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Conquer the Enemies of Your Inner Leader

As insurance professionals, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. We tend to focus on the outcomes for which we will be measured—from loss ratios to closing ratios and regulatory compliance—instead of emphasizing the activities that may lead to greater leadership, fulfillment and achievement.

By its very nature, insurance is analytical. In the midst of all the “i” dotting and “t” crossing, our personal aspirations sometimes fall by the wayside. We settle for the opportunities given to us instead of purposefully creating the careers we envision.

Over the course of my insurance career, I’ve identified seven career enemies that sideline even the most promising insurance leaders. Take a moment to honestly assess those that apply to you. Are they threatening your advancement? Whether you’re 25 or 55, you owe it to yourself to reconnect with what you really want and to eliminate the enemies standing between you and your vision.

The Top 7 Insurance Career Enemies

Career Enemy #7: Set ‘em and Forget ‘em Goals

Personal goal setting is so important that I categorize it as a DO or DIE activity. Your goals are your map to success, and the time applied to your goals directly relates to your probability of success. If you haven’t already done so, set up a goal journal and spend time with it every day. Yes, I said EVERY DAY. I still have the leather-bound journal that I established when I started my career more than 30 years ago. It’s full of hand-written notes and ideas, and I know with certainty that I would never be where I am today without the inspiration that journal provided.

It’s important to recognize that goals are achieved through many small steps. So, once you know your big overarching goals, take the time to break them into small steps so you know what you must accomplish every day, every week, and every month to stay on track. When you get off track, take the time to adjust your daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Tending goals is similar to preparing a gourmet meal. Along the way, you have to taste your creation, add seasoning, or make other adjustments as needed. Real goals require a lot of time, attention, and tweaking.

Career Enemy #6: Complexity

Persuasiveness is one of the most important attributes of leaders. The one thing that makes great leaders super persuasive is their ability to transform complex ideas into simple, understandable, and executable information.

Tests on advertising have shown time and again that when comprehension goes down, people are less likely to take action. Therefore, if you want people to follow you, you have keep things super simple.  You can’t persuade people who don’t understand. This is true in your business plan, new product launches, marketing campaigns, and in the instructions you give to your team.

Simplification is the process of making a plan easier to save time and resources and to increase internal and external buy-in. Remember: Those who get confused say “no,” while those who understand the benefits say “go.” Simplification takes a little longer up front, but it ultimately help you reach your goals faster.

As Leonardo DaVinci once said, “Simplification is the ultimate sophistication.” As you create strategies, never accept that the first idea is the best idea. Solicit feedback from peers and employees and proactively identify ways to distill your concept into its simplest form.

Career Enemy #5: One-Shot-Wonder Effort

Countless careers have crashed because of one-shot-wonder effort. I’m talking about those who try and fail, or those who try and don’t see the results they expect, so they quit. It’s important to understand that the road to success is not easy. I’ve often heard it said that successful people are willing to do what other people are not, and I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Successful people get up earlier, work longer hours, make more cold calls, take more risks, and allow themselves to be more vulnerable.

Early in my career, I wanted to obtain the CLU insurance designation. I obtained all the self-study materials and set out to prepare for my test. However, I was a young husband and a new father, and I had a lot of distractions in my life. While I thought I had adequately prepared, the results of my exam told me otherwise. I failed the test. That moment of failure represented a crossroads in my career. I could have given up. Instead, I revisited my goal and broke it into small steps. I made a plan to get up earlier every day to study before work and to study for an hour every night before relaxing with my family. And the next time I took the test, I passed. This is a small example to illustrate that if something is worth trying once, it deserves your follow-up and ongoing effort.

Along this vein, it’s important to minimize fatal distractions. A fatal distraction is anything that detours your time, budget, or effort away from the execution of your goals. For example, if your goal is to achieve 20 percent market penetration within five years, should you take time out to introduce a new product in a completely different market? It’s easy (and more exciting) to chase a lot of different possibilities. However, there’s often more upside if you buckle down, stay focused, and do what’s needed to achieve the primary goal.

