In the Leader's Chair: A Q&A

Season 3 Episode 33

In the Leader's Chair: A Q&A with Ryan Eaton (Part 2)

Season 3 Episode 33


ILP- Ryan Eaton Q & A (Part 2)

Welcome to the Insurance Leadership Podcast, the podcast designed to bring you perspectives and principles from leaders in the life and health insurance industry. We trust you will enjoy today's episode.

Casey Combest: Hey guys, and welcome back to part two with our awesome conversation with Ryan Eaton. Let's pick up where we left off last.

Today it is incredibly competitive. The best people out there have plenty of options for places to work, places that they can thrive, they can grow, they can earn a higher salary, et cetera, et cetera, fill in that blank. For you, how do you keep your team innovating? How do you keep them engaged with that innovation as you guys are moving forward toward the vision that we spoke about earlier in the interview?

Ryan Eaton: When you talk about innovation and trying to think about like my team, how do I get them thinking outside the box? How do I thank them? Keep them bringing ideas. If you brought me something today, Casey, and you're like, Ryan, I think from a podcast standpoint, we could do this and this and this. And I was like, stupid idea, right? Like you're probably going to be a little more hesitant to bring something back to me. I think with our team, when they bring you ideas for innovation. I think you have to listen, and you have to be able to see what they're saying, hey, that's a good idea. And if you're not fully bought in, maybe ask them a question that takes them back to send them back to get more homework on something, right? Like, Oh, that's a really good idea, I think that's cool. How would you handle this? They may have an answer right then? Okay. How would you handle this? I don't know. Get that, bring it back to me. And so they're involved in that process and that thought process, because if someone, if they bring you something, you say no, every single time they're going to quit bringing you stuff. And at that point, if they feel like their ideas are always rejected, you're shrinking their innovation. You're shrinking their ability to be the best performer they can be. And so to me, it's like you got to be able to listen, and draw from their stuff to be able to help them be able to innovate. But in our market, in our world, you have to be constantly changing. If you're not, you are falling backwards. There was a guy I used to love to listen to he said, if you're not moving forward, you're falling backwards you can't stay the same and not be falling backwards. And so for that, you need that collaboration, you need that ideas, you need the people's comments, suggestions, thoughts, et cetera, so you can innovate and see what they say in the market.

Casey Combest: Yeah. And I feel like that kind of relates to our next question, which I think the last few years particularly inclusion and diversity have become words that are constantly involved with the hiring process and our, as we look at our team, does that relate to that innovation in some way? Having a diverse team, having a team that so it's different than.

Ryan Eaton: That's great. So this is not a political question thought I said, this is Ryan I'm not speaking on behalf of my company, I'm speaking for what I see from a leadership standpoint. I don't care if you're black, white, hispanic, chinese, male, female, young, old, we have all of those. We have people that are 90 years old still working with us. And we have 18 year olds. Okay, so like we're all across the board. I love that. And the reason I like that is because everyone's got a different opinion. You and I grew up in different cities, Casey, right? You're going to have some different stuff that you learned kind of growing up than I learned, right? Like the guy who's at the country club all the time than the guys in the woods all the time. The lady who grew up with no mother or father at the house, and versus I think all that diversity and that things we grew up, it gives people new ideas and new ways to look at things so that we can all grow. I mean, you hear it all the time there's the young buck who's phenomenal at technology and helping the guy who's 64 be able to access his emails on his phone, and then a guy who's 64 is trying to talk to the guy who's 18 trying to buy his first house from jumping off the legs because interest rates are eight and a half percent, he's only seen 2%, right? So I think things like that really help us to be able to see and understand if we open up now if we always stay in our same little bubble and we only communicate with the people who think like us and see like us, et cetera, it doesn't open up that creativity, that thought process. So I do, I try to get around different people at our office who are, I spend time with the people who are in their eighties and I spend time with people who are 18 and I spend time with people who are my age just because I feel like I'm going to learn something from all those different people and if you're not this is the one type of person we need, you might be really good at that one thing, but think if you allowed other people into your circle that saw, heard, listened to different things that they could bring new perspective, to me that's where you're really going to grow at that point.

