February 2013

Aggressive Leadership

ind-con-enoch-jerryby Jerry Enoch

Editors’ Note: Jerry recently wrote a short piece on aggressive leadership following a discussion at an SOA meeting about leading a section, which involves delegation to volunteers. Jerry’s writing triggered the idea, within the Entrepreneurial Section, to call for short articles on leadership—a relevant topic to entrepreneurs and business people that lends itself to analysis from diverse angles. If there is enough interest in the project, we plan to publish the articles as a collection at the end of the year. If you want to share your ideas with us, please send articles and suggestions to Carlos Fuentes at carlos_fuentes@aya.yale.edu.

There are situations in which failure would be devastating. In those situations, thorough planning and caution are critical. Doing nothing might be better than failure. There are other situations, particularly those involving volunteers, in which thorough planning and caution are counter-productive. No one has the time to do the planning and the desire of the volunteers to contribute to something they believe in makes them willing to accept the possibility that the undertaking will not succeed, especially if they feel that they are part of a collegial team. In these situations, aggressive leadership will accomplish more that cautious leadership.

Aggressive leadership focuses on the potential for accomplishment. Aggressive leadership counts victories, not defeats. Short-term defeats are usually part of long-term victories. When a group generates enthusiasm about an idea, strike while the iron is hot! Don’t wait until the next meeting. Don’t ask yourself if the project can fail. Of course it can. If you get a team committed to work on the project, get them started immediately, while they have enthusiasm and inspiration. Make sure that everyone shares a common vision (stay involved until they do), and give them as much autonomy as they can handle. Make sure that they are comfortable coming to you for any help. Some projects fail because the external environment changes from what it was at the beginning of the project. So, as you monitor progress, also monitor environmental shifts. Some projects fail due to lack of resources, particularly people. Henry Siegel, FSA, once told me, “You can accomplish anything you want, as long as you find the people to do it.” As the leader, it is your responsibility to make sure that the team has adequate resources.

If you are aggressive and pursue initiatives where success is uncertain, some will fail. What you do then is important. Most likely, the team that worked on the initiative didn’t fail. If you let the team feel that they failed, and if you let others sense that the team failed, you will probably be unjust and you will reduce the pool of volunteers and the energy for future initiatives. Volunteer groups run on vision and energy. Painful memories last a long time. Don’t let your team feel that they failed.

For example, if an initiative failed due to lack of resources, you should have become very involved in securing the necessary resources, when the critical need became apparent. The initiative failed because you failed to get adequate resources for the people doing the work. This does not mean that anyone was at fault. You, too, are a volunteer. Aggressive leadership takes appropriate risks, boldly pursuing a goal without studying the process completely or ensuring that the goal can be reached. The effective aggressive leader knows how the initiative is proceeding, and ensures that failure will not be debilitating. Encourage everyone during the sorrow of failure, and heal up to be ready for the next initiative. The wise leader will prepare for the next opportunity to exercise aggressive leadership.

Jerry Enoch, FSA, MAAA, MS, MBA, is vice president and chief actuary at Alfa Life Insurance Corporation. He is past chairperson of the Financial Reporting Section and the Smaller Insurance Company Section. He may be reached at jenoch@alfains.com.