LAS VEGAS — The best managers focus intently on managing their own skills.

Robert Fashano, a general agent for Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, delivered that message here at GAMA International’s LAMP conference, which attracted about 2,600 financial services community managers and leaders.

“Learners aren’t always leaders, but leaders are always learners,” Fashano said during a general session address.

“As leaders, we must become lifelong learners and create a work environment that encourages the personal development and growth of our people,” Fashano said. “You cannot become what you are meant to be by remaining what you are. Put a plan in place for your growth.”

Fashano, who holds the Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant professional designations along with a master of science in financial services, recommended that managers identify the skills they want to master over a 12-month period. Among the most common skills–areas that Fashano himself focuses on–are communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, decisiveness, coaching and strategic planning.

The best managers do not try to be well-rounded but, instead, hone the skills in which they are most proficient, Fashano said.

Guardian trains new agents through an in-house educational program, Alliance University.

The year-long curriculum is customized to suit the needs of individual students and includes beginning, intermediate and advanced classes.

The university courses are supplemented by mentoring.

Providing in-person face time is often more difficult at large organizations, where agents may significantly outnumber managers, Fashano said. When possible, he said, managers should limit the number of agents they oversee to 2 to 4.

To help agents succeed, “you need to be the chief learning officer, or CLO, for your organization,” Fashano said. “It’s your responsibility to create the structure and put systems in place for your people to grow.”

Many managers subscribe to a “Lone Ranger” model of leadership, believing they can solve problems on their own, without the need to delegate, Fashano said.

Fashano argued that the Lone Ranger model has no place in the life insurance world.

“If you’re a Lone Ranger, you’re not leading anyone,” Fashano said. “The essence of leadership is about influencing others and finding greatness in the group.”

The core of the group, he said, should consist of the individuals who, if sent to the planet Mars, could replicate the organization without assistance.