when you use term key performance indicators, and some people go, "Oh. Oh, it's back."

They're important because you need to know the numbers. But you've heard this from us before, Dan. It's important to know the numbers, but it's the behaviors and strategies that drive the numbers. A lot of this is what are the key behaviors, what are the key strategies? Some of these sales processes are very long, as you mentioned. What we have to know is are we tracking the right stuff? Are there key behaviors that Dan and this team are doing that are leading to the result? Or are we just taking it for granted and hope it turns out? We'll get back to the next year and go, "Gosh, we didn't have as good a year as we have. Yeah. Well, next year, we'll be better." I don't really ask you a question there, Dan, but just any thoughts or responses just from that.

Dan Mickells:

No. No, Brent. I completely agree and I think that there's a lot to unpack when you just are looking at... That data is one thing. There's a lot behind the data, it just tells part of the story. I think one of the things, too, that we think a lot about in our agency is really figuring out some of those behaviors, and who's having success with them, and learning from each other. I think the wisdom really is in the room. I learned that a long time ago that if you're not learning from other people, you need to surround yourself with people that you are learning from. I think one of the great parts about our team is everybody is really putting a focus on learning and finding tools to make themselves stronger. You're right. I think it does, the numbers are part of it, but there's behaviors and learning to make sure that you're adapting to what you need to adapt to.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, absolutely. It's something we've heard us say before, if you're the smartest person in the room, you need to go find yourself a new room, right?

Dan Mickells:

That's right. Yep.

Brent Kelly:

There's always somewhere to learn from, and whether it's locally on your team as you guys have fostered, through other coaches, through podcasts like this. I mean, I learned a ton through books. There's always things that you can look at things. I think the biggest thing around this is, are you coachable? Is your team coachable? If you know everything, then the answer is not real coachable, right?

Dan Mickells:

That's right.

Brent Kelly:

I'm sure you've been across those people in the past where it's like they know everything, just ask them.

Dan Mickells:

No. That's true.

Brent Kelly:

You can't grow, you can't grow from that. It is important. With that, Dan, I guess I'll take this, and this isn't to be self-serving, but maybe it is, you guys have been with us for quite a while. I know that you've mentioned some things about future ideal clients in terms that we know, but I am truly interested of the partnership that we've had and some of the learnings. What's been some of your biggest takeaways or the biggest takeaway that you've had in working with Sitkins?

Dan Mickells:

Yeah. Yeah. It's awesome and just thankful for the work Sitkins has done for UNICO Group, genuinely. I think one thing that you guys have really done a great job with is getting us focused on a streamlined sales process and common language that we can all talk about so that we now have a better framework in how we talk to each other, as well as our account manager group. That really does save a lot of time. I mean, when you're able to be on the same page, with regard to that, I think it's been helpful from a time standpoint. For me, personally, I think there's a lot of things that I've taken away. But we talked, at least, and a couple weeks ago, we were talking about just basic blocking and tackling. For me, that means a really good Sunday planning session.

For me, personally, I do spend some good time each weekend really looking at my calendar, what is, where the gaps are, where the opportunities are, and prepping for that because it really takes some anxiety off me knowing that I'm prepped for a great week. The other thing that I strive for, and I don't know if you shared this or whatever, but good things usually happen when you meet people. I mean, they usually do. You may not get a sale, but you might make a connection. In our model at UNICO is where connections make a difference. You can't have connections and relationships if you're not meeting with people. Setting appointments and getting appointments, to me, that producer perfect week, striving for those 10 meetings, that has been monumental for me.

Lastly, Brent, is what we've talked about, is having really good discovery conversations and going deep with clients, and really figuring out if it is a match for me and the client to work together or to engage with UNICO, because you and I both know we're not for everyone. That's why there's a lot of agencies out there, because they all serve different needs and purposes. I've realized that I'm not for everyone. That was something that has been helpful for me to move on so that I can spend my time with the right people who want to work with me as well as UNICO. Those are some Sitkins items that I think have been important to our agency and myself personally.

