Insurance executives are bombarded with self-improvement advice—articles pushed to their smartphones and emails flooding their inboxes hyping books and courses that promise to pave the way to stress-free leadership or the silver bullet of work-life balance.
As editors of a publication about leadership and insurance, we receive them too—and we know there isn’t time to read it all.
What’s the best advice? Putting down the mobile and shutting down the email clutter in order to find time to think comes up frequently. Recognizing the value in taking a break from the noise, we whittled down the pile into manageable tips—categorized by topic—to use as a starting point to track down needed guidance as you come up against some of your most frustrating daily challenges.
Becoming Emotionally Intelligent
- Make your dog proud. Stop, think, breathe. Don’t take your frustrations out on the parking attendant. Compassion is a secret to long-lasting happiness. (“Be the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are,” aartijk.com, March 20, 2018 by Lucie Lawrence; “The Best Kept Secret to Happiness & Health: Compassion,” Psychology Today, Nov. 5, 2012 by Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D.)
- Consider the circumstances. Think about when to utilize a personality trait that makes you great, such as extroversion or openness, to your advantage and when it’s better to leave it on the sidelines. (“Great Leadership Starts With Self-Awareness,” Forbes, Feb. 15, 2018 by Chinwe Esimai; “How to Become a Better Leader,” MIT Sloan Management Review, May 7, 2012 by Leslie Brokaw)
- Ask for pushback. Saying “I’m very self-aware and open to feedback” will only prompt eye rolls. Read nonverbal cues, ask others to call out your triggers for becoming defensive and pay attention to self-justifying inner narration. (“4 Ways to Get Honest, Critical Feedback from Your Employees,” Harvard Business Review, Nov. 23, 2017 by Ron Carucci)
- Practice humility and unconditional love. These antidotes to false pride and self-doubt are keys to servant leadership. (“Why Isn’t Every Leader a Servant Leader?” How We Lead blog, June 8, 2016 by Ken Blanchard)
- Ask empathetic questions. “How is this situation keeping you from succeeding?” That’s one question a leader can ask an associate when trouble is brewing and his or her patience wears thin. (“Ask These 4 Empathetic Questions When You’re Struggling to Listen,” Fast Company, 26, 2018 by Faisal Hoque)
Dealing With Self-Doubt
- Don’t focus on the wall. In early training, race car drivers learn to focus on the road, not the wall. When CEOs face crises, psychological meltdowns are more common than they admit. Other tips from a leader who has been there: Make some friends. Get it out of your head and onto paper. (“What’s the Toughest CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology,” TechCrunch, March 31, 2011 by Ben Horowitz; “Getting Out of Your Own Head,” alisacohn.com, Nov. 28, 2017 by Alisa Cohn)
- Permit yourself to be where you are. “Sometimes the novel is not ready to be written because you haven’t met the inspiration for your main character yet.” Give yourself permission to be human. Show up in the moment and let that be enough. (“To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind,” The Medium, Feb. 5, 2016 by Jamie Varon)
- Respect yourself. Would you talk to a child or a stranger in the negative way you talk to yourself? Silence your inner critic by recognizing who or what triggers it and asking whether your thoughts are constructive and factual or just negative interpretations. (“Why self-talk is the most powerful hack in the world?” SmartBrief.com, June 15, 2016 by LaRae Quy)
- Make realistic comparisons. If you’re a new writer, comparing yourself to a Pulitzer Prize winning, multi-bestselling author only deflates you. Having a “pace horse” to which you can create a fair comparison serves as a better motivator. (“How to Fight Back Against Self-Doubt,” Forbes, March 19, 2018 by Ron Carucci)
Improving Your Performance
- Laminate your strategy. The most successful CEOs say no to time-wasting activities that don’t advance strategy, and they don’t get sucked into petty manager squabbles. One tip: Focus on a “strategy on a hand”—where the thumb is a simple, jargon-free description of “why we exist” and the fingers are ways the company will make that happen. (“How the Best CEOs Get the Important Work Done,” Harvard Business Review, 27, 2016 by James Allen; “CEOs Succeed by Making Time Alone to Think,” Carrier Management, Oct. 3, 2016)
- Live in the present and never quit. Successful people also don’t just acknowledge their personal flaws; they fix them. (“7 Traits of Highly Successful People,” Carrier Management, May 24, 2017; “Qualities of Highly Successful People,” LeadershipHQ, May 23, 2017 by Sonia McDonald)
- Don’t take the red eye. Get a good night’s sleep before an important meeting. With 20 hours of wakefulness, individual performance on a range of tasks mirrors that of a person who is legally drunk. (“Good Sleep Helps You and Your Company Perform Better: McKinsey & Co.,” Carrier Management, June 5, 2016; “The Organizational Cost of Insufficient Sleep,” McKinsey Quarterly, Feb. 2016 by Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm; “Senior Executives Get More Sleep Than Everyone Else,” Harvard Business Review, 28, 2018 by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter)
