There has been much discussion about the nature and meaning of leadership in the weeks since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but, sadly, very few actual examples of effective leadership in action. If Katrina was the worst-case scenario in every way - location, conditions, who was/was not in charge, infrastructure, etc. - only time will tell if the relatively less-severe impact of and improved response to Rita were evidence of actual learning and change, or merely a knee-jerk reaction to the earlier crisis.
For many executives, however, the events of the past few weeks surely have provided a dramatic reality check and raised many questions, not only about the preparedness and performance of their own organizations, but also about their own strengths and weaknesses. And although this must be occurring across most industries and executive functions, it's hard to imagine the soul searching being any more intense than among insurance technology executives, who are held accountable for everything from business continuity to claims proficiency to call center performance.
The obligations and expectations that come with being in charge are taken very seriously by the eight outstanding executives we profile in this special edition of Insurance & Technology, our seventh annual report on some of the industry's most effective technology officers. They understand that while very little is accomplished without a team effort, it is the CIO (or comparable title) who ultimately is accountable for the results. They also recognize that, while standardization and consistency are essential to maximize IT's value, dealing with the unpredictability of most kinds of change (even if a catastrophe - or acquisition - can be forecast, it's pretty much impossible to predict precisely the exact date, time and circumstances) also requires flexibility, creativity and courage. These attributes are hard to find in today's risk-averse business environment. Our Elite 8 honorees all have demonstrated, however, that they know when to throw away the playbook and aren't afraid to do so.
The actions of the boss (whether the head of an insurer's IT organization or the head of FEMA) inevitably are going to be scrutinized and second-guessed. True leaders, such as the 2005 Elite 8, understand their success ultimately is measured by the effective use of resources and the happiness of customers and colleagues, and anticipate and welcome such scrutiny. A lot can be learned from these great examples.
Katherine Burger, Editorial Director [email protected]
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio