A Personal Interview with a Great Leader

John PetrucciThe people in my professional network are awesome. Occasionally one of them is gracious enough to let me grill them on the subject of leadership. John Petrucci is one of those guys. He’s one of the most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet and that’s part of what makes him an exemplary leader. You can read all about his accomplishments at the end of the post. Here’s my conversation with John about leadership. All of us can learn a thing or five from him!

Mike Figliuolo: What’s the most rewarding part of leading people?

John Petrucci: The most rewarding part is derived from supporting them. Supporting associates gives them the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential. To know folks you support have grown to be better, more productive associates, citizens and human beings is tremendously satisfying to a leader.

When someone asks me what my greatest professional accomplishment has been, I always respond with the name of an agent I supported while an agency manager at Allstate. I was able to help her see what she could become, and then was privileged to watch her become that person. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Mike: What’s the biggest mistake you see leaders make and how can they avoid it or recover from it?

John: I truly believe in servant leadership. The organizational chart we have for our department has me at the bottom. We as leaders can’t talk about servant leadership and then put the leader at the top of the chart. That’s counter to what we’re ‘saying.’ We have to walk the talk, if you will. Along that line, a focus on ‘me’ as the leader is the biggest mistake a ‘leader’ can make.

Too many managers who think they are leaders seem almost exclusively focused on themselves. “I’m the manager, so de facto I’m the leader. Now that I have your attention, here’s what you’ll do for me.” That’s not what leadership is – that’s merely controlling the bully-pulpit (and we know why that pulpit got its name!). Leadership is a direct function of followership. People want to follow leaders who bring them into the fold; who use the “we” word versus the “I” word; who share visions and not dictates.

People have to work for managers – it’s the nature of the beast. People have a choice on whether or not they will follow a “leader.” If you support folks the right way, they will choose to follow you. That’s what servant leadership is all about. If you keep that in mind from day one, you won’t make the “me” mistake!

Mike: If you could go back in time, what piece of leadership advice that you know now would you give to yourself when you had your first leadership role?

John: That it’s not about the mind, it’s about the heart. I assumed, in my first professional leadership role, that everyone would want to follow what I did. So, all I had to do was to ‘show’ them what to emulate, and they would do so. Boy was I wrong! Until I figured out you had to win their hearts – to get them to want to do what you know they needed to do to be successful – they wouldn’t flourish. That has been the key to whatever success I’ve had as a leader.

Mike: What are the top three skills you think a leader needs to have and what’s the best way to build them?

John: The top three skills a leader needs to be successful are interpersonal skills, communication skills and negotiation skills. If a leader can’t ‘sense’ what the issues are among the folks they support, they won’t know how to fully support them.

Getting out as much as possible (MBWA) with the folks they support allows a leader to see and hear how things are progressing on the front line. There’s nothing like a face-to-face conversation with someone to get a ‘feel’ on where they are in life. Getting to know the folks you support for who they are – mother, father, wife, husband, animal lover, sports fanatic, etc. – is how you win their hearts.

People buy based on emotions, and justify the buying decision based on logic. Managers ‘direct’ folks to take action, while leaders ‘move’ their followers to want to act. If a leader can’t effectively communicate their vision to the folks they support, they won’t be a leader for long. As I mentioned earlier in our interview, leadership is a direct function of followership. You can have the greatest ideas in the world on how to support individuals and units, ground-breaking ideas on where to take your team and revolutionary ideas on what your organization can become, but if you can’t effectively communicate those visions, no one will follow you. Of course, you have to be able to effectively communicate that same vision to others outside your immediate sphere of influence as well.

Negotiation skills allow a leader to effectively secure and distribute resources. Every organization has limited resources. A leader knows which resources their followers need – and works to secure them. In addition, a leader knows what results they need from their followers, and is able to negotiate with them to secure their help. A leader with poor negotiation skills isn’t long for this world.

Mike: What’s your view on what makes for effective leadership training and development?

John: Follow-up. I think we’ve all been to any number of training programs that got us fired up while we were participating. We may have even been on a ‘program-high’ for a few weeks after the program, weakly attempting to change, before settling-in to our old routines. Having someone follow-up with you on your commitment to making changes is what allows changes to take root and grow.

Mike: How important is it to have a leadership philosophy and how can a leader best put that philosophy into practice?

John: From my perspective, you can’t be a leader without a philosophy. Leaders have to have a foundation from which to work from, and their philosophy is that foundation. You wrote a great book, Mike, that synthesized your leadership principles onto one piece of paper. Good for you. Most folks like simplicity. If you don’t believe that, then you missed the ‘Apple’ revolution. Simple is in.

My leadership philosophy is even shorter – it’s basically two words – consistency and accountability. If I tell you I’ll get something done, you can rest assured it will get done. If you say you’ll get something done, then it should get done as well. Accountability should be across the enterprise. I have a certain job to do. If someone I support doesn’t think I’m fulfilling my role, they have every right to hold me accountable. If I don’t think they’re holding up their end of the bargain, I have a right to challenge them as well. It isn’t about stripes on the shoulder; it’s about getting things done for your stakeholders. Keep your word – every time – and you won’t have a problem as a leader.

– John Petrucci is a 26-year veteran of the insurance industry. He has experience in claims as an adjuster and manager; in sales as an agent and agency manager; and administration as a branch manager and vice president of sales. In addition, John has worked for both a captive agency company and an independent agency company. His blended experience gives him a unique perspective on the insurance industry. John has a total of ten professional designations, showing his commitment to the insurance industry and his own professional development.

3 Responses to “A Personal Interview with a Great Leader”

  1. Kim Breen says:

    I like it. Heart, Servant, Interpersonal-Communication-Negotiation Skills, Follow up, Simple, Consistency and Accountability. Great words!

  2. Great advice! Very much along the lines of my own leadership philosophy. I just didn’t know what it was called. 🙂

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