Radostina Purvanova, associate professor of management and international business at Drake University, has a unique perspective on what it takes to be a successful leader in the current economy.

Purvanova teaches leadership development to seniors at Drake, many of whom go on to find jobs in the insurance industry.

Radostina Purvanova

To supplement the information about leadership development that we gathered from talent management executives working in the insurance industry, Carrier Management asked Purvanova to discuss the key qualities and skills of a successful leader in any industry today and how external leadership development programs are changing to keep pace with the challenges of a changing world.

“Ever more than before there is a huge emphasis on people skills—the ability to really work with different sorts of people,” she said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know if the perception, at least among the students in the college of business at Drake, is that individuals who go into actuarial science are necessarily very good with people skills,” she said, citing this as a possible reason that some business students choose not to go into the insurance sector. “They don’t believe the people who choose that sector have the people skills.”

While Drake emphasizes “people skills” in its leadership development program, Purvanova admits that this is a very broad term. Attempting to capture the essence of Drake’s leadership development program more specifically, she said it means “training people to recognize diversity within individuals.”

Related article, “Growing for the Future: Insurers Describe Their Leadership Development Programs,” features perspectives from talent managers at Chubb, Travelers, Nationwide, Hartford and MetLife.
“We have moved past the very basic gender diversity, age diversity, racial diversity because we do understand nowadays that these are not really the things that matter,” she added. “When we talk about diversity now, what we mean is personality diversity, world-experiences diversity, global diversity—things that are actually really important human characteristics that we all differ on.” Leaders need to know “how to recognize who brings what to the table and how to better utilize people’s talents.”

“So we talk about people skills in that respect, recognizing the differences within people that actually matter and learning how to capitalize on those opportunities that exist with all the diversity different employees bring to the table.”

Closely associated with this, “there is a huge discussion of adaptability and flexibility. So that is something that today we’re really trying to instill as a value in students of leadership.”

“Most of us, quite frankly, don’t like change. We say that we’re adaptable and flexible, but we prefer to exist within a very specific set of parameters. We’re very much on autopilot most of the time. And we like it that way. In psychology, we have an expression that people are ‘cognitive misers’—and we are. We don’t like to think too much. We don’t like to expend our energy too much.”

But leaders really do need “to be able to rise above and beyond that. You need to be flexible and you need to be adaptive because these are times that are constantly changing.”

“Globalization is certainly a fact of life. And all sorts of phenomena are really happening on steroids almost,” she said, underscoring the need to instill adaptive leadership styles in students.