Early in my career, my mentor, Darnell Moore, conveyed an important concept to me: “Find your voice, Jack! Be heard!”
Darnell’s wisdom has guided me through the years. Finding my voice has been valuable in my career and in my personal life.
I also understood that Darnell was not just talking about talking. Finding your voice includes bringing passion to your work, having conviction in your ideas, and being willing to put yourself out there and take a risk.
(Editor’s Note: Moore hired Salzwedel as vice president at American Family.)
My leadership journey has taught me to stand up for myself and my ideas.
I’m active on Twitter, have a significant LinkedIn presence, and I blog regularly at jacksalzwedel.com. I think these communication mediums are essential for a leader of a Fortune 500 company. Through these approaches, I’m better able to communicate with and engage with a large and dispersed employee and agent group—conveying and reinforcing concepts that are important to our company, our brand and our future.
“Finding my voice” is about more than talking about business topics. It’s about building culture, demonstrating integrity and being clear about doing business in the right way—always.
You see, Darnell is not the only one who has influenced me in finding my voice. My childhood friend, Herbie, was bullied—in an awful way—because of the color of his skin. It had a profound effect on me. And I, too, was bullied at a young age, though not because of the color of my skin.
Herbie’s challenges, and my own struggles with bullying, have helped me better empathize with people who are the target of bias or harassment. I know these were defining moments for my life and my leadership style. They also affected how I view inclusion and diversity.
They’ve affected my entire view of the world around me and how I want to make an impact on that world. And that is one of the biggest things I stand up for: supporting those without a voice, or whose voices have been diminished or silenced by fear, hate or discrimination.
In addition to having a CEO who personally “stands up” to support those without a voice, American Family, the corporate partner of The Players’ Tribune, teamed up with TPT early last year to present a new campaign—STAND UP.
TPT is a media company that provides athletes with a platform to connect directly with their fans.
STAND UP “harnesses the power of some of the biggest names in sports to take on the divisive rhetoric that has infiltrated our national conversations,” according to a Feb. 3, 2017 press statement announcing the launch, debuting with a video featuring sports stars Derek Jeter, Von Miller, Danica Patrick, Michael Phelps and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The campaign gives athletes a platform to improve communities by sharing their personal feelings and experiences on important issues.
This is the culture we’re trying to create at American Family Insurance—one where everyone has a voice. I’m proud of the way our employees see diversity and inclusion working in their lives. And as a company, we’ve spent significant time examining the root causes of issues and looking for solutions to a more inclusive and diverse set of ideas. This creates an environment for everyone to find a voice.
True leaders demonstrate integrity when they have a voice. Have you heard the term sins of omission? In essence, it’s saying or doing nothing when you see something you know is wrong. I think the sin of omission is just as grave as the sin of committing an unethical act.
Using your voice for good shows true integrity. It also requires courage—a bunch of it. Once you feel the courage to use your voice, overcoming other obstacles seems less daunting. In fact, I think this approach is fundamental to winning—not just as the CEO of a large organization but in my personal life as well.
In a world of constant change and disruption, it’s important to have something to help guide the way to the finish line—even if the tape is miles away. Finding your voice and helping others do the same can help you get there.