In a recent note, we discussed that a function of leadership is helping others determine what’s important now. Another way to look at this leadership function is to see it as “setting the stage”. Leaders, first, set the stage and then get out of the way. What does set the stage mean? It’s not cut loose. It’s not just go right to getting out of the way. If we’re focused on avoiding micromanaging we err on the side of getting out of the way too soon. Setting the stage is the starting point. Consider it greasing the gears. It’s a core function of leadership and management. The below excerpt from “The Key” https://brokerbuilder.ca/the-key/ details a role that offers a great metaphor for understanding the mindset involved in properly setting the stage for others.
“Robert missed many things about his departed dad, but most of all the time spent driving together from Pendleton’s office to customers and back. This had been a big part of their time together back in the day. During these drives is where they sat and talked shop. George never had the radio on or listened to anything other than the thoughts in his mind. There was no better time to reflect on how to be useful and add value to customers than when driving. Most of Pendleton’s customer base wasn’t at the epicenter of downtown, but in surrounding growing areas that would be swallowed by the city over the years. The drives were on relaxed secondary highways and roads instead of stuck in sweltering, bumper to bumper traffic.
Robert’s mind wandered to a story that had often resurfaced in conversations with his dad. It is one that George had sought to impart to all that worked with him as well. Robert’s dad would talk about the Renaissance days hundreds of years ago in Western Europe and a role that developed in Italy known as an Anteambulo.
An Anteambulo was considered by many as a “slave”, as a “detested” position, one that was beneath anyone serious. The job was to act as an assistant or servant to wealthy businessmen, aristocrats, or noblemen. As an assistant, the Anteambulo’s function was to set up appointments for their boss and ensure they got safely to those meetings. They would carry their boss’ stuff and accompany them there. At its core, the function of an Anteambulo was to “clear the path”. To free the friction such that the boss could get things done. The word itself was comprised of two parts: Ante and Ambulo. Ante means in front and Ambulo means to walk. Translated literally, the word Anteambulo was in front of to walk or to walk in front of someone. This was a pretty accurate description of the function of an Anteambulo. Their job was often to physically walk in front of their “boss” and help make way, clearing the path of people, obstacles, and whatever else may be in the way.
In Renaissance Italy, many Anteambulo were artists or those aspiring to be whether painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, actors, or other form of creative type. Their function as an Anteambulo afforded them a stipend which scarcely supported them yet allowed time to pursue their craft. Many artists gladly took on this role as they recognized that working with the well heeled exposed them to the parts of society where decisions were being made and the action occurred. They used their experiences as a muse for their creative work. For these artists, being an Anteambulo wasn’t a bad thing. It offered both sustenance and fodder for their creative work. Unfortunately, some viewed this role as an insult or burden. They wallowed in anger fueling bitterness and resentment for their bosses and society at large. This attitude would preclude them from both adding value to their boss as well as completely closing off the opportunity of bettering themselves or their art. This, too, from George’s perspective was comparable to how we treat our roles in the more modern world.
George liked the word Anteambulo and what the role represented. He thought it memorable and a wonderful metaphor to view our own role as supporters of our customers and staff. He considered his role as an Anteambulo to both client and staff. He viewed his function to “clear the path” for whomever he could. This perspective focused his attention on his customer’s needs. He was constantly trying to ask questions about how their businesses work so he could understand what headaches they were encountering, where their difficulties and pain points were. Knowing these, he could craft solutions that made their lives ever so slightly easier which was the route of what endeared George and Pendleton Insurance to so many.
George never had a CRM, he had a rolodex with the odd personal note scribbled on the card. George didn’t have sales KPIs or Performance Management Programs. He was consumed with understanding what people needed, what was holding them back from their goals, and doing something in some small way to help them move forward. He implicitly knew that by helping enough people get what they want, he would be fairly and fully looked after.