Brent Kelly:

That's great. I mean, again, I say that. Is there some goodness for Sitkins now? Well, of course, but it's always interesting because people take certain things and apply them a bit differently. I think even what you shared there, Dan, there's a lot of value just in that list, that I wrote down on some things that either the team's doing or you're doing. I do want to hit a couple things because it is important. I think these are really important learning lessons that you mentioned. The first one was this idea of the streamlining and communication. One of the things that we truly believe in, and we've had so many conversations, and we're making even more uplevels this next year to do more of this. But we'll see so often, when you get a very coachable or excited producer, for example, or even a leader, and they want to be coached up, and which is great, and they want to do those things and improve, but then they get back to their team and it doesn't fit the puzzle, so to speak.

It's like, "Well, why are you saying that?" "Well, because I heard this." "Well, I've never heard that before." So much of this is just getting alignment around. It's a UNICO culture, but it's very interesting when you hear a culture, and I hear this all the time, which is so cool. For me, it's awesome. It's like, "Tell me about the future ideal client list. Talk about the peer-to-peer questions. How are you utilizing those?" Those all become part of culture and people understand it. What's great Dan, is you can take that and that part's already known. Now you can get to the good stuff.

Dan Mickells:

That's right.

Brent Kelly:

Right?

Dan Mickells:

Right.

Brent Kelly:

Now you can get to the good stuff. I think that's really important. I do want to mention too, and if you want to elaborate on any of those, please do. You mentioned connections, which is obviously critical. It's back to the collective genius and all this, but to have connections, what you were hitting on with the producer, perfect schedule, which we teach, just got to get in the game. You just got to get in the game. I use this analogy all the time, I probably used it in five podcasts. I'll try to keep this brief. But it's no different than a great basketball player whose job is to score points spending three quarters on the bench. You're like, "Well, I don't know why I didn't score more points." I mean, not only are you not able to score points, you haven't learned anything, you haven't grown, because you're sitting over here getting distracted doing stuff that isn't even your primary function in the game.

You're folding towels, you're filling up water bottles. I don't know what you're doing over there, but you're not in the mix. You're not in it to experience it, to learn from it, to grow from it. Part of that is just get yourself in the moment. Get in front of people. There's a great book about the proximity principle. Just be in proximity with people that maybe could say yes, you could learn from it, know someone who knows someone that you need to know, just get in the game. I get to be big excited about that, Dan.

Dan Mickells:

I do, too. I do too. I think we're meant to be in relationships, and people want that and strive for that. I think coming out of COVID, we're starting to see more of that and people being more receptive to meeting and all those good things. But that's what I love about this business. It's really not where you've been, it's where you're going. Even if you haven't had the success that you've wanted, it doesn't mean you can't flip the narrative, which is really, really cool.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. It's exactly right. Obviously, we want to learn from the past, we ain't going to live in it. That works both ways. I mean, think about, here's my sports analogy again. I mean, some of the best are defensive backs in football. Remember that last drive when you got burnt or you're going to get burnt again. But what did you learn from it? At the same time, it's to know that my next great play hasn't happened yet. I don't know if this person was... I don't think so, but in our sales mastery program, it might have been a separate conversation they had, but I asked someone who had a very large book of business. It was three and a half million dollars, doing very well with a book of business. I said, "Hey, tell me. Three and a half million, what's been your best or biggest sale?" He just looked at me with bewilderment a little bit, and I was like, "Oh." He's like, "I don't know, Brent, I haven't made it yet."

Dan Mickells:

Wow.

Brent Kelly:

It's just like, that's how top performers think. I'm like, "That's so cool." Anyway-

Dan Mickells:

No doubt about it.

Brent Kelly:

... just something to think about for the audience.

Dan Mickells:

Yeah.