Casey Combest: And specifically with insurance because you are serving the public who have these completely different situations from household to household.

Ryan Eaton: That's right.

Casey Combest: Having people on your team that understand that is so valuable.

Ryan Eaton: My opinion, I'm thinking about an insurance policy as a insurance agent white, 40 year old male with a wife, two kids and a dog, right? I'm not thinking about the guy who's making 9 dollars an hour working at Burger King and doesn't have a mother or father at home or what type of insurance, so the more I can see different perspectives, the more I'm going to hear the needs, feel the market, et cetera and we can serve the public, because at the end of the day, that's what we're trying to do is serve, provide value to people in whatever situation they're in but if I'm only close to my one little bubble, I'm not going to say you're here to feel that.

Casey Combest: That's right. And I think earlier we were speaking about empathy as it relates to the internal relationship with your team. And sometimes for leaders, that's hard to say, well, that doesn't lead to bottom line revenue. But you turn that around and you say, well, let's be empathetic to our market, let's try to understand their situations.

Ryan Eaton: That's right.

Casey Combest: That does lead to bottom line revenue.

Ryan Eaton: Oh, that's exactly right. A hundred percent, every single time. You've got to serve, what, who's a Zig Ziglar, I think who said that, take care of enough other people's needs and you'll meet your needs basically something to that degree, It's knowing what the market needs. So how can we serve them? What can we provide them? They don't have they need they want etc and the only way to do that is if you have a lot of different thought processes and what a lot of people are hearing on the weekends and saying and hey, I heard someone talking about this do we do, and that's how you can kind of grow learn and excel in life, really.

Casey Combest: Absolutely now, Ryan, I know this next question is going to be very difficult because you haven't faced a lot of challenges. How do you remain resilient? How do you push through adversity, the setbacks that constantly happen? I feel like in business, it's always two steps forward, sometimes five steps back, but at least one step back before we move forward again.

Ryan Eaton: As a leader. Well, really, let's take that back. As a human being, you will face resilience in life, period. I don't care who you are, right? But as a leader, you face challenges and setbacks more often because you're dealing with from your team, you're dealing with from a company, an outside factor standpoint, so you're seeing a lot of different problems, resilience, setbacks, hurdles, obstacles, wherever you want to call them come from different ways, as a leader you have to look at it though how does this not just impact me, but how does this impact my team? How does it impact our business? How does this impact our revenue? How does this impact us from a compliance standpoint? So you're having to look at a lot of different things from a resilience standpoint. I look at it every time and I don't always look at it at the time being like this, let me be clear, because when you get punched in the nose, it's hard to see the value, but at the same time working out, lifting weights, we know that if we work out and we go up in weight, it will tear our muscle fibers, right? It will tear the different muscles, which they grow back stronger. And so it's one of those things when we have resistance or we encounter other things, that's what's going to help us grow stronger as a leader, and be able to help where next time we're not having to look at a playbook to try to figure out how to take care of it because we've already been through that ditch. I can tell you, you're gonna need to put it in four wheel drive to get out of that one, right? And so when we see those type things, we've gone through them, it will help us become better, stronger for the next type things that come up but you just got to remember, I'm overcoming this for my team, for my family, for whoever you may be leading. This is how we need to overcome this area and realize that, hey, it might stink right now, it might be tough right now, but at the same time, there's another side to this. It doesn't last for forever and the problems that come at you, I think it's Dave Ramsey who says this, but he said if a problem is not going to bother you five years from now, don't spend more than five minutes on it. And I think that's good too because sometimes we can focus on the little problems, the little headaches, and if it's not going to be an issue five years from now, don't give it all your joy.

Casey Combest: This might be a little on the nose, but applying it back to leadership with your team. How do you know when to let a team member build some resiliency and deal with this problem? And then when do you know as a leader, okay, I really need to pull this on my plate and take care of this problem that has happened here?

