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Stop Pushing Water Uphill with a Rake: 5 Tools for Leading Your Team

Running a successful insurance agency can feel like pushing water uphill with a rake. You need a plan for how to get it done. Hint: Don’t use a rake. The right tools are essential.

Stop Pushing Water Uphill with a Rake: 5 Tools for Leading Your Team

Tool #1: Leadership Development. Actively work on being a great leader and a great manager.

Leadership and management are often presented as two very different roles with contrasting outlooks. Process versus vision and inspiration versus outcome are some classic examples of those contrasting views. But these divisions don’t really fit into today’s business culture where the roles are often intermingled, especially in smaller organizations. Understanding what each outlook brings to the big picture is important, but so is being able to see how leadership and management traits blend, so you can use both to become better at broad leadership aptitudes like innovating and empowering, as well as managerial abilities like setting specific goals, providing structure, and solving operational problems.

Being a strong leader and operational manager are the yin and yang of success; they aren’t in competition with each other but rather two essential pieces. Leadership is having the ability to influence while management supervises agency processes. Work on developing both skill sets. After all, you can have processes in place, but if the people aren’t engaged and motivated it doesn’t matter. Conversely, you can have an inspired team that is eager to work, but if there is no clear direction nothing will get accomplished. Leadership and management are locked together, in purpose and intent.

Tool #2: Self-awareness. Know your personal leadership style and personality tendencies.

Omnia’s behavioral assessment classifies people into 4 broad categories (The Analytical Supporters and Drivers, and the Social Supporters and Drivers) with 17 distinct personality groups. Each personality group is motivated in different ways based on the dominant traits. It’s difficult to make your team work smoothly as a unit if you aren’t sure who you naturally are as a leader. 

Are you more of a “lead by example” type, getting into the tasks alongside your team to model your expectations, or are you a “big picture” leader who manages from afar providing basic instructions and leaving your team to fill in the blanks? Are you more empathetic or more logical? Do you build consensus or require a more rigid system for getting things done? What’s your personal leadership style? 

Self-awareness is a strong starting point for building upon your leadership and management skills. Understanding and utilizing the aspects of who you are as both a manager and a leader will make you more efficient in all your roles. It helps pinpoint what you need from your team and what your team will need from you.

Tool #3: Employee Assessments. Assess the individuals on your team.

Once you’ve assessed yourself (self-awareness is a powerful leadership soft skill), you should assess your team, even those you’ve worked with for a long time. A personality assessment is an objective way to highlight strengths and challenges, so you can manage to the individual. Nothing is more effective than understanding the unique personalities on your team so you can communicate with each of them in a way that works. Knowing their preferences and underlying motivators will help you avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict. 

For example, some of your team may be assertive and fiercely independent, while others are content working on the sidelines providing support. Perhaps others will need significant guidance because they are so focused on perfection. Still, more may be inclined to take risks, knowing that if they fail they can shake it off and try again. 

Tool #4: Action. Apply what you know.

Knowledge is only useful if you are actually using it. Apply what you know about yourself as a leader to the knowledge you acquire of the people on your team. Getting them to work together efficiently and harmoniously may feel like uphill work, but once you understand who they are and what motivates them ─ Personal performance incentives? Group goals? Private recognition? Task variety? ─ and can identify the right approach, it becomes a lot easier.

Tool #5: Judgment. Choose the right tools for the job.

You can’t push water uphill with a rake, and you can’t lead your team effectively if you don’t have a firm grasp of all the intangible variables, like personality type, inherent motivators, and natural strengths, along with how they will manifest themselves as you interact with your team. 

A behavioral assessment and corresponding reports provide practical, business-relevant data that you can use to build a solid talent management strategy. It’s like someone handing you a bucket to carry that water.


Wendy Sheaffer – Chief Product Officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Wendy is a subject matter expert in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. For more information, visit us at, email or call 800.525.7117.

The Omnia Group

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