Brent Kelly:

All right, Dan. I got one final question, which is my favorite question. You can take this however you want. But at some point, when you told me your career and starting with the national carrier and all that, but at some point, you were just beginning your career here in the insurance world. You didn't know much, but you were probably eager and excited and whatever, scared, all at the same time. But I'm going to give you an opportunity here for the younger Dan Mickells to experience something. The young, starting his career, Dan Mickells comes face to face with today Dan. The younger Dan looks at you and says, "More experience-wise me, I need one piece of advice that's going to help me to be more successful," or whatever that means to you. What's your piece of advice to your younger you, Dan?

Dan Mickells:

Yeah, that's a good question and what I gave some thought to. Honestly, it really provoked a lot of thoughts. What it comes down to for me, Brent, is don't be afraid to fail and really be okay with it. Because honestly, in my view or what I've noticed for myself, your greatest growth is when you've had failure. I look back at my when growing up, whether it's in sports or in school, when I didn't win a game, or I didn't win a wrestling match, or I got a bad grade, those seem to resonate with me the most than winning a medal, or winning a tournament, or hitting a big sale. It made me think about, I was Rush Chairman in my fraternity, back in University of Nebraska back in 1990, a long time ago. I'll never forget feeling great about getting this position.

It's a sales position. You're trying to bring in and recruit talent into your fraternity. I really was feeling great about it. Because we rushed during the summer, so once school ended. This is a small, short sales cycle. It's like May to August and that's it. There's some other sidebar. You got to get your pledges in that timeframe. I remember coming home, I was living in Lincoln. I came back to Nebraska, and my dad, he's been in insurance and sales his whole life. I came into the house and I was down. He goes, "Well, what in the world's wrong with you?" I said, "Oh, nothing." He dug a little bit deeper and I said, "I just got my butt kicked by a couple houses. Some guys I thought were going to go to my house and they signed in another direction." He paused and he said...

I think he was wanting this to be a positive, but it turned out to be a negative for me, he goes, "Well, how you feel right now, that's sales." I said, "Well, if this is how I feel and that's sales, I don't know that I want to do sales." I got puckered up over that experience. I remember having an opportunity out of college where I could be in sales, like sales management, because my profile fits that more so, or go into an operations role. That's the path I took because it was guaranteed pay, had good benefits, there was a bonus opportunity, and that was that consistent way versus the sales way. I kicked myself now, because honestly, it stayed in me for quite a while until I had some opportunities at State Farm where I was doing some recruiting and some incentives, and then met Rick, and came on to UNICO. But my advice to anybody is don't be afraid to fail and it's okay. It's going to be all right. You get your best growth. It took me a while to get over that hump, but that would be my advice.

Brent Kelly:

That's great advice. I know it's a hard question because there's so many things you could... I love how I usually get a summary of overall, it's this. It's typically a mindset thing. Just a few comments that I want to add. I was taking some notes. Anything that you want to add, and we'll wrap up here, Dan. Again, embracing failure is easier said than done. I get that. Typically, if you want to take it to a more specific producer role, if you're working on a really nice account, and you feel pretty good about it, and it falls through, most of us don't want to go. Let's spend a lot of time really dissecting this. You're going to be like, "No, I'm mad and I don't want to talk about it." I mean, that's the natural thing. But what hits me, as you were saying this, and we talked about sports examples, and I love your example from the fraternity. What often happens is we don't really talk, or embrace it, or learn from it until we've already wasted a year, five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years.

Dan Mickells:

That's right.

Brent Kelly:

Then you go, "There was something happened 20 years ago." It's like, "Man, you could have already been growing from that," but you hid from it maybe or you pushed it to the side. I've done this too, where you find things like this, and you're like, "Gosh, if I just would've put it in front of me and just dealt with it. Wow, I wonder if I could have accelerated my growth faster." Because you've heard us say this before, Dan, "Nothing grows in your comfort zone except complacency."

