Actuaries who can add leadership skills to their undoubted technical expertise are likely to find themselves in high demand, says Daphna Horowitz
31 JAN 2012 | DAPHNA HOROWITZ
We've all heard, and even participated in, the jokes about the stereotypical actuary having little personality and barely being able to interact with others.
The general perception is that actuaries are highly respected as specialists in their fields and that, beyond their expertise, there are areas that require further development.
Furthermore, actuaries are increasingly finding themselves being placed in positions of leadership that necessitate leadership competencies and qualities beyond expertise in the actuarial domain.
Recent leadership trends point to the importance of leadership qualities that are often overlooked, such as values, vision, interpersonal skills and personal mastery.
The concept that self-leadership and self-awareness are crucial components of leadership is gaining traction as it is increasingly recognised that these qualities make truly great leaders stand out. Interestingly, these are the qualities that are probably the most difficult for specialists such as actuaries to learn because they seem to be less tangible.
There is a gap between how leaders perform in terms of what they are doing on an operational, specialist level and who they are being in their work environment. Aspects of being relate to the way leaders behave in challenging situations and the way they manage and develop others. When there is alignment between doing and being, leadership is enhanced.
A study of American leaders in the 1980s showed that two of the eight proposed problems with leaders at that time were a lack of self-knowledge and inattention to values and purpose. The remaining six problems were related to seeing the interconnectedness of issues, understanding the wider concepts and other areas that do not relate at all to the level of knowledge or expertise that the leaders had.
It is well understood that once a person reaches a certain level of leadership within an organisation, expertise is considered to be a given and is much less of a job requirement than the ability to co-ordinate, engage, motivate, strategise and influence.
Yet none of these are taught at any stage of preparation for a leadership position. In fact, each promotion is brought about by exceptional capability and performance in the leader's particular area of expertise. Herein lies the paradox that 'What Got You Here Won't Get You There' - the book title of executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith. So what is the answer to this paradox?
I'm writing this article from an interesting and unusual perspective. As an actuary and executive coach, I understand both worlds. I started my career as an actuary with a motivation to seek and overcome challenges and to satisfy my curiosity around rigorous analyses of trends in facts and figures.
My career has evolved into executive leadership coaching. Through a desire to create leaders out of specialists, I still use the thinking processes and analytical skills that I had learned as an actuary while working with leaders to build their capacity in the area of self-leadership.
Executive coaching is the process that allows specialists to explore and learn the less tangible, yet essential, leadership competencies described in the paradox above. Through a process of challenging thinking and behaviour and by questioning and awareness creation, leaders learn about who they are being as they go about doing the work that they do.
In this way a holistic version of leadership emerges. By looking beyond the technical expertise that actuaries so often believe is their identity, and delving into the less tangible leadership qualities, they learn to expand their own definition of self.
I still have to put up with 'actuary' jokes from time to time and it is always good to be able to laugh at ourselves. The important thing is to be able to grow and learn, whatever career we choose to follow, so that all aspects of leadership are integrated to create a powerful and impactful whole.