At age 37, Dan Carmichael earned a key promotion. He became regional vice president for Crum & Forster, an insurance firm, with responsibility for five states.
“It was my first big regionaljob,” recalls Carmichael, who later became chief executive of Ohio Casualty Corp. “I figured that as the leader, I had to have all the answers.”
But he quickly learned a humbling truth. When a back-office processing backlog disrupted operations in his unit, he shifted from all-knowing boss to inquisitive fact-finder.
Instead of leaving people alone to do their jobs—and assuming they would perform adequately—he showed more interest in their ideas and concerns. He sought their input early and often during the course of a project. To get employees to think like a boss, he began asking them, “If you were sitting in my chair, what would you do?”
“I found out what caused the backlog and we fixed things up,” he says. “That experience taught me that rather than be the ultimate source of information, an effective executive lets employees come up with team solutions.”
Having employees analyze business issues enabled Carmichael to extract more insight from them. Rather than tell people what he needed them to do, he articulated goals and enlisted their input on how to attain those goals.
“My test as a good regional officer was to put the right people in the right job to create good two-way communication between me and my staff,” he says. “When you listen to your team, they are more willing to bring up problems on their own and offer solutions.”