Ryan Eaton: Man, that's a great question, and I'm stealing this from somebody else okay so this is not a Ryan Eaton quote. Don't put Ryan Eaton on any of the social media graphics or anything, but this was awesome. I was told years ago that, if you're not careful as a leader slash manager, you can run a zoo. And what they were saying is that people will come out with problems and they'll put the monkey on your desk if you're not careful, and as a leader, and we're going to call that monkey a problem, hurdle, obstacle, setback. But if you don't get people to start taking those with them, you're a zoo manager. So we have to help people with the questions oh, I don't know how to do this, can you call this guy and explain this to him? Well, I'll tell you what, why don't you take this back, write me the answer that you feel like would be responsible for this, bring it back to me, we can review it, and then I'll let you deliver that message back to that individual because, I mean, my time I only have so much in the day. My phone rings, I'm getting 300 something emails a day. My phone's probably ringing 30, 40, 50 times a day. If I start taking on everybody else's problems, I'm not going to be able to take care of my own and lead a team and everything else. So, we have to make sure we're not a zookeeper, and we have to let them, and what you'll find out is if, as you let them start taking those problems back, and you keep letting everyone, Hey, why don't you take this? Why don't you handle this problem? Tell me how you would handle this. You put that back. Next thing, you know, people are walking by your office, instead of dropping the monkey on your desk, they're rocking my, Hey, I dealt with so and so got it taken care of we're good. And they're keeping on going. And next thing you know, you're not a zoo manager. And so to me, that's one of the things, let people handle those problems. Advise, be the leader, help them see how this needs to be done, but let them take care of it. And as they start doing that over and over, next thing you know, you've got another leader on your team and they can then help other people, and that's what, really, as leaders, at the end of the day, we're called to create other leaders. Leaders of themselves, leaders of other people on the team. So, if you do that, and let them deal with the tough stuff, Next thing you know, someone else can help be a leader and now you've taken even more off your plate.

Casey Combest: Love it, man. Love it. Collaboration is such a vital part of teams today, especially in the generation that just entered the workforce. How do you balance authority and collaboration?

Ryan Eaton: So at the end of the day, as the leader, it's your call. However, if you're not collaborating and getting the ideas, opinions, and suggestions from people on your team, you're missing a big opportunity. So when I say that, for me, I'm chief marketing officer of our company. We do business in all 50 states, we also do business in about 42 countries now. I can't know all those markets. If I'm not collaborating, if I'm not hearing what people have to say, if I'm not listening to my guy in Missouri, if I'm not listening to my guy in Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Memphis, Jackson, Florida, wherever the case may be, right? I'm not hearing what was going on in their market, and I'm not collaborating and building input so I can be able to make a good decision. I'm missing the mark. If they collaborate with me and I never listen to 'em, I'm gonna cut off that source of information. So I have to be able to take in that information process off of it and realize that, hey I'm making a decision based off the information I've received. This guy may not agree with it. This guy may agree with it. This guy's got more valuable information this time because it's affecting more markets. This guy's just seeing his one city inside his state. And so you have to be able to look at it from different things and go back to kind of, not everyone's going to be happy with your decision making process, but what's the right thing to do here based off the total collaborative information that I've received? And then I need to go back, if I didn't take someone's advice, Hey guys these were some of the suggestions we got and they are very valid points however, based off the whole market data, we have to make this decision or we're going to make this decision as a whole, but because of this segmented decision, we're going to do it something different here in this area, but be careful on one offs because if you start doing one offs, there'll be what take the most time, energy and drain you at the end of the day as well. But at the end of the day, it's your decision and you don't need to be, to me, I don't like authoritative. I don't enjoy being around anyone who's authoritative. You've got to do it this way, that this style doesn't work for me, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but I believe in collaboration because we're all going to grow, we're all going to get stronger together and as a team, we're trying to raise the bar on everybody. But at the end of the day, you have the authority to make that decision, it's on your shoulders at the end of the day.

Casey Combest: I've heard it said that, what we measure grows as it relates to business, and I think that's true in life as well. With a soft skill like leadership, it's kind of a hard thing to measure, it's a hard thing to pinpoint, I'm growing as a leader, I'm improving. Do you have any metrics or advice for us there, Ryan?

