Sharon Luty, Lead Director - Senior Information Officer, AXA Equitable, has been named the September Leader of the Month, voted on by the Women in Insurance Leadership LinkedIn group.
Luty has spent much of her 25-plus year career in the insurance industry, first in property/casualty and later in life and annuity. During that time, she has moved from the business area to IT, and has also worked for major insurance companies, including The Hartford, the Phoenix Companies, Aetna and now AXA, as well as technology vendors, including CSC.
Luty was recruited to AXA in 2010, where she worked in the IT department to manage the implementation of a new business system for the individual annuity line of business. Once that project was completed, she was named Senior Information Officer for all individual annuity systems in 2011. In 2013, she took on a larger role as Senior Information Officer for the newly formed Service Center Operations, responsible for all life, individual annuity, group annuity, and shared services systems and teams.
INN: What challenges have you faced as a woman in insurance, and how have you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges as a women in insurance, and particularly in IT, is work/life balance. It's been tough juggling a demanding job that's never just 9 to 5, and at the same time being a wife and mother, and also try to live up to my high standards to do everything well. I've learned for my own sanity that I have to relax some of my standards, and choose what my priorities are at that moment. Should I skip that meeting where I have to travel in order to attend my son's school event? Which one is more important? Which one will I feel guilty or regret if I've missed it? I've learned that some things can be delegated, to my supportive husband or my capable staff, and it's ok if they don't do it the same way I would have done it. It doesn't need to be perfect — what matters is that it gets done.
INN: What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
Even though I work in IT, surprisingly my biggest decisions and impact to the organization are around people, not technology. Who will I hire? Who will get promoted? Who will get new projects and assignments? Who will I spend my time with to mentor, advise and coach? My most important decisions impact people/staff development, and increasing organizational capabilities and bench strength. My goal as a senior leader is to develop our next generation of talent to have the leadership and technical skills needed to support the future growth of our organization.
INN: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
To me, creative thinking requires establishing a trusted environment, making it safe for everyone to voice their opinions and share their ideas. The essential elements to foster this trusting "creativity zone" are respect for each other, listening to everyone's ideas, and taking action after the brainstorming is over. I establish certain ground rules, such as no idea is a stupid idea. My job is also to remove roadblocks and obstacles that impede progress, such as bureaucratic red tape. To those naysayers in the organization who say why an idea won't work, I try to reframe the question to say how could we make it work. Once people see that their opinion counts, their ideas are heard and respected, and that you are taking action to implement their ideas, the more the creative thinking grows.
INN: What are you doing to ensure in continuing to grow and develop as a leader?
I'm a voracious reader, so I'm constantly reading leadership articles and books, and I like to pass these along to others if I find they were helpful. Earlier this year, I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, “Lean In,” which was profoundly inspiring and impactful to my leadership development journey. After reading this book, I had an epiphany as the senior most women within AXA IT that it was up to me to advocate for women and leadership development in the organization. I was so energized and inspired that I asked some of my female colleagues to join with me in starting Lean In circles within AXA IT. We currently have 70 women participating in six lean in circles within the department across all locations and job levels. My colleagues within our leadership Lean In circle have helped me to grow as a leader. They have broadened my horizons and enriched my spirit as they have shared their Lean In stories and leadership experiences. I am also especially lucky and thankful to have a network of insurance industry leaders including former bosses, mentors and friends, who have listened to me, supported me and given me great advice and guidance along my leadership journey.
INN: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
One trap that new managers sometimes fall into is that they don't let go of their old roles. Typically they were star performers as individual contributors, and it's easier and feels more comfortable to fall back into their old role. I would advise them to "play your position" — to focus on doing their new job, not their old job. Otherwise, it can drain time and energy, hindering your ability to be successful in achieving the goals of your new role. I would also advise new leaders to listen more to their teams. As a leader, you don't have to know all the answers — you just need to know what the right questions are and who to ask, and listen to the answers.
Want to nominate yourself or nominate a leader for the October Leader of the Month? Click here to learn more and to nominate before September 20.
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