Pass It On
This month I have been thinking about something that takes leadership and guts and grit.
It is truly the hardest challenge I have faced as a leader and as a builder of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. It is knowing when it is time to generate the space to allow others to do the building and creating.
In general, we boomers have been very bad at building succession plans. We’re creative, entrepreneurial, many of us live to work and don’t really want to think about retiring. We’ve spent decades exerting our creative energy to build and grow. Stepping back and allowing other people to build and grow the business in their own way seems like a very foreign concept.
Indeed, according to a report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, almost half of baby boomer workers (49%) expect to work past age 70 or do not plan to retire. The same study also found that only 16% of baby boomers frequently discuss saving, investing and planning for retirement with family and close friends—the lowest cohort in four generations surveyed. On the other end of the spectrum, 29% of boomers reported never discussing these issues with family and friends—the largest percentage of all generational cohorts. So it seems like, in addition to avoiding doing it, we’re also avoiding talking about it.
Here’s another statistic I found—baby boomers own 40% of small businesses in the United States. Some have questioned what the business landscape looks like if many of those business owners fail to step aside while they still have the opportunity to make that transition to new leadership. What happens to the millions of people employed by these businesses? The vendors and others who rely on them?
In brokerage we have seen what happens when the succession plan is to sell. Yes, the business continues on, but consolidation has created bigger and bigger entities with such scale that small independents have to find very creative ways to compete, if at all. Is this what we want for Main Street America?
As a leader, one of the most important parts of your role is continuing the trajectory that you built, whether you started it from scratch or built upon something that was already there. You do this by giving more autonomy to those coming up and ensuring the culture is sound before you exit. This takes time. It’s not achieved in just a few months or sometimes even a year. That’s why I’m thinking about building up future leadership now, while I have a strong executive team in place to work with side by side until the foundation for their continued success is solid.
Yes, it can be scary to give up control over something that you have spent years cultivating in your vision. And it makes it even harder with the large generational differences among us. What a millennial or Gen Zer envisions for the future of brokerage might be miles away from what your vision looked like at their age. Parametric triggers, real-time underwriting, satellite-based claims analysis…these are the types of innovations set to enrich our industry and enable us to find ways to cover the growing systemic risk we see. And they don’t have to come solely from large-scale conglomerates.
We can make room for small innovators, regional players, but they need their own leaders to take them there. We all need to ensure we are transferring knowledge and control before it’s too late. We have visionaries waiting in the wings for their chance. Let’s make sure they get it.