- Practice daydreaming and doodling. Excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. Positive, constructive daydreaming and “psychological halloweenism”—pretending to be someone else—can help break through creative deadlock. Doodling can increase retention, lower stress. (“Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus,” Harvard Business Review, May 12, 2017 and “The Thinking Benefits of Doodling,” Harvard Health Publishing, Dec. 15, 2016, by Srini Pillay)
- Welcome interruptions. Like a writer who suddenly finds the right words after a seemingly unwanted break, interruptions—or what neuroscientists call “disfluency”—can enhance creativity. (“Escape the Tyranny of Your To-Do List,” How We Lead blog, March 21, 2018 by Ken Blanchard)
- Stop. Stopping to propel forward is less about physically going or doing and all about mental actions. Stop to plan, stop to process, stop to think and stop to reflect. (“The Powerful Principle of Stopping to Propel Forward,” Dan Black on Leadership, July 17, 2017 by Dan Black)
- Take 15 minutes. Self-reflection can help you prioritize, minimize surprises and build a better team. (“Self-Reflection Can Help Build a Stronger Team,” Carrier Management, 9, 2016; “How Self-Reflection Can Make You a Better Leader,” Kellogg Insight blog, Dec. 2, 2016, based on insights of Harry M. Kraemer)
- Run at the dog. One way to build resilience is to run toward what makes you uncomfortable. Other tactics: Recall the benefits of past challenges; question the catastrophe; build a challenge mindset; take a behavioral break with exercise or breathing. (“Resilience 101: How to Be a More Resilient Person,” Psychology Today, March 15, 2018 by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.)
- Help others. Engaging in activities that serve others, such as community service, can offer a release from daily stress. Simply taking time off can also be a stress reliever if strong teams can back up executives while they’re away. (“Managing Executive Stress,” Carrier Management, June 1, 2014 by Kathleen Mahieu and Denise Heybrock)
- Eat right. To maintain a healthy, balanced mood, avoid sugar and highly refined, processed oils, which include canola, corn and soybean oil. (“How your next meal could help fight depression and stress,” CNN, March 20, 2018 by Max Lugavere)
- Let your mind wander more. When your mind has wandered to an anxiety-producing threat, purposely allow it to wander more by knitting, gardening or meditating to loosen the mind’s grip on your threat-focused reality. (“Brain science suggests ‘mind wandering’ can help manage anxiety,” Harvard Health Publishing, Nov. 17, 2016 by Srini Pillay)
Finding Happiness and Work-Life Balance
We stopped our list at 25 tips on less than three pages, but we know there are enough to fill the entire magazine. And we handpicked the items that struck a chord with us.
What did we miss? What’s the best advice you ever got about managing yourself as a leader?
We invite you to share your ideas by contacting our editors for a reader-written supplement to our article.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation. First, learn self-compassion. Breathe and repeat: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be free from suffering.” Then focus on someone who loves you: “May you be safe…” Then someone difficult: “May you be safe…” (“Nine Scientists Share Their Favorite Happiness Practices” and “A Loving-Kindness Meditation to Boost Compassion,” mindful.org; A Gift of Loving-Kindness Meditation, https://emmaseppala.com; “A 10-Minute Meditation to Help You Solve Conflicts at Work,” Harvard Business Review, Apr. 25, 2015 by Monique Valcour)
- Apply the 10/10/10 rule. What do you want to have accomplished in 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years? A wider lens is less daunting and allows you to set longer-term goals that feed your purpose. (“Want Your Work and Life in Balance? Take a Long-Term View, Exec Coach Says,” Carrier Management, Nov. 4, 2015; “Whacked Out or Balanced: 7 Strategies to Enhance Your Work/Life Balance,” IJ Academy webinar, presenter Marsha Egan)
- Ride your bike to work. “Experts say cyclists are happier with their travel to work and more alert in the workplace, and they make far fewer errors than their driving counterparts. (“Behind the Handlebars: Why Argo Employees Cycle,” argolimited.com)
Managing Your Health
- Love your work if you’re a workaholic. Engaged workaholics have fewer health risks than non-engaged ones. They also have more resources at home and at work, including social support (e.g., advice, information, appreciation). (“How Being a Workaholic Differs From Working Long Hours and Why That Matters for Your Health,” Harvard Business Review, March 22, 2018 by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard)
- Walk two minutes every hour. Just standing won’t offset health hazards of sitting for most of the day. (“How to Counteract the Health Risks of Sitting Too Much,” Carrier Management, May 14, 2015; “Light-Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation,” Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology)