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Taking Responsibility for Success

Posted on 07 Jan 09

I recently gave a speech I felt was rather innocuous. I had given different versions of the same presentation a dozen times, always with great results. Evidently, on this particular day, my tone was different or the audience was simply more sensitive because several people took my presentation rather personally, as if I was pointing fingers specifically at them (which since I did not know any of the agents in the audience, is rather interesting).

This scenario points out a major difference I’ve found between agency owners. Some owners want to build a better agency only if they do not have to acknowledge or take responsibility for any weaknesses. They want "plug and play" solutions. They want quick and easy answers that gloss over their weaknesses. Meanwhile, the other group of agency owners want to build a better agency from the ground up. They are willing to look at their agency’s weaknesses and their personal weaknesses, and search for solutions to fix their issues. They do not let sensitive egos bar their success.

Plenty of consultants pander to the former group by promising bandoliers of silver bullets. They promise success without the pain of self understanding, only the pain of paying money–which many agency owners seem to happily accept as long as the results are not disastrous. The pain of accepting and taking responsibility for one’s own weaknesses is huge though, much more than many agency owners are willing to endure.

These silver bullet solutions often work, and even work well, until the agency hits a bump such as the death or disability of an owner, the loss of a top producer, or a soft market. As an analogy, consider the metal alloy used in airplanes. The alloy must work well when the plane flies in calm weather AND when it hits severe turbulence, otherwise the consequences can be disastrous.

Building success by glossing over weaknesses is not unique to insurance agencies by any means:
Enron was crooked for years and yet achieved considerable success–until severely tested.
Big banks, investment bankers, and mortgage brokers made billions while building huge portfolios on nothing more than paper. Once the paper started to crumble, the entire credit market nearly collapsed.

In 2002, some commercial insurance companies were very lucky because no one, including the rating companies, truly tested their broken balance sheets. If they had been tested, many would have been found insolvent. Before their broken balance sheets caught up with them though, these carriers were saved by a literal paradigm shift that resulted in a huge decrease in claims. This paradigm shift was so unexpected and spread across almost all lines, no one yet has a complete and proven explanation for what happened. But the results are clear, this shift saved many carriers from demise.

Today, many of these carriers’ managements believe they actually saved their companies. They believe they have forever solved poor underwriting and therefore, no matter how low their rates fall, their profits will remain strong. If these carriers would have failed in 2002, the pain would have been significant then, but the market would likely not be so soft today. As with all in this world, there’s always a price and the only question is whether you pay today or tomorrow.

Science has recently proven that men (they haven’t proven the same for women) who get away with bad decisions will grow increasingly confident of their abilities, even though their success is due to luck. Their egos will grow to the point that their decisions become so reckless, businessmen will eventually cause their firms to suffer severely, and even collapse. They are on a road to self-destruction because they are unable, or unwilling, to evaluate the merit of their decisions or differentiate between luck and skill.

A thousand authors, doctors, companies, and con artists have grown wealthy selling silver bullet diets that do not work because a successful diet requires self-awareness and self-discipline. Diets that work are not glamorous, and they require hard work and dedication. The same goes for building a better agency. There are no silver bullets, only silver linings used for comfort and to shroud problems for a short while.

Which type of agency owner are you? Is your self-awareness limited? Do you find yourself continually searching for a perfect example you can copy for your agency? If so, keep searching for your silver bullets.

If you have grown beyond that stage and are ready to strive for solid success, do not settle for "plug and play" solutions. Check your ego at the door, accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good, and look for the best solution.

For more information about the products and services offered by Chris Burand, visit