Teaching Others How To Be Great Through Great American Income Life Leadership Skills

Building American Income Life Agent CompetenciesLeaders are judged by many criteria.  By their impact, influence, accomplishments, reputation and so forth.  Yet many simply leave it at that.  Win-loss records don’t occur by accident.  Great accomplishments are not acts of magic.  To create great Agencies and teams, the great American Income Life leaders have certain skills and talents.  Here are some of those required skills:


American Income Life Regional Director of Sales-Chris Selejan

American Income Life Regional Director of Sales-Chris Selejan

Leadership Skill 1:  The ability to spot the strength in others, and get them to play to those strengths.

To be a great leader at American Income Life, understand that everyone has a “given” strength of some kind.  That is why everyone has the ability to succeed.  It’s your job to spot and build on it.  For most of our lives we are told our strengths and weaknesses through batteries of performance reviews, tests and evaluations.  The most common feedback given by those who administer those evaluations is to “fix” your weaknesses.

A great leader helps you find that strength and then helps you develop it and capitalize on it.  He or she doesn’t try to pound a square peg into a round hole.  A well-designed team has a few redundancies because everyone is playing to their unique abilities and not trying to perform functions that are a struggle to them.  A leader’s talent is knowing all the positions that need to be played and recognizing who is best suited to play them.  Then he/she coaches his/her players into that zone of discovery, experimentation and implementation.   As a great American Income Life leader, you can inspire that in yourself and others.  You know why?  Because we love to work on stuff that we’re already good at.  Its hard work, but its fun.  Time slips away and before you know it, you’ve been working on it for hours.  Struggle is replaced by excitement.  Distraction is replaced by focus and intensity.  Recall those times when you have become lost in time doing something that, for others, would seem tedious or hard but to you was exciting.


Leadership Skill 2:  The ability to teach.

 The ultimate form of leadership is the ability to teach your team how to be successful-not by telling them, or by reciting a monologue on how to do something, or by telling them what you did, but by getting them involved, practicing, drilling, challenging them and getting them dirty in the process.  You don’t learn to play ball by just watching game films.  You don’t learn to build a successful Agency from a book and you certainly don’t learn to be a great team player by being told how to do it.  You have to be taught how to do it.

Teaching is a combination of leading, selling, motivating and involving.  It’s the delivery process of education, which comes from the root word educare, which means “bringing out or drawing out” the intelligence in others.  Education, therefore, does not mean to cram data down someone’s throat!  Be a teacher and a leader, not a preacher!  Education, or learning, is the practice of repetition and discovery.  For example, the more you experience the act of selling, by repeating it and drilling it, the more you discover how it works and how to apply it.  Ultimately, the secret for getting people to learn isn’t having the knowledge, but rather it is teaching people how to learn.


Leadership Skill 3:  Using mistakes to empower and strengthen the team.

A great American Income Life leader knows how to use mistakes to empower the team, while those who don’t can use them to kill a team.  This is because our conditioning has taught us that mistakes are a bad thing.  We have a natural distaste for them.  We were penalized for – and embarrassed by – mistakes, and in many cases were made to look less intelligent because of them.  Sometimes fear can be a great motivator, but in business and in sports it can also be destructive if handled improperly.  If you’re constantly thinking to yourself “what if I blow it?” or, “I’m not sure if I can do this,” then as soon as a mistake does occur (and it always does), then you automatically tell yourself, “See, I told you.”  At that point, you proceed into a downward spiral and start acting on panic.  Fear and emotions go up, while intelligence and competence go down (at this point one leads from weakness rather than strength).

A great leader understands that dynamic and teaches his/her team how to deal with emotion, by drilling the ability to successfully respond to mistakes.  A leader teaches how to take fear and convert it into power and high intention.

Look at your team and/or organization.  There are probably those who are afraid to fail.  If the fear is strong enough, it will become a reality.  Are these same people focused on winning , or afraid of failing?  There’s a big difference between the two.  As a leader, knowing how to spot those mindsets, and how to coach them, is critical to building a great winning organization.  What are you communicating to them, through your actions and your words?


Team Tip:

There are three ways to use mistakes to strengthen the team:

  1. Debriefing
  2. Celebrating wins
  3. Knowing how and when to call a time-out


  1. Debriefing

The key to learning from mistakes is asking the right question.  Debriefing a situation teaches someone how to look at any situation as a learning experience, not as a tragedy.  As a leader, it isn’t about correcting, advising, lecturing, or even consoling.  It’s about asking good questions.  It’s about getting people to understand what happened and to take responsibility for learning something as a result of the experience.

