How To Be Awesome

Here is a fascinating article on coaching and it’s written by a surgeon.

I’ve noticed two common themes on the resumes of CEOs of Reinsurance companies: many of them were actuaries at AIG in the 80s and another group were drawn from the ranks of the this famous old defunct firm called F&G Re.

What was in the water? Who set the culture that produced so much success? There had to be someone that kicked it all off, someone whose contribution to the industry has probably gone under-appreciated. Under-appreciated as a coach and a leader, anyway.

Most managers do a very poor job of coaching their employees. Who can blame them? It’s really hard. Once your’e out of school, learning is a strange, solitary process that, bizarrely focuses on all of the wrong things.

Take a typical insurance exam series. You spend a LOT of time learning about insurance law, a bit about definitions of various jargon and the rest is financial theory about capital allocation and pricing.

I would bet that the knowledge differential in these areas explains something close to zero of the variation in career success. If that hypothesis is true why would we teach it and test it and what should we teach and test instead?

I touch on this issue in my little rant against the DB course. We teach these things because they’re easy to test. We can grade people’s ability to memorize lists and perform calculations and delude ourselves (and them) into thinking that this is making them better at whatever it is that they do.

We’re wasting people’s time and, more tragically, we’re wasting their impulse to learn. These are people who have decided to spend extra time, and perhaps extra money, to better themselves. Worse, when they realize it does not work we have taught them that to better oneself is futile.

That IS a tragedy.

So what to do? Well, you do just what the good doctor in the article did: pick a task that you want to improve your performance on and find the best person you know at it and ask them what to do.

For instance, my company is led by a spectacularly good salesman. I don’t think I have EVER gotten a piece of advice on how to become a better salesman from him. Sure I’ve learned things by just being around him and working with him and that’s a powerful way to learn, too, but I don’t fully grasp the thought process that goes on behind his actions. This is an incredibly lucrative thought process, by the way, and our company should find a way of sharing it internally.

Instead I’ve taken lots of courses and spent lots of time doing things like blogging and listening to podcasts and reading articles online. I try to only do things where I will learn something that I think is of value but they’re not things that are making me better at the ONE THING that the boss of my company wants me to become better at. Ironically, this is the ONE THING that he can teach me better than anyone else I know.

Back to the joke about the economist searching under a light. The police officer comes up inquiring about what he’s doing. “Looking for my keys”, says the economist. Well where did you lose them? “Oh, way over there on the other side of the park”. But why are you looking here?

“Because this is where the light is.”

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