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Authenticity: A leadership lesson from Chris Christie’s mother

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I live in a blue state with a red governor. You’ve probably heard of him. The country has many different labels for him, everything from bully to good presidential candidate.

After watching him in an interview the morning after the election, it became very clear that there is one label he could never wear: Fake. This could very well be the reason he has been so successful, despite how different he appears next to the typical refined, slim, chiseled, media-trained, hand gesture-conscious politicians who are sometimes hard to tell apart.

In fact, when the interviewer brought up the viral video of him telling a protester to “sit down and shut up,” he didn’t apologize or say it was not the right thing to do. He further explained that he was coming from a place of consideration for the rest of the crowd.

He noted that his commitment to being himself comes from a childhood lesson from his mother. She said, “always be yourself, so that the next day, you don’t have to remember who you were trying to be the day before.” Good lesson, Mrs. Christie. What can the insurance industry learn from that?

There is a label for this characteristic: Authenticity. Unfortunately, the insurance industry is lacking in this area. We may know this intuitively but I believe we sometimes mistake it for some other problem, like stodginess, boring-“ness,” or conservatism.

While these issues contribute, the heart of the matter is that many insurance companies have forgotten how to “be themselves” and instead aspire to be more like someone else. Or worse, they don’t know who they really are.

Another way we know that authenticity is lacking is through a study done by LIMRA and Maddock Douglas, Inc., the report identifying the six elements that comprise authentic communication and how they relate to the customer experience. The elements include things like being easy to understand, being memorable and being down to earth.

When scored among a number of top companies, consumers rated the elements of authenticity as, “eh.” Nothing horrible, nothing special. In fact, respondents felt that most of the companies sounded and looked the same. And almost half (46 percent) don’t even know from which life insurance company they bought their policy.

While we can certainly make progress by working on these elements of authenticity, it has to come from a place of purpose and stay true to the company’s personality. To give an example around one of the elements, let’s take “memorable.”

There are many ways you could try make your brand memorable; however, not all of those ways would work for any particular company. In other words, you should not infer that just because Flo is good for Progressive, that a perky, kooky, funny persona is what is needed to make another company memorable.

So the question becomes, do insurance companies know who they really are as it relates to their true purpose? This is difficult to answer because if you ask insurance company leaders to define their purpose, they will often describe it in the context of their particular role and/or in the context of those they must please internally: the CEO, a board or some other “boss.”

That definition forces us to behave in ways that are not necessarily true to a company’s purpose, but rather to serve an individual agenda. And it causes us to behave as we perceive someone else wants us to.

If, however, we recognize that our true purpose is to serve specific customers, and we know how they behave, what they want and need, and agree on the outcomes we want to create for them, then authenticity comes naturally. In addition, it opens up many new opportunities for viable products, services and future business models for growth.

Do you feel confident that your company is in alignment on purpose as defined above? If not, it is a great first step to leading the future of your company.