It is said the only constant is change. During the course of its history, the insurance industry has experienced numerous business cycles, cruising slowly, cautiously and conservatively through soft and hard markets alike. Insurance executives steering their respective ships are accountable primarily to their respective boards of directors, which, hopefully, determined the leader's value to the organization during the interview process. Once on board, they apply their own management style to the organization's corporate objectives.

During this ongoing economic downturn, an executive's management style will be tested repeatedly. An insurance organization looks to the chief executive not just to steer the ship in the right direction, but to set the cultural tone, cadence of operations and to chart the path to future growth.

But what if the executive's management style reflects a knee-jerk, emotional, reactive culture instead of a proactive, predictive, rational one?

According to Jeffrey Miller, author of "The Anxious Organization: Why Smart Companies Do Dumb Things," organizations that follow an executive's reactive culture will suffer chronic anxiety.

Miller identifies the various ways to know if your organization is anxiety prone:

Do employees take sides (coalitions/cliques) with other people instead of taking stands on issues? Do employees assert their territory via feuding, back-stabbing and turf wars? Do particular individuals or departments tend to be blamed consistently for organizational problems? Is there an employee turnover problem? Does leadership send out conflicting directives/messages? Is high productivity paramount to the organization's success, i.e., are employees overworked?

The onus on reducing organizational anxiety lies with executive leadership, says Miller. In fact, helping the organization manage excessive, chronic anxiety is the leader's No. 1 job. Why? Because even in the best of economic times, anxiety is contagious. And it's uncomfortable. So in order to relieve it, an employee unwittingly passes it on to a coworker, who passes it on to someone else. Before long, the entire organization is trapped in a cycle of anxiety that seems to have no clear starting or end point. And all the while, the underlying causes go unaddressed, keeping the ship off course.

"It's the executive's job to remain unemotional," Miller says. "That means ensuring that employees operate on principle rather than emotion. When people stay in low-grade panic mode, they can no longer think clearly, creatively and flexibly. They make irrational decisions. When irrational decisions start building up, the company isn't long for this world."

Despite some stormy seas ahead, for those of you at the helm, the best course is steady as she goes.

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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