Sharon Brown chairs leaders debate at BrokerExpo

12 November 2021

Sharon Brown chaired a debate at Insurance Age’s BrokerExpo on Thursday 11 November at the Coventry Building Society Arena titled ‘Leadership at the heart of broker and insurance business’.

Sharon opened the debate by asking panellist Stuart Reid, Chair of Partners&, what successful leaders look like today.

Stuart said that in the insurance industry, it is important to distinguish between large and small businesses as leadership differs depending on an organisation’s size.

Fellow panellist Alistair Fraser, CEO of Marsh Corporate, said he agreed to a point, but “the ability for a leader to be agile is the same in both large and smaller organisations”. Alistair also mentioned the importance of leading with kindness, though that doesn’t mean “softness”, and said: “That combination of agility and kindness is where you get people to feel empowered and, therefore, they achieve more than they think they can.”

Sharon then asked Clare Lebecq, Chief Operating Office of Specialist Risk Group, what steps she had taken to give her team resilience to get through the pandemic.

Clare said: “I don’t think you can give people resilience, but you can create an environment that enables them to build their resilience.” This, she said, requires two things. First, providing wellbeing resources that they can use as and when needed. Second, during lockdown, recreating the ‘water cooler’ moments by not requiring every meeting to be scheduled but instead making interactions with her or between team members more informal.

The next topic to be discussed was diversity, equality and inclusion, and Sharon read a Tweet from the Law Society of Ireland that said: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” Sharon asked Alistair Fraser if the industry truly asks all demographics to participate, or is it simply paying lip service and ticking boxes?

Alistair said: “You don’t grow a successful business without having a diverse workforce.” He explained that Marsh sends out an anonymous culture survey to all colleagues in the business each year to find out whether individuals feel safe to be themselves at work. This, he said, “is the most important report card I get in the year”.

Stuart said that although he agreed the industry has come some way towards diversity and inclusion, “there is still a long way to go and people in the industry need to get out of their comfort zone and think about things differently”.

Sara Fardon, Managing Director of Wills Towers Watson Networks, then spoke about the future and how she will lead her team as working practices change. She expressed the view that we will probably go back to how we have always worked within about three years. In the meantime, we should take advantage of the things the new working practices have given us, such as having the time to take on new hobbies. “The world is much more flexible now and allows us to build our days in the way we’ve always banged on about, which is to pay some attention to the work-life balance,” she said.

The session concluded with a two-minute silence to mark Remembrance Day.

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