Harrington's Leadership and Trust Lessons Can Serve Publishers Well

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Lisa Harrington is the EVP & chief marketing officer of SIPA member International Risk Management Institute. At SIPA Annual 2017, June 5-7 in Washington, D.C., she will share stories about how to inspire trust in your staff and build a workplace based on this elusive trait.

Using a unique approach to classroom learning, Harrington will talk about staying close to your team's needs, the five T's of communication, how to nurture any generation, how courage matters and why acceptance may be the missing link.

SIPA called her for an exclusive preview.

SIPA: You wrote a book—Taking in Strays: Leadership Lessons from Unexpected Places. Will your session at SIPA 2017 focus on these ideas?
HARRINGTON: Yes, it came out about four years ago. It's about animal stories and how they demonstrate the different leadership approaches we can take. I'm a rescuer, and I like to tell stories. I make analogies from Taking in Strays about inspiring trust, training, how courage matters and acceptance.

What questions do you raise?
First, "How do you get your people to trust you as a leader?" That's the big one. How you can stay close to your staff in an appropriate way—as a person, so they can connect and feel safe. We have to accept people for who they are. And second, "How do you build a working relationship in an appropriate manner?" We can do this without there being unintended consequences. We as leaders don't recognize how closely we're watched. Our behavior drives things in a way no one expects.

A couple speakers at our recent Customer Onboarding and Retention Conference spoke about the importance of empowering your staff. Is that where the trust comes in?
Yes, I believe that you have to trust your employees—set parameters, of course—but trust them to take care of customers. Our job [as leaders] is to take care of employees, and treat them like we want our customers to be treated.

Can you tell me a little about IRMI?
IRMI is almost 40 years old and has around 150 employees. IRMI publishes the most comprehensive (and, we think, practical) risk and insurance library of any publisher. We also do continuing education, certification and events. We're based in Dallas but have a satellite office in Chicago. We have subscribers but also give away material as a way to get people to the website and see our products. We organize our products as the 4 C's: content, continuing education, conferences and community. We want to help our subscribers secure success in the industry.

What's one key to IRMI's success?
We're unbiased. We try very hard to stay neutral—not to favor the buyer or seller of insurance. We'll analyze, compare to court cases, tell what you get when you buy a policy, but all unbiased. Another key has been that we have always maintained momentum, always added and kept growing—no matter the economy. We just kept doing it, kept on. Jack [Gibson, president and CEO] and Bill [McIntyre, chairman] had that strong sense of vision that we save lives—maybe not directly, but we help insurance professionals put their clients' lives back together. It's a strong and powerful vision of leadership and trust.

What challenges do you face?
We have the same challenges as most specialty publishers. We can't have no conflict. There has to be some disagreement, a pressure to be better. You need different personalities to make that work. There's a natural tension in what we do, but a good tension. That's hard to manage, but the business keeps getting better.

What type of marketing do you favor?
For some organizations, writers want to write all the marketing to describe their own products, details you don't need. We believe in 1-on-1 marketing that's very targeted. You can't use 3,000 words to describe a product; just say what you need to say in "170 characters or less."

You must do well on Twitter. How did you come to IRMI?
I've been here almost four years now—and I've spent 34 years in the insurance business. It has been a graceful, nice trajectory all the way through. I started on the underwriting side and have been an educator, writer/editor, sales agent, field rep and agency operations manager. Before coming here, I was the COO and acting CEO for the Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU).

What's the set-up like at IRMI?
We have our owners [and] a five-person executive committee which includes four C-level folks. As chief marketing officer, I manage four departments—sales, marketing, conference management and customer success. Twenty-four people report to me through four directors. We have an executive committee meeting once a week to help set strategy, and quarterly meetings with the owners. It's a family-owned organization, and we're very strong on collaboration. Everybody who is affected by a decision is informed and [given the opportunity to] tell what they think. We get input from everywhere; sometimes it slows us down but we're trying to build trust internally. That's the best thing for IRMI.

Thanks Lisa. See you at SIPA 2017.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…