Ryan Eaton: The way I see, is someone a good leader or not? You ask the question. Do the people who know me the best respect me the most? So if you look at that, and I'll say that again, do the people that know me the best respect me the most? So from leadership, my wife, my kids, am I the man I need to be when I'm at home? And the people, my co workers I'm spending nine hours a day with, do they respect me? The guy who sees me for one hour a year at a conference, Oh, I love Ryan, da da da da da! He sees one hour of me. He sees me in a positive state environment. He didn't see me in a tough spot. He didn't see me when I'm making that difficult decision. So do the people around me the most, that know me the best, do they respect me the most? That to me is the ultimate measuring stick for leadership. Then I think there's also other things you can do to measure like, hey, what am I doing to grow my leadership? Am I reading? Am I studying? You can put numbers to certain things. You can do surveys and other things like that to kind of be able to help kind of pull together, there's other stuff but at the end of the day, I want to know, for me, my ultimate leadership is, do the people who know me the best respect me the most? And if that answer is yes and not saying every second of every day, right? Because I'm going to miss it. I'm going to be snappy one day, I'm going to say this, I'm going to get off a bad phone call, someone's going to ask me the wrong question at a time. It happens. But, overall, do the people who know me the best, respect me the most. That's my measurement tool, at the end of the day.

Casey Combest: Ryan, how do you, when you just mentioned this, when you miss it, when you miss the mark, you do the wrong thing, you don't make that right decision.

Ryan Eaton: Yep.

Casey Combest: How do you repair that?

Ryan Eaton: Be quick to say I'm sorry. I mean, like, I think a lot of people just don't want to say they're sorry for things. Man, I'll say I'm sorry in a heartbeat. Like, I know I'm gonna miss it, right? Like, every day I miss it in some form or perspective, but when you mess up, when you're short with someone, you're like, gosh, that came out bad. Even if they maybe didn't see it, like, I don't want to say anything to them because they may not have caught that. Still go and say, hey, look, I was in a not a happy place at the time and I said something. I didn't say anything wrong, but I didn't say it in the attitude that I needed to say it. I just want to apologize that that came off bad, you're a phenomenal person I'm blessed to have you on the team and it's not you, that was me. And, I mean, just be quick to say you're sorry. And so many people, I guess, I don't know if it's pride, I don't know if it's, I shouldn't have to say I'm sorry, I'm the boss. Man, those type people deserve a slap. I hate attitudes like that. You need to check your attitude. If you're too good to say you're sorry, you need to check your attitude. And there's something there that's causing an issue but, be quick to say you're sorry if you did something to someone you can't say you're sorry to quick, man write them a note. Write them a handwritten note. Shoot them a text. Shoot them an email. Hey, look, I caught myself saying this. I'm not sure if it came across wrong. I just want to let you know, this is how I meant it I'm sorry if it came across wrong to you, but value and appreciate you. And make it quick, simple, be done with it. So, that's what I would do.

Casey Combest: Ryan, we have just a few more questions for you. Thank you for sharing so generously with us. I feel like if I summed up our first part of our conversation, because I'm learning, as we're talking, I'm learning a lot to apply to my business and my life. But I feel this tension, I think I feel it in you as well, of there's efficiency on one side of getting it done, moving forward, empowering through, and then there's leadership on the other side, it's not that those can't coexist, but it does feel like there's a tension there. Can you speak to that at all?

Ryan Eaton: Yeah, I would say lead for efficiency. Like, everything we said, yes, we have to do that, right? Don't be a jerk, be someone people want to be around, be someone people trust, help your team grow, help take time with your employees, make sure there's a relationship there, etc. All those things are great. But at the end of the day, we won't be able to lead if we're not creating revenue, right? And so there's a task still that has to be done, we have to make sure we're doing that task, that global rule that we need to do to be able to get the ball to the other end of the court. If everyone on a football team just loves each other, but they never score a touchdown and they never stop anyone from scoring a touchdown on them, they're not going to be a team for long. Right? So you've got to remember that, hey, oh, we still have a goal, we're going to dig that ditch, we're going to get to the other side, we're going to build the bridge, we're going to make it to the other side. In the time, let's enjoy doing it together, and so I think that's key is you got to make sure you put that vision, you put those values, you put those goals from an efficiency standpoint or effectiveness standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint, sometimes you may have to correct if people are wanting to have more fun than they are more work, right? And so in those types of situations, softly address, Hey guys, I love spending time with y'all too, but we got to make sure we get this done and if we don't, it's going to have an impact three months from now that we might not see right now. Maybe it's on bonus, maybe it's on new business, maybe it's on less flexibility as a team where we can't work from home certain days of the week, or maybe it's, hey if we don't hit these goals, we're not going to be able to have our three month day where we go do something fun, but make sure everyone knows, hey, here's our goal we're hitting, do the basics of leadership, and then if you see things getting out of whack where you're not going to hit your goals, correct from an efficiency standpoint. In a positive manner.

