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Lead From a Place of Confidence, Not Fear

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When the Wright brothers tried to solve the “flying problem,” they were figuratively and literally modeling the process of launching a business. People doubted them. They “failed.” They had to work constantly to fund their experiments. Because they persisted against these obstacles, though, they eventually succeeded in building a working airplane. And the world was never the same.


While your business may not revolutionize the way we travel, it will only overcome obstacles if you lead -- like the Wright brothers -- from a place of confidence, not fear. In 2014, you can achieve this with a focus on three main areas:

Solidify client relationships. A frequent fear is that a competitor will poach our clients. When we see a competitor undercutting us on price, fear tempts us to race to the bottom to prevent clients from jumping ship -- perhaps cutting margins so tight they are unsustainable.

Related: Know Yourself. Face Your Fear. Follow Your Heart.

In reality, though, happy clients can’t be poached. Investing time, energy and money in listening to clients (rather than wasting those resources trying to outdo competitors) ensures that our clients have no reason to leave.

Early in my career at McKinsey & Company, a mentor told me that feedback is like a bear: you can try to run from it, but you can’t hide. That’s truer than ever in the age of social media. Clients can share feedback about your services -- publicly -- whenever they want.

It’s important to realize that not all feedback is 100 percent accurate, but it is all important. Every comment is an opportunity to respond, engage and build trust. Once we do that, we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to worry about clients leaving for lower prices because having a trustworthy partner is worth more than an extra 5 percent off.

Empower employees. Fear whispers to us that our employees will mess up if we give them too much responsibility. It prods us to micromanage every detail. Confidence allows us to let go so our talented teams can do their jobs. Such confidence is only possible when we spend time and energy hiring the right people, training them and letting them make mistakes.

At insureon, our average employee is younger than 30 years old -- not the norm in an industry built on tradition. But we’re also a technology company that’s changing the way small businesses buy insurance, which requires new blood and constant innovation. Enter the energy of youth.

Related: 6 Ways a Leader Should Show Up

One capability our team designed and implemented shows in real time, via multi-colored “hockey pucks” displayed on six 50-inch flat screens, who’s filling out an application -- and when they stop. This empowers our producers to take ownership -- encouraging them to engage with our customers, reach out proactively and improve our conversion rate. In essence, they have a stake in the customer’s success.

Manage your risks. Fear buries our heads in the sand so we can peacefully ignore the biggest risks to our revenue (until one hits). For example, last summer, ACE European Group released a study that found that 81 percent of businesses consider reputation their most valuable asset, but 77 percent don’t know how to quantify it financially or how much to spend protecting it. That seems like a big question mark to answer.

Confidence, on the other hand, allows us to calmly consider worst-case scenarios, quantify their potential impact and take steps to minimize the chances of those scenarios happening. Ironically, taking the confident approach is terrifying. A lot can go wrong with a business -- cyber-attacks, building fires, lawsuits -- much of which is outside our control or beyond our understanding. That’s why risk management needs to involve these three steps:

  • Assess risks with expert help. Insurance agents understand risk. Agents familiar with your industry offer the most valuable insight.
  • Reduce risks. Train employees. Communicate with clients. Update your antivirus software.
  • Prepare for disaster. An emergency action plan, rainy day fund and insurance policy go a long way toward helping you stay afloat when disaster hits.

The bottom line: Leading with confidence is not easy, but it’s essential when venturing into the unknown.

Related: 17 Traits That Distinguish the Best Startup CEOs

Ted Devine

Written By

Ted Devine is CEO of Chicago-based Insureon, an online insurance agency for small and micro businesses. Previously, Devine held senior leadership positions at Aon Corp. and spent 12 years as a director of McKinsey & Co.