Power is not a characteristic most life insurance agents would ascribe to themselves, but it is an inborn quality that is critical to our success in achieving clients’ goals and dreams.
Power has conventionally been understood as defined by John Stuart Mill: “A man’s power means the readiness of other men to obey him.” But our leverage over other people is always limited. The seeming power of the large landowner in your town is subject to the grace of bankers and the capriciousness of occupancy rates. There is nothing quite so corrective to the vanity of power than to learn of the prominent businessman whose house has been foreclosed.
The power I speak of is the ability to influence and motivate other people. And for those of us who are life insurance agents, it’s also the freedom to choose who we’ll work with and how and when we’ll work with them.
The empowered life insurance pro is the successful entrepreneurial agent Dan Sullivan has profiled in “The 21st Century Agent.” Captive agents, bank employees and wire house stockbrokers often do not have the freedom and discretion to act for the client and themselves that is the heart of the fundamental power I describe.
Although I have been in the financial services profession for 30 years, my focus is life insurance because life insurance is the primary asset of financial planning. Life insurance, in the right amount and kind, is by itself a financial plan. All other assets — equities, real estate, tax programs — are embellishments to the bedrock of financial security. As legendary life insurance salesman Ben Feldman wisely stressed, life insurance should be called time insurance. If we can be certain to have enough time, then all our needs and goals may be met.
But we never have enough time. Only the uniqueness of quality life insurance can make up for the folly found in many lives and make the client’s family whole. In this sense, the life insurance pro possesses power tools that are corrective and creative.
But as I describe this power that no other profession has, I also acknowledge the powerlessness many of us feel from time to time. If you have driven an icy two-lane road in freezing rain, through valleys of chicken houses and tight pine forests, to meet late with a physician and literally wrest a check from him to achieve his stated goals and sustain your business, then you have been my fellow traveler. It is amazing what we have to do to get people to do what they should do on their own initiative.
The fickleness of position power
As a former Army officer and executive, I have brooded a good deal about power. In my more cynical moments, it seemed the one quality that was missing from our profession. But consider the example of a high-ranking Army general. His span of command may include several countries. He is accorded tremendous respect and holds power over thousands of lives. But is position power genuine power? This Army general will move 23 times in 35 years. For long stretches, he will be away from his family, incognito and at great risk. When he retires, he may be set financially, but to re-enter the world, there will be no staff to set the stage. He’ll have to find or create a job.
A patchwork of personal experiences has crystallized my insight into the nature of power. When a major client of ours died in an accident, I was asked to sell his successful exporting business, as I was his primary advisor and on his company’s board of directors. I declined an offer to be the president of the company to avoid conflicts. But nevertheless, I became the de facto CEO of the business.
The six months that followed were exhilarating. I negotiated the sale of the company to foreign buyers, and every morning, I directed the company’s employees from my cell phone while driving to my office. I had position power again, according to Mill’s terms, as employees, vendors, other advisors and prospective buyers sought to obey me.