Thoughts on Leadership of an Insurance Department

Why being a leader means setting the example Ken Selzer

Ken SelzerIn several months, I will reach my second anniversary of serving the people of Kansas as their insurance commissioner. We are focused on efficiency, responsiveness and innovation as we execute our statutory responsibilities of educating and advocating for consumers, regulating insurance companies and licensing insurance agents.

The volume of work in the department continues to increase. How do we manage this increasing workload and gain efficiencies at the same time? It starts and ends with motivated employees who are willing to always think about how they can be more efficient, while at the same time searching for ways to be more responsive to their customers’ needs. This requires innovation and engagement.

Innovation comes naturally from employees who are always thinking about how they can do their jobs better and more effectively.

It is a universal truth that employees who do a good job serving their clients, internal or external, want to be recognized for their efforts and successes. They want to participate in making decisions; they want to be a part of creating a solution; they want to be engaged. This almost always requires a leader who is also interested, knowledgeable and engaged.

The regulatory environment is not so different from any other profession. The good teachers are those who figure out a way to engage their students. The good salespeople understand how to engage their customers in the sales process. The good insurance policy analysts in my department want to learn everything they can about the policy filing: They get engaged, and they look for solutions that protect the consumer and reduce the regulatory burdens for the companies that serve them.

Productive employees are energized by their jobs—in many cases, because they know they are having a very direct and positive impact on the lives of consumers.

Employees want to know that their manager or supervisor is appreciative and thankful for their contributions. Our newly implemented performance discussions are an important part of this process, but they are not the only aspect. The important function that every supervisor and effective leader performs is offering his or her thanks for a job well done. Appreciation is even more important in an environment where salary compensation is more limited, such as in most government environments.

People want to know they are making a difference. If making a positive difference doesn’t matter to them, they usually find another place to work.

Most good employees also are motivated by challenging discussions that help develop solutions to issues. The manager and employee both learn from this activity, and the insurance department consumer ultimately benefits.

Leading by example is often a great way to move activities in a positive direction. Being supportive in difficult situations is essential. Employees need to know you have their backs. Sort out the issues later if you need to.

Leadership in my book is rather straightforward. You are the example. If you aren’t focused on serving the customer or consumer, if you aren’t thankful and appreciative of good performance, or if you don’t have a calm and steady hand in difficult customer or technical decisions, how can you—or why should you—expect anything different from your division heads or supervisors?

A razor-sharp focus on serving our consumers, producers and agents will solve almost every problem that may come our way.

Ken Selzer, CPA, is commissioner of the Kansas Insurance Department.