Casey Combest: Right? I know some of our favorite episodes we've had on the podcast have been those that we talk about technology in some form or fashion and just particularly the last year or so is a yes entered the scene and really revolutionized the way we're processing and partnering with technology.

Ryan Eaton That's right.

Casey Combest: For you, how do you leverage technology to enhance your leadership and be a better leader at the end of the day?

Ryan Eaton: I said it earlier, but leaders are learners. We have the ability now. Yesterday, I went rucking, where you put a backpack on and put 50 pounds, whatever it is, on your back. I put in a speaker, one of the top sales speakers in the world, and I was able to listen to him for an hour while I went walking. So I was able to exercise, I was able to get outside, and I was able to learn all at the same time. The ability to be able to listen to all these people's advice was not around 50 years ago. You'd have to be by a cassette player which was plugged into a wall for electric and be able to sit down there and listen. That is a huge benefit, huge value we have. The ability that I can pick up my phone right when we get out of here, and I can call five people on my team that are all over the country, and I can just see how their day's going, what they're doing, what's the fourth quarter look like, etc. They didn't have that 30 years ago. We have so much tools and technologies from a leadership standpoint, whether it's to grow ourselves, whether it's to build teamwork, or whether it's to check an email to make sure something's got done, or a contract that was able to be sent. We have so much stuff that people didn't have years ago, sometimes we look at it, oh my gosh, this is so hard I'm getting all these emails, and yes, it is a lot to be able to take in all that type stuff. But also think about what it's streamlined. I can also make it to my kid's game now at 5 o'clock, come home at 7 o'clock after the game, come back to my desk or my house, take my computer home, come back to my house, fill out the stuff there while the kids are in the shower or whatever, and then have dinner together after that. I mean, look at the efficiencies. Focus on the positive, focus on how technology is benefiting you because whatever you focus on, good or bad, whatever you focus on, you're going to draw to∏wards. Focus on the problem, you're going towards the problem. Focus on the positive of it, you go towards the positive. So from a technology standpoint, always make sure that you're using it to your value, to your benefit, focus on that side of it not how it's pulling you down or keeping you busier. But then use it to be a leader you're called to be and how can you, maybe figure out one thing a quarter you can do to help your leadership skills. Don't take big bites, eat an elephant one bite at a time. Figure out that one bite you can do to make technology help you be the leader you're called to be.

Casey Combest: That's great, Ryan. For you, before we started this interview, you said that you're feeling more energized than ever. You're excited about what you're doing. You're excited about the insurance business. You don't have to speak to specifics, but what has you so excited about the next three to five years in insurance?

Ryan Eaton: Oh, man. Three to five years in insurance. I tell everybody who's not in the insurance business because they don't fully understand this. We are in the best business in the world because we sell paper with a promise. And I realized that whenever COVID hit, and people were sitting on all these cars at the car dealerships. People were sitting on homes they couldn't sell. Stores, people couldn't even go get the stuff and they were, it was messing up and no good by the time people had gotten in there. We're in such a good business in the standpoint that we sell paper with a promise and that our policy never expires, it's out there as long as our word's good and it's a solid A rated carrier, we have a great business. We also are in a business with residual income. But I'm in a spot right now where I see we've developed a product over the past year that could change the landscape of health insurance, and especially on the individual side or for individuals higher out of pocket costs and I'm just fired up about it, we've seen more brokers get contracted with us in the past four months. Close to 2, 000 brokers now get contracted in such a short period of time that it is firing me up and seeing a need met from the consumer standpoint, from a broker standpoint and to be able to do it, and be able to do something to love and talk and energize and all that together just excites me, I'm seeing our team, I see our team be able to hopefully they'll be able to make more money than they've ever made. We're helping clients save more money than they've ever saved, I mean, like all these different things I see kind of working together and to me at the end of the day, I love that. And so to me, that's what I'm excited about and kind of what we're doing but everyone's got different things they got going on in the business and it's a relationship business, if you don't like people, if you don't like serving others and helping provide value you're probably not going to like this business, but at the same time, you can do it from anywhere in the world. I can do it from my phone, from a deer stand, which you and I've talked about before. I can do it when I'm traveling to our Nassau, Bahamas office. I can do it when I'm traveling to our California office or wherever. I don't have to be in one spot. I can be on a phone call at a game. Whatever the case may be and to me, some people may say, oh, well, you're not separating work and personal life and work. I get that, but I'm also able to be at things that 50 years ago, a lot of people weren't able to be at because they had to work. Now I can actually be present at it, see the touchdown, see the this or that, and be able to be there and enjoy certain things. So to me, that fires me up, so it just got me excited about the future, man, very, very fired up.

