David Alexander has had a varied 35 year international career so far. During that time he has managed Life, Pensions, Health and General Insurance, and Reinsurance portfolios, underpinned by his actuarial background. His functional roles spread across technical, management, governance, non-executive director, and business development roles - sometimes in combination! Geographically, David has covered all parts of Asia, including as CEO of the Hong Kong branch of a global reinsurer, and the United Kingdom, where he is now a consultant and advisor. These are David’s reflections on the skills, experience and behaviours that helped him on his career journey:
“Interested in a varied career? My career story may be able to give you a helping hand.
Looking back, my father gave me some advice at a relatively young age that I should get myself a trade or profession as the basis of my career. It was only much later that I saw what a good investment that was. I happened to become an actuary, but you may be an engineer, a surveyor, lawyer, doctor etc etc. It doesn’t really matter, but he was right that having a profession brings with it an ethical foundation and some professional support as well the technical knowledge you gain through examinations and continuing professional development.
Any profession brings advantages in securing work and gaining the respect of your colleagues. It also brings responsibilities towards the public interest, your profession and of course your client(s). A highly regarded profession brings opportunities. However, whilst that qualification gives you a springboard for your career, you still have to deliver in your work life in order to continue making progress.
Opportunities also bring change, and that means stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. You need to be motivated to take on the challenge and have some strategies to give yourself the best chance of success. The reward is potentially a series of engaging roles and development opportunities. These in turn lead to more substantial jobs and challenges. How far you expand your horizons and how substantial the roles you aim for is really up to you.
Let me tell you about some of the opportunities I was fortunate enough to come across and brave enough to have a go at and how I was able to be successful at them. Read more for my reflections...
In this series of articles, I’d like to focus on some practical advice for new or aspiring managers, based on The Six Conversations of a Brilliant Manager* by Alan J Sears. It’s an immensely readable book, structured in two parts: first, an engaging fictional story of a new manager (of a team of six), followed by a ‘simple reference guide’ as the author calls it which recaps the key messages.
Alan’s book is based on the concept that many management conversations with the individuals in your team have a structure, which if followed, makes it more likely you will achieve a good outcome for both you and the team member.
Working with leaders and managers from all walks of life, I came to realise that what makes some people more successful than others is the quality of the conversations they have with others… These high performers know that they need to take a different approach to different conversations – and that the simplest way to do that is to have a different structure for each conversation.”
Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much is that it echoes a number of the themes which resonate strongly with us at Protagion, including treating your team members as individuals, adapting your approach to each of them, and allowing them to shine, and taking charge of your own career proactively and not expecting that your organisation will manage it for you.
Early in the book, the fictional manager realised that he “needed to have a completely different conversation with everyone in the team” to make the difference his company needed. He’s an endearing protagonist for the book’s messages, a good-natured and supportive manager who describes his thought pattern with: “I worked out what I thought the problem was, and then where I should start and finish the conversation in order to get to where I wanted to be – and where I wanted the other person to be.” He even chooses specific locations for conversations in the story based on who he would be speaking with, and the nature of the discussion.
Read more for an introduction to the six conversations, covering coaching, taking responsibility, addressing performance/behaviour, delegation, career paths, and performance appraisals, followed by more of my thoughts on the book and other (related) approaches like Patrick Lencioni’s famous business fable The Five Dysfunctions of a Team*. This article then goes into more detail on four of the conversations, leaving delegation and career conversations for future articles in the series.