Dan Mickells:

That's right.

Brent Kelly:

Right? What we'll typically see, whether you're a leader or a producer of any kind, is that safe feels pretty good, it's comfortable. That's why it's the comfort zone. But you can't grow from it, and you're going to look back in 10, 15, 20 years, and that's when you have the regrets. "If only I would've done this. If only I would've taken this chance. If only if I would've..." Knowing that there was a greater chance for failure, because there is, when you get out of your comfort zone, versus saying, "I did it, I stubbed my toe, or heck, I smashed my face. But gosh, darn it. Man, I'm a better, bigger person because of it." It's hard.

Dan Mickells:

You got it. That's exactly right. It's tough. I look back on that and the positive... I'm a positive person overall. My spin was, "You know what? Maybe that was God's way of saying I wasn't quite ready yet." When I came into this role at where I was at, I think that's lent itself to a lot of my success because it allowed me the time to really get knowledgeable, to get very educated, to add value, to bring ideas. My network, because of when I came in, was much larger than somebody who might've been younger. But that piece of advice is the one that I would... Get out of your comfort zone. Take calculated risks. If it's in your belly, trust it and go for it.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, that's great advice that... I remember, I'm a big John Maxwell fan. He's got a quote that I love. He says, "Your experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher." You're all going to grow through experience to some degree, but it's the level of growth, and you really evaluate it and own it and go, "Man, I screwed that up, but guess what? I may not like it, but I'm going to embrace it, own it, and I'm going to learn something from it. Darn it." That's pretty cool.

Dan Mickells:

Yeah. A couple of my sales leaders here, we had just started having sales meetings and we're starting to talk about wins but also losses, and what we can learn from it. To your point, nobody likes talk about the losses, but there's some nuggets in each one of those. That's been a good... We've gotten some early feedback on that and we're going to continue to do that.

Brent Kelly:

Well, Dan, I do want to add one thing. I think there's value here and I want to let you go. But from a sales leader perspective in the role, I love that you said that because I think that's really important, of... This is going to sound odd, not that we want to foster a culture of failure. It's not where I'm going. But foster a culture that we know failure will occur, and we're going to address it, and we'll learn from it, and improve from it. I tell you, there are... I'm sure you've seen this too, let's just use producers as an example. No one wants to talk about where they screwed up. Why? They look stupid, they feel ashamed. It's got your peers there. But as a leader and as a culture saying, "Listen, we're all..." By the way, and start, "Here's mine. Here's my screw-up. It didn't feel good, but here's what I'm going to learn from it, and here's how I'm not going to repeat that again. Who goes next?" I don't mind that you screw up. What I mind is you do it again and again and again.

Dan Mickells:

Yep. I completely agree. I think it creates, at least for me, and hopefully others, it creates some endurance. It gives you that push that it's okay and you forge ahead and it doesn't matter. I heard a quote a while back when I was coaching baseball. Baseball's about failure, and the line was, "Hey, guys, it doesn't matter. Let's get better. You hit a home run, it doesn't matter." I mean, celebrate it, but it doesn't matter. Get better. If you make an error, it's okay. Let's get better. Let's work and improve." That idea of self-improvement, stuff you teach and preach, and very, very appropriate, I think.

Brent Kelly:

Okay. Well, Dan, thank you for being a guest. I knew you'd bring energy and passion and great value, and you certainly delivered on that. Thank you. Thank you for being a great partner. I will say this, and here's another plug, but it's important. We are, want more deeper relationships with organizations like UNICO, that desire to get better and want to grow, not just financially, which you will, but in all kinds of ways that lead to that desired outcome of growth and profitability, and just foster deeper important relationships. Dan, thanks so much for being part of the podcast.

Dan Mickells:

I appreciate it, Brent. Great to see you, and have a great week.

Brent Kelly:

All right, you as well. All right. All the best to your success out there. Thanks for listening.

 

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