Use these five questions for debriefing any situation:

  1. What happened?  We only want facts here, not opinions.
  2. What worked? Keep this brief and opinion-free, if possible.
  3. What didn’t work?  Notice the language here.  It’s neither wrong nor wrong.  It either works or it doesn’t. You have to answer both of these questions because they both coexist.
  4. What did you learn? This is the most important question!  Look for patterns of behavior or results, not a single isolated incident.
  5. What can you do to correct it (if it was a mistake) or leverage (if it was win)?  You have to answer this question last.  Otherwise you may put something into action that could create more problems than you had to begin with.

Debriefing puts responsibility on the team members.  Don’t do this in a condescending way.  You’re simply asking questions and being honest.  And through it, the person will own the mistake without feeling inadequate.

2.Celebrating all wins.

One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to teach your team how to celebrate even the smallest of wins.  It reinforces winning activity.  Appreciation and acknowledgement of the efforts of another human being is one of the most powerful gifts you can give to someone.  Transformational leadership at its best! [American Income Life Regional Director of Sales describes transformational leadership in more depth]  Try a simple handshake, high five, or “thank you”, coupled with a lot of consistency, and you’ll be amazed at the energy and results you see.

3. Calling a time-out

Another technique is one that you can observe in any NBA playoff game where the score is close.  It takes fifteen minutes or longer to play the last two minutes of a game.  Why?

Because the teams are always calling a “time out”.  They are regrouping, re-strategizing, debriefing and doing their best to shift momentum so that they increase their odds of winning, or if for no reason, then to snap players out of negative downward spiral.  

Knowing when to call a time-out is a hugely valuable skill with your team, otherwise energy drops, emotion goes up and relationships can be severely damaged.  Thus, at the first sign of confusion, disappointment, anger, sadness or apathy, stop, and call a time-out.  You will be amazed at how much you can get cleared up early and how high the energy you can sustain if you’re observant enough to nip problems in the bud.

And by the way, you don’t have to know how to “fix” everything as a leader. That’s a trap.  Most people can figure out solutions if you simply stop the clock for a minute, allow the pressure to subside a bit and let the emotion drop.  Then people will think clearly and once again become their brilliant, capable selves!


Leadership Skill 4: Creating and maintaining frequency of interaction.

Maintaining frequency of interaction with your team builds trust – preferably through actual contact, one-on-one, either in person or by phone.  Without it, people wander off.  They forget what all the work is for and they lose track of the mission.  We’re human, and we need human contact.  People and names become real, not just labelss on an organization chart.  Processes become human and the spirit and passion of the team becomes something you feel, not something that is a bullet point on a PowerPoint presentation.


Leadership Skill 5: Ability to see and communicate the brightness and possibilities of the future

Every team ought to have long-term and short-term goals.  Achieving both on a regular basis gives everyone an opportunity to celebrate wins often.  Every great American Income Life leader knows that people have the potential to become their best under pressure and adversity.  What is that light at the end of that tunnel that will get the team to push through?  Answering that question is the challenge of a leader.


Leadership Skill 6: Ability to sell

One thing you will also notice is that every great leader in business, politics, sports or families can sell.  Sales is not just selling to customers.  It’s compelling vendors, lenders, investors, staff, regulators to support your team.  It’s about selling your vision, selling an attitude, or selling ideas to a team.

In conclusion, I subscribe to what I call “the Roulette Wheel of Leadership”.  Sooner or later the ball drops on your number and you have the chance to offer direction, inspiration, support, education or advice.  One hopes that will happen more than once.  It’s whether you have the courage in that moment to step up and lead that matters.  You may not follow any “popular” descriptions of what a leader is, but you lead nonetheless.


Leadership Checklist:

  1. Spot and leverage the strength of others.
  2. Teach other how to succeed, lead by show not just talk.
  3. Use mistakes to strengthen and grow the team.
  4. Use frequency of interaction to build relationship, consistency and most all trust.
  5. Promote a realistic but bright future to the team.
  6. Sell

About Chris Selejan

Chris Selejan is a Regional Director of Sales at American Income Life Insurance Company. Find him on Google+

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