Michelle Kinney, AVP - Administrative and Financial Systems, Pacific Life has been named the October Leader of the Month, voted on by the Women in Insurance Leadership LinkedIn group.

Kinney is responsible for the policy administration and financial systems in the Life Insurance Division. She holds a BA degree from Chapman University in Operational Leadership and has more than 25 years experience in IT leadership in the insurance industry.

Kinney has worked in a variety of roles supporting individual life insurance, as well as group life and health insurance, during her tenure with Pacific Life of more than 30 years. Michelle currently leads a large, highly productive virtual team spread across six time zones. Her team provides analysis and development for efforts ranging from large projects to maintenance work and simple IT requests.

INN: What challenges have you faced as a woman in insurance--and how have you overcome them?

I have been fortunate in my career at Pacific Life that I have not felt limited by being a woman. Throughout the years Pacific Life has had many women in management, as officers and on the board of directors. I have been supported by men and women alike in my career development. Many of the challenges I have faced as a woman in insurance have been somewhat self-induced. My own attitudes of what I could or should accomplish impacted my results more than being limited by external forces. As my children grew and I had more time to focus on leadership development, I learned the value of setting goals and clearly articulating what I wanted to accomplish.

INN: Are there any women you look up to when it comes to succeeding in business? Who inspires you?

There are many women in business to choose from as role models, but I get more value out of focusing on leaders who are closer to me. Dawn Trautman, the Sr. VP of Technology at Pacific Life is one such leader I look up to. In addition to her duties at Pacific Life, she is on many governing boards such as Advancing Women in Technology and the Center for Digital Transformation at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently focused on creating a transformational change in our division and making a difference in the community. Dawn does an excellent job of articulating her vision and sharing it with all levels of employees. She is receptive of the ideas from her team and empowers them to move forward with implementing their innovative ideas. She is diligent in giving recognition to her employees and soliciting their input and feedback. In addition, she shares her talents and knowledge with many organizations focused on growing new leaders in the community.

INN: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?

Creative thinking requires an open environment; one where it is safe to fail and where all ideas can be considered regardless of how different they are. Not every idea can be pursued, but the ideas need to be given a chance before they are dismissed. If every idea is dismissed, new creative thinking will cease to occur. The working environment needs to foster trust and allow the employees the freedom to challenge the status quo. It is so easy to keep going back to the same old way of doing things. In 1997, Gerald Weinberg mapped out critical points in the change process and does an excellent job explaining why it is so hard to implement new ideas. There is so much inertia bringing us back to the status quo and chaos ensues while creative thinking and transforming ideas are occurring. Some people are rejecting the ideas, others are trying to accommodate them, if a transforming idea manages to slip through it still needs to be integrated and mastered. At every point, there is inertia to go back to square one, the old way of thinking. I strive to help my team overcome inertia and reward them for new ideas.

INN: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

To me, integrity is the most important characteristic every leader should possess. You can compile an impressive list of attributes; but if you do not have integrity, I believe your tenure as the leader of a group will be short lived and will fade as quickly as the memory of your accomplishments. People will trust you for a little while because of your position or your prior achievements; but they will not stand by you when the opportunity to follow someone else arises. General Mark Welsh, U.S. Air Force commander, sums it up for me; “Leadership is a gift. It is given by those who follow. You have to be worthy of it.” For me personally, if a leader does not display integrity in the decisions they make daily and the way they treat the people around them; I cannot respect them when the stakes are much higher and bigger decisions need to be made.

INN: What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

The speed of change is the biggest challenge facing leaders today. Technology is changing, attitudes are changing, and behavior is changing. The Internet has changed the research experience. Amazon has changed the shopping experience. Technology has changed our methods of accessing information. Technology has changed at an astounding rate. In the last 30 years we have gone from a computer just beginning to show up in the home to having instant access to information with us at all times via our mobile devices. It is difficult to keep up with the pace of these changes and security will be our number one concern particularly in our industry.

Want to nominate yourself or nominate a leader for the November Leader of the Month? Click here to learn more and to nominate before November 1.

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