Take the Lead and be Courageous

Go beyond your technical abilities to make an impact in your organization, industry and society Nimmie Veerappen

Leadership skills are important for everyone, including actuaries. After reading that statement, you may be asking yourself, “Do leadership skills really need to be an integral part of an actuary’s skill set?” The answer is: “Definitely! And courage is one of its most critical components.”

As actuaries, we spend several years studying technical actuarial concepts. While leadership may not have been in our syllabi, many of its aspects are part of our career journeys. As we progress from being actuarial students to qualified actuaries and into senior roles, we are confronted with increased leadership responsibilities that transition us from being problem-solvers to being the ones helping others solve problems.

To be successful leaders, we need to have both vertical and horizontal influence in our organizations. People managers need the tools and knowledge to build and sustain engagement and productivity; develop talent; and appropriately conduct challenging discussions with teams, peers or management. Yet, most actuaries, especially early in their careers, have had little leadership training.

Today, leadership challenges are emerging at every level. Employees with strong leadership skills will be best positioned to rise to these challenges. Organizations will need to invest in developing leadership skills among all employees. Ultimately, though, it’s a personal choice to courageously embrace the opportunity to lead.

This issue of The Actuary acknowledges the importance of leadership skills for actuaries. It explores the various aspects of leadership woven into actuaries’ everyday lives, centering on a key aspect of leadership: courage. The authors in this issue discuss how important leadership skills are, how to develop those skills and how to create a path to leadership for the next generation.

Leadership Is a Personal Journey

Leadership skills are a key component in an actuary’s toolkit, regardless of tenure or title. A title does not make one a leader. Leadership can happen from wherever you are—if you recognize the opportunity. For this reason, training and development opportunities for young actuaries are critical.

Indeed, the Great Man1 theory of leadership, popularized in the 19th century, posits that the capacity for leadership is inherent—that great leaders are born, not made, and if the need for leadership is great, great leaders will rise to fill it.

If leadership could be boiled down to genetics, then anyone with the right traits would become a leader. However, more recent research indicates leadership is surprisingly complex, relying on numerous factors such as the characteristics of the group being led, the leader in power and the situation—all of which interact to determine the type of leadership needed and its effectiveness.

As you read the articles in this issue, you’ll notice a common theme: Leadership is a personal journey, meant for every one of us. Leadership is like a muscle. We all have it, but only by exercising that muscle can we grow into effective leaders.

While the leadership journey is different for each of us, there are some common elements:

  • Desire to achieve a specific result or goal
  • Willingness and capacity to take ownership to achieve the goal
  • Ability to recognize the opportunity to lead
  • Courage to step up and take risks
  • Effectiveness, to make an impact on the result

Choose to Be the Leader You Want to Be

There is an abundance of concepts, theories and training materials on leadership, based on psychological research around group and interpersonal behavior.

One of my favorite theories is from Simon Sinek, whose books, Start With Why and The Infinite Game, and his popular TED Talks, explicate his almost evangelical fervor about the need for a shift in culture, where leadership is inspirational, committed, connected and grounded in values such as authenticity, empathy, perspective and vision.2

These methodologies can help develop a vision and be the building blocks for leadership, but ultimately you need to bring these concepts to life. You need to spot the opportunities to lead. Once you find opportunities to lead from where you are, the question becomes: What kind of leader will you choose to be?

Leadership is more about your EQ (emotion quotient) than your IQ. Growing as a leader involves an awareness of the interplay between how you view yourself and the actions you choose to take. When challenges arise, do you dig deep, set an example and inspire courage in those around you? Do you create a vision to help others develop a sense of purpose in what they are doing? Is your communication and interaction inclusive, encouraging a diversity of perspectives? Do your words and actions generate trust with those around you? Do you listen, take the time to coach and have the courage to have difficult discussions when they are necessary? There are many paths to build your own brand of leadership, and leading by example is a great way to develop your skills.

As actuaries, we need to go beyond our technical abilities to make an impact in our organizations, industry and societies. We need to embrace our roles as leaders and elevate the actuarial profession by leveraging our innovative problem-solving capabilities and helping our organizations navigate the rapidly changing business landscape. To me, leadership is about who you choose to be, how you deliver value to your customers and business, and how you choose to inspire those around you. As the saying goes, the journey is much more important than the destination.

I hope you enjoy this issue of The Actuary and courageously embrace your future opportunities to lead.

Nimmie Veerappen, FSA, FCIA, is vice president and actuary, Risk Management, Global Financial Solutions, at RGA Reinsurance Company.

Copyright © 2019 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.