By: Achim Klennert, CEO, Hannover Reinsurance Group Africa
In December 2019, I stumbled across “The Forecast.” This is a magazine that explores the year ahead. Have a look at the cover of the magazine, which is pictured here. The bright yellow cover and the main story caught my attention: “Let’s roll …2020… Reasons to be cheerful…”!
In the introduction editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé, writes from his travels about why he is looking forward to 2020. There are many insightful and encouraging articles except that the magazine, like the vast majority of media or anyone else for that matter, did not have a global pandemic on its agenda.
Ironically, I myself remember reading it and looking forward to 2020. I even wrote a cheerful message to my colleagues, noting that it will be a special year. Little did any of us know! Now you may ask what this has to do with leadership or success?
Often, leadership is interpreted as the ability to plan for the future; to prepare accordingly and by so doing, be successful.
My view has differed slightly for a long time. This is based on my own experiences and my observations of the people that I have worked with over the years. Leadership (including personal self-development) is also about the ability to ‘read and respond’ to the circumstances in front of you, to be adept at adapting – not just to uncertainty but to the opportunities that are often hidden within uncertainty.
My thoughts therefore about career planning have always been that, at best, it is not helpful! At worst, it narrows your mind-set, so that interesting paths that have not been envisaged or planned for are left unpursued. Sometimes they are not even recognised because you’ve closed your mind to the possibility and at other times, declined because they don’t fit the plan. Many interesting professional challenges are lost by the wayside because of narrow plans.
When I was starting out, if I had done any sort of rough career path for myself, I could not tell you what it would have looked like now. But I can definitely say, that any plan I dreamt up would not have included the possibility that I would spend the majority of my professional life in South Africa. It simply was not within the possibilities of what I, as a young graduate, could have foreseen.
So when this opportunity to work in South Africa arose, I did not check it against a career plan. I evaluated if I could see myself loving the challenge and respecting the people. This was in January 2002. In 2020 I am still in South Africa, not only loving what I am doing, but by now, loving the people I interact with and the country that has become home for quite some years. And none of that was in a career plan! Would my career and my life have been different with a career plan? For sure. Would it have been better? One never knows, but I cannot think of better options right now!
In the words of South African business man, advertising guru and thinker extraordinaire Ahmed Tilly: “Love and respect…”
First of all love what you do, believe in the contribution of your job to the organisation and do it as well as you possibly can.
Secondly, respect the people that you work with, the people that you collaborate with, those to whom you offer a service, and the people that buy what you are doing (this includes your boss). Think about that – your boss ‘buys’ what you do!
If you can do those two things, there is every chance that you will be exceptionally successful at what you do, which will invariably lead to new opportunities. And when those new opportunities arise, consider them with an open mind and heart. Will you be able to love what you do and can you respect the people that you work with? Every change is a risk and you might get it wrong but you, at least, have to believe it is the right change.
Following those two simple but meaningful guiding principles in your professional life, but also in your private life, will help you grow as a professional and as a person. Your life will be enriched and personally, I am convinced that it will enhance your career prospects.
If on the other hand, you cannot love what you are doing and/or cannot respect the people that you work with, it is time for change. A professional life seems long at the beginning, but it is not really. If you cannot love what you do and/or respect the people you are doing it with; you are wasting not only your career but also a big part of your life. This is not advocating to quit when you have a bad day. But if I cannot love what I am doing or respect the people I am working with, it is time to change. Luckily I have hardly been in this situation. Also there are economic realities, especially in COVID-19 and post COVID-19 times. So a change is sometimes difficult or even temporarily impossible. But staying in a job that one doesn’t love is toxic and you should actively seek a change.
Coming back to “Let’s roll…2020…Reasons to be cheerful”. So far 2020 has been very challenging to say the least. COVID-19 is the first global pandemic in a century. It has cost and is continuing to cost many lives and livelihoods. The pandemic cannot truly be called a “Black Swan” event because it was predicted by some scientists and influencers on the world stage.
But, as we have seen, the scale and ripple effect of its fall- out has been unimaginable. And human nature tends to ignore extreme possibilities and to focus on what seems controllable and probable – like career planning or other more ‘normal activities’.
But perhaps, there’s a lesson in this – when we place less emphasis on rigid planning, putting effort and resources into variations of “normality,” we open to new and different possibilities. Or perhaps, those open to us. Even in the midst of crises, we can discover unique aspects of ourselves.
The insurance industry has offered me a deeply rewarding career – both because of its people and its challenges. If you are someone working in the sector, I encourage you to embrace the depth and technical skill of what you do. In a time that is difficult, keep an eye out for those things that could be a step-change for the industry and birth a rewarding career path for you. The next step is always there…