Casey Combest: That's awesome, Ryan. Well, last question for you. Every episode you sign off with a good plan today is better than...

Ryan Eaton: Good plan today is better than a great plan months from now. Yes.

Casey Combest Right. So kind of unpack that for us that's something we've said every episode and I would love to hear a little bit more of that information. Can you unpack that for us?

Ryan Eaton: Good question.

Casey Combest: Don't need the curve balls today.

Ryan Eaton: Good plan today is better than a great plan months from now. I think a lot of people wait for everything to be perfect and they never act. To me, if you go ahead and roll out a good plan today, you're months ahead of somebody else, you've hit the market. To me, it's also one of those things you see very detailed people want to make sure every I is dotted, every T is crossed before they take action. Man, go. Just do it. You might be wrong. It's okay. Had a guy of a company, and this was probably 15 years ago now, he had just sold his technology company for 200 plus million dollars. And he sat there and he said, he launched his program in his dorm room when he was in college. And when he launched his dorm room, he put it up on a website, it was basically a one page PDF that was a website. And he ended up, got his first client within a week. He said, my website was not perfect. Not everything was done, but I went ahead and went live with it, because I knew revenue had to be generated. And so he pushed forward right then, here he is selling his company for over 200 million dollars, and he didn't wait. He said, go ahead and get started. I believe that too, it's like, Oh, I don't have the perfect workout plan. I can't, I gotta wait till I can download this program or the book comes in before I can start working out. No you don't. That's procrastination. And so I would just say, man, start today. If you're listening to this podcast right now, stop what you're doing, write down your top five things you want to see, go for them, tomorrow, tonight, whatever the case may be. I just like going ahead and getting started because tomorrow may never come. And I would rather say I started it than I waited for it to be perfect. And that to me, that's what that means at the day and whether it's podcast, right? We started this podcast. I had never recorded a podcast before. I didn't know anything about pod. I listened to two or three podcasts. It was one of those things we, Hey, we want to get this good insurance information from all these different people across the industry, the information out that they're saying and their leadership and their insurance business or their companies or their technology business or whatever the case may be, because we wanted to go ahead and get started that's what we did, we went ahead and started. Do I know still the measurements in the correct place? No, are we getting our purpose done? And that's the goal. And then try to get better as you go, but get started now. That's the big thing.

Casey Combest: Especially if you are sitting there and you're confused about what's next. So many times discernment comes through movement. It doesn't come from sitting there and thinking it. You start moving forward and you'll quickly learn like this work, this didn't work and you can make those adjustments and move forward.

Ryan Eaton: Momentum. Is one of the strongest forces on the planet. And to get momentum on your side, you have to start. So to me, that's I love it when you start and then you see momentum come. Oh my gosh You're a thousand yards ahead of the other guy who's thinking about starting I mean, it just gives you energy bringing something first to market first to energy, It's just there's value there man, you can't even put a price tag on that.

Casey Combest: Ryan, thanks so much for letting me try to fill your big shoes as host of the Insurance Leadership Podcast. Why don't you sign us off and thanks again for sharing so generously today.

Ryan Eaton: I appreciate it. Appreciate all you do.

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