The role of a great leader continues to evolve as new business demands and expectations are met with shifting challenges and priorities. However, while most insurers are focused on growing employees’ technical abilities, many overlook the importance of interpersonal and leadership skills in a comprehensive career development plan.
A Gartner study found 45% of human resources professionals struggle to develop mid-level leaders and 37% struggle with developing senior leaders. Understanding what leadership means within your company and focusing on leadership development strategies can help high potential employees maximize their skills and abilities, while building a strong bench of loyal and dedicated insurance talent.
Leadership comes in many forms and will look different from company to company. Clearly define what leadership looks like within your specific organization, aligning it to your corporate culture, mission and values. A few common leadership traits and skills include inspiring and motivating others, displaying integrity, maintaining a growth mindset, and being honest and trustworthy. While these may come innately for some individuals, they can be learned and developed within others.
Identify High Potential Individuals
Once you’ve defined leadership, it’s important to identify your organization’s high potential talent. Within this exercise, keep in mind that leadership can be a behavior and may not necessarily be a title, such as a manager. Skilled individual contributors don’t always strive to be people managers, yet they can still play valuable leadership roles within an organization. Strong leaders embody your company’s values, and can motivate and engage others, while contributing to overall success.
There are various methods for identifying these high potential individuals. Some organizations choose to invest in formal leadership assessment tools and programs, and others may take a more qualitative approach. Consider how employees are performing and their aptitude to continue to grow and develop. Do they quickly pick up new concepts? Do they seek out opportunities to learn and take on new responsibilities? How do their colleagues respond to them? Do they naturally show up as a leader? Be open and observant. Individuals can show an inclination for leadership at very early career stages.
Build Leadership Development Strategies
Leadership and soft skill development should be built into your high potential employees’ professional development plans, even at the junior level. Incorporate training around problem-solving, communication and relationship-building throughout individuals’ careers. How this looks will vary depending on your organization. Many larger insurance organizations have well-defined leadership development programs already established and driven by their HR teams. Others may not have the resources to support a formal program, but should still prioritize putting certain components in place, even if it’s at the department level. Regardless of your approach, ensure your senior management team is modeling the leadership traits that have been identified as valuable to your company and supporting these behaviors in others.
Leverage Multiple Tools Within Your Strategies
There are several tools that can be included within a comprehensive leadership development strategy. Consider what will best meet your organization’s leadership goals, while also tailoring programs to each individual employee’s trajectory.
Identification of Skill Gaps. To best focus your training, leverage assessments to understand employees’ current strengths and weaknesses, then develop leadership training that aligns with each individual’s needs. You may also use 360-feedback from their managers, peers, staff and themselves to better understand how they’re perceived, what they’re good at, and where to focus their energy.
Broad Insight. Determine how you can provide high potential employees with a well-rounded view of your organization. This could include rotational programs and experiences across divisions to help them better understand how departments are interconnected. Be thoughtful and intentional about their exposure to the broader business, including them in interdepartmental projects and meetings.
Mentorships and Coaching. While informal mentoring relationships are valuable, strive to create a more formal mentorship program within your organization and encourage senior leaders to commit to mentoring more junior-level employees.
Through a well-defined program, you can better identify the areas where high potential employees need to grow and partner them with the individuals who can best support their journey. Mentorships provide invaluable insight and can connect individuals with current leaders they may not otherwise have direct access to.
While mentors should be outside of an individual’s reporting structure, anyone can serve as a coach, including direct managers. Coaching relationships are also an essential component of leadership development and provide individuals with feedback and support on certain projects and situations.
Emotional Intelligence Training. Soft and interpersonal skills are often key in distinguishing great leaders as they move forward in their careers. Consider having formal training around emotional intelligence and even coupling it with unconscious bias training. Strong emotional intelligence enables individuals to effectively collaborate and communicate, while proactively managing relationships. Achieving the most sophisticated level of emotional intelligence takes dedication, as individuals work to neutralize their own emotions, better understand how others respond to them, and ultimately use this knowledge to successfully work through challenging conversations and conflict.
Take the time to create formal leadership development strategies that identify high potential employees and pinpoint their strengths and areas for growth. By focusing on growing leadership skills within your young professionals, you’ll be able to position them in a way that sets both them and your organization up for future success.
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