August 2013

I Was A Closet Leader

Nick Jacobi

“You’re not CEO material,” she told me. I was a young actuary, and lucky to have her as my career coach. I was even luckier that she continued that speech. “I mean that as a compliment. You don’t have the personality for the job or to do the things CEOs are required to do. You’re also intelligent enough to know that no job is what it seems like or sounds like. That will help you determine what kind of leader you want to be.” My only goal at the time was to pass my exams and get my fellowship—what did I know about leadership?

I was a leader, be it reluctantly and unknown even to myself. My job descriptions may be straightforward, but I learned enough that over time the expectations over me changed, my co-workers changed, and the same job I had last year might be different the next year. Most of all I learned that someone has to lead. Leadership in business often occurs within the parameters and structures of a team culture, but the concept of “team” only comes into play when everyone does their job. Being a leader means taking personal responsibly for the accomplishments of others as well as your own, and without a leader no team can expect to succeed.

As I gained experience in how companies work and in particular how my own company worked, I realized that everyone in my company is on the same team, even the employees that didn't want to admit it. Furthermore the more inter-company fights I witnessed the more I believed that they weren’t a symptom of leadership, but rather the consequence of a lack in leadership. These fights were valuable to me and helped me learn what it takes to be a leader and what can be counterproductive from a management standpoint.

A manager does just what the title implies—manages their piece of the business. A leader is someone who moves their business forward, regardless of title. Leaders are proactive, intelligent and creative. Proactive in the sense that they can identify problems effectively, intelligent enough to manage their team’s time and sufficiently creative to be open to new ideas and solutions.

An independent actuary has a unique leadership opportunity. You may not have a position in a management structure, you may not have a team to help me your objectives, but you can become proficient at identifying problems based on your independent point of view, and once you take that step there is an opportunity to bring the kind of intelligence and creativity to bear that can make a corporate-wide difference.

Everyone can be a leader, and most people are biased not to be one, but the hardest person to lead is yourself. I don’t want to be a CEO and I’ve learned that leadership does not require title. Every actuary can be independent and every actuary can be a leader. It takes more than a single success to be a great leader, it takes years of consistently being proactive, intelligent and creative.

Mr. Jacobi is currently a pricing actuary at Prudential insurance in Roseland, NJ. He has published several articles and presented at the SOA ERM symposium as well as writing for the actuary of the future and management and personal development sections. He is the active Chairperson of the MPD section.