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8 characteristics of a good insurance executive

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Within the insurance industry, we take certain attributes for granted: diligence, detail orientation, a fundamental understanding of data.  

However, it’s rare to take a step back and examine the actual psychological characteristics of insurance executives — how they think, how they make decisions, how they approach interactions with others. 

What is the psychological profile of an insurance executive — and how does this profile differ from the attributes of executives in other fields? 

A recent study by Russell Reynolds Associates sought to answers these questions by analyzing the leadership and behavioral attributes of 87 insurance executives, and comparing those executives to the more than 5,000 executives across all industries in Russell Reynolds’s database.  

Three psychometric tests were used:  

  • 16pf, which measures communication and teamwork styles. 

  • OPQ-32, which examines personality related to management and leadership roles. 

  • Hogan Development Survey, which identifies patterns of behavior that tend to appear when a person is stressed or under pressure. 

The overall findings were striking. Insurance executives, defying stodgy industry stereotypes, score high on some quite vibrant personality traits.  

The ‘secret sauce’

Understanding this profile (as well as how these traits can be developed) can be of tremendous value to anyone in the insurance field. 

The personality traits of insurance executives — the “secret sauce” of this group of executives — fall into three camps: possessing a concerned eye, being a steady pair of hands, and embodying dynamism. 

Read on for our profile of what makes a good insurance executive.

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1. They possess a concerned eye.

Insurance executives are more likely to worry before significant occasions than the average executive. This is a double-edged sword — this characteristic raises the right concerns, but can create mental drag due to the resulting anxiety. 

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2. They are a “steady pair of hands.” 

Insurance executives score higher than the overall executive population on a cluster of traits that relate to procedural and interpersonal steadiness. 

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3. They are more trusting and more likely to perceive others as reliable.

In our research, again and again, top executive groups score higher than the overall population for being trusting — the ability to trust others facilitates a whole host of productive, collaborative interactions.

To develop this trait, consciously reflect back on situations where you feel you withheld your trust from a business partner or group of business partners, and where that lack of trust was not ultimately validated.

What in your mind were the reasons for not trusting? How can you “rewrite the story” for future interactions toward putting your faith in others where appropriate? 

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4. They are emotionally even-keeled.

According to our psychometric results, insurance executives are more emotionally even than their peers in other industries — which can be a true asset in an industry facing constant disruption.

To develop this trait, seek regular feedback from colleagues about your emotional style. Are you perceived as being emotional or intense? Are these perceptions magnified when using communication channels like email? 

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5. They prioritize well.

With a million priorities constantly in play, it’s perhaps not surprising that insurance executives are more oriented toward prioritization than their executive peers.

To develop this trait, constantly re-evaluate your priorities against your broader strategic goals. Make sure you’re managing the “urgent vs. important” tradeoff correctly. And ask colleagues for feedback on your prioritization – sometimes an outside set of eyes can spot issues easily. 

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6. They embody dynamism.

This cluster of attributes is perhaps the most surprising — and meaningful — set of results. Insurance executives score higher for a group of dynamic traits than the average executive. 

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7. They are bolder and more achievement oriented.

Compared to the overall executive population, insurance executives are more likely to act with confidence and pursue ambitious goals.

To develop this trait, embrace your own convictions. Place greater trust in your inner voice — and don’t hesitate to verbalize your position on an issue followed up by the proper supporting points. Vet your goals against a yardstick of scale — are they ambitious enough? 

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8. They seek a high level of activity.

And insurance executives can speed up their actions to match the speed of the business around them. 

This is another group of traits we often see in very successful populations, broadly speaking — the ability to move fast and to embrace constant activity.

To develop this trait, constantly have your key priorities in mind, facilitating speedy but well-considered decisions. Look at areas where you feel you do not move quickly — or do not enjoy a high level of activity — and attempt to identify and correct for the unifying themes.

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Your self-assessment

So what should insurance executives think about as they look at this psychological profile? 

First, consider to what extent you conform to — or contrast with — the three areas of attributes described (concerned eye, steady pair of hands, dynamism). Are there aspects of your personal style that you would develop to be more closely aligned with these attributes? Why or why not?

Moreover, it’s useful to think about what these attributes say about how the industry will move forward. Based on this psychological profile, how will insurance executives cope with changes like digital disruption, the rise of big data and diversity concerns?

On a personal level, consider how you can leverage your own psychological attributes to be a useful part of these changes.  After all, deeper understanding of your own leadership style is interesting to reflect upon — but powerful when put into action.

Limore Zilberman is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Financial Services Sector and Digital Transformation Practice, with a concentration in insurance. She advises boards, CEOs and senior-level executives on hiring, benchmarking, development and succession. Zilberman is also a member of the firm’s Diversity Practice.