Career Enemy #4: The Golden Rule

Most of us grew up hearing about the Golden Rule: Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Personally, I think we’re better off with Tony Alessandra’s Platinum Rule: Treat others how THEY want to be treated. The difference between the “me” orientation and the “you” orientation is subtle, yet very significant.

We can never assume that others have our same beliefs and feelings.. In marketing and in leadership, assumption is the kiss of death. We live in an increasingly diverse world in which generational experiences are vastly different. It’s important to ask questions and take the time to uncover the motivations and aspirations of others.

Whether you’re building a new business relationship, applying for jobs, or writing a marketing message, never forget that “what’s in it for them” is what matters most to your success.

Career Enemy #3: Brilliance

Great ideas come to many people at the same time. It’s almost impossible to be truly original, therefore, it’s very important to be FIRST. If you want to be great, don’t procrastinate. You must implement your idea before anyone else.

There’s no time to wait for brilliance. Instead, focus on the nuts and bolts decisions. Have you distilled your idea into its simplest form so it’s easily understandable for your team and prospective clients? Have you taken the time to understand the aspirations and motivations of others so that your offering solves their pain points? Have you broken your goals into small steps, and do you have a Plan B effort in the queue in case you fail the first time out?

Successful people know how to mobilize their great ideas with simple, no-fail systems. By taking action and making hard decisions now, you will experience brilliant results later.

Career Enemy #2: The Middle Mile

Managing your career is a little like running a marathon. It’s exciting at the starting line and as you near the finish line, but in between those two places, it’s easy to get bogged down. Nevertheless, how you manage the middle miles will determine if and when you cross the finish line.

In this stretch of drudgery, hills, and fatigue, there’s a huge temptation to quit. But it’s important to embrace the setbacks and recognize they are an important part of your career journey. The middle miles are where the real learning and growth take place. They are preparing you for your ultimate destination.

You can’t always see the finish line, but you must have faith that it’s just around the bend. By reviewing your goals every day, you will remember what inspired you to begin the race in the first place.

Career Enemy #1: Comfort

To get something, you need to be willing to give up something. Think of a glass of water. If it’s full, you can’t add more liquid until you pour some out first. Like it or not, the same is true for our careers. And unfortunately, comfort is the most formidable enemy of advancement.

Comfort takes on many forms from feeling knowledgeable and confident, to having free time to golf every Friday, to having a nicely primed savings account.

If you really want to advance to the next level, you have to be comfortable with not having all the answers. You’ll probably have to give up a lot of your free time, and if you’re doing something risky, like starting your own business, you may need to live on a skinnier budget than what you’re accustomed to.

Many people are prepared to temporarily sacrifice comfort for the sake of their goals, but most are not prepared to do so for a year, two years, or perhaps even five. If you’re truly committed to your vision, you must be prepared to be uncomfortable for a while. And, if you have a spouse or children, they have to be prepared for a little discomfort as well.

Go Forth and Triumph

Here’s the good news: Succeeding in insurance and business isn’t like qualifying for an Olympic team. It doesn’t require a rare set of genes or superstar height and speed. In business, you really can make your own way and live the American dream. However, before you embark on your journey, you must be prepared for  potholes, fender benders, detours, and of course, the seven enemies of your inner leader. It won’t be easy, but it certainly is NOT insurmountable. Godspeed!

About Daniel C. Steenerson CLU, ChFC, RHU

Daniel C. Steenerson CLU, ChFC, RHU
Foremost disability insurance field authority Daniel C. Steenerson, CLU, ChFC, RHU, is the founder and principal of San Diego-based Disability Insurance Services—the nation’s leading disability brokerage agency that's earned the distinction as the largest wholesale distributor of disability insurance products in the United States. Steenerson imparts his success wisdom, principles and philosophies through his proprietary “Science of Visioneering” approach to help companies, entrepreneurs, executives and other professionals realize business greatness. He may be reached online at

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