He was consumed with helping his sales force help “clear the path” for their customers. Striving to be an Anteambulo offered the corollary benefit of keeping one humble and getting out of one’s own head. It assuaged anxiety related to sales performance. It allowed one to not worry about what numbers or externally imposed metrics to achieve, but to be devoted to developing options for clients. “How can I help?” versus what can I get.
Some variation of “How did you clear the path today?” was continuously being asked by George to his sales force and leadership team. He reflected on this question many times a day related to his own activities. Robert knew of many occasions when George couldn’t honestly answer concretely and positively in favor of a current or prospective customer this question, he would stay at the office and keep working until he had.
It was the core of George’s operating system. It was both a focusing and filtering question. It focused one’s attention on what’s important and could be used against which to evaluate decisions.”
Even though the role could be interpreted as a lower level one, its purpose represents a posture that positive leaders put forth. Leaders look outwards. They get outside of their own head and look to see where and with what others are struggling. Their value to the organization is directly related to their ability to make their charges more capable. It’s less about what others owe you, and more about what you can do for others.
Approaching our work, as leaders, from the perspective of how can I make my staff shine today will help. Many achievers have either consciously or unconsciously adopted this approach with wonderful success. You’re encouraged to adopt the advice of Albert Einstein, “Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” The idea is to focus on how you can help clear the path for others. How can you take on tasks or do things for others that will allow them to focus on doing their best work. How can you set others up to win? It can involve coming up with ideas or suggestions for others. It can involve looking around at tasks that no one wants to do and volunteer for those. “Progress comes from caring more about what needs to be done than about who gets the credit.” -Dorothy Height- This is the single most reliable approach to differentiating yourself as a leader. W2D WOW. Be Willing to Do What Others Won’t. If you lean in, when others hide or look at their feet, you will distinguish yourself as a go to person who gets things done very quickly. Ultimately, you’re helping yourself by helping others progress. This approach depends on no one other than you. You don’t need special training. You don’t need permission. You don’t need connections. Just you, your decision, your initiative, your efforts.
If you have a bias to seeing the world through grumpy glasses consider your role as an Anteambulo to be one of removing other’s excuses. What is stopping your staff from making progress? What is getting in their way? What is holding them back? Whatever they are offering as obstacles is a cue for you to take a closer look. Embracing the posture of putting others first and trying to clear the path for those around us, though not a guarantee of immediate reward, does meet with personal satisfaction. It is one of those habits that one never wishes they had done less of as they reflect on their lives. There is little downside to looking to lift others up. Again, looking back on one’s own progress in life, there’s likely to be a connection between where we began to make advances and how we were adding value to those around us.
For insurance brokers, for example,…
Do staff have the proper tools and resources available to do their jobs?
Have you provided your brokers with a sufficient number of markets for them to offer insurance to insureds?
Have you defined the types of insureds that your brokerage intends to do business with?
Are the options your brokerage has available to offer increasing or decreasing in recent years?
Have you provided your staff with suitable BMS or CRM tools to input customer information and streamline customer contacts?
Do you have a defined sales process for new business, for renewals, for other regular activities?
Have staff been trained on the above?
Do they receive access to management to get help or clarification? Is their input sought proactively by management as to where stumbling blocks are?
Do staff have proper training to know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and why they’re doing it?
Is feedback sought from staff and customer service representatives as to what types of customer concerns regularly arise?
Is something done with this feedback with the intent of improving customer experiences?
The holy grail, elite level, of this capability: Can you anticipate their problems/struggles and seek to manage these proactively?
At the heart of this vital function is the idea of “give to get”. In order to get results, we must give the right tools and training. We’re encouraging supporting other’s efforts in order to benefit the business. It’s not about what expectations or demands the business has on others, but on how you can help others do their best work. Taking the task of clearing the path to heart from the top of the organization sets the stage with the goal that it will be embraced at each level of your company. Be an Anteambulo and clear the path for others. By helping them help themselves, you’re leading from behind and setting your company up for success.