Admired Leader Interview - Jane Wahl

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 11:34



Jane Wahl


Claim Team Manager – Property Complex


State Farm Insurance Companies


Continuous  J

University of Florida – BS in Mathematics


Number of years as leader



What are the top skills a leader needs to have? What’s the best way to build them?

There are so many to choose from!  Respect for others, delegation skills, ability to learn, resourcefulness, confidence, humility, common sense, and the list goes on.  As to how to build them…if you don’t mind, I’m going to paraphrase a conversation from the old Andy Griffith show as an example.  Hopefully you’re not too young to remember it;  at least it’s still on in reruns!  Andy, the sheriff, and Barney, his deputy, are talking.  Barney tells Andy, “You know what, Andy?  You got really good judgment.  How did you get such good judgment?”  Andy says, “Oh, I don’t know – experience, I guess.” Barney says, “Experience, huh?  Well how do you get experience?”  And Andy says, “I don’t know – bad judgment, I guess.”

One great way to learn your skills is by watching and emulating the good leaders you work with (or doing exactly the opposite of the not-so-good leaders).  You can even take courses in leadership.  But you build and fine-tune a lot of skills by simply doing the things that have to be done, and learning from your experiences. 

How do you build rapport or trust among a team?

Building rapport with a work team is very similar to building rapport with any group, just in a different setting.  Being friendly and genuine both count for a lot.  This doesn’t mean you need to be buddies with everyone, but you do need to have positive relationships in order to be able to work well together.  If you make it a goal to earn your team’s respect, you probably will, and good rapport grows naturally from there.    


To build trust, you need to be trustworthy.  This means being honest with your team, sharing what you can, but also telling them if you have information but you’re not in a position to share it.  Let them know when you just plain don’t know things, too.  Keep confidences, and do what you say you’re going to do. 


Also, definitely rely on your team for their expertise.  I believe people do things in part because they want to contribute, and work is no exception.  Certainly the paycheck is a large part of the incentive, but while they’re earning it, most people want to actually earn it, and contribute to the results.  A leader’s job is to facilitate that:  help them develop the skills they need, and create opportunities for them to do things they’ll excel at, that will be beneficial for the organization.  Make it easy for them to be successful. 

What’s the most rewarding part of being a leader?

Seeing a goal achieved is one of the most rewarding things.  Whether it’s something you and your team developed and planned as a group, or a personal goal you encouraged and helped a team member to reach, that feeling of accomplishment is tremendous.  One of the greatest is when someone you’ve worked with gets promoted.  Developing people is one of the primary goals in leadership, and to see that come to fruition for someone who really deserves it is very cool.


It’s also important to make sure your team knows how valuable they are, and how they impact and contribute to the enterprise goals – and one step further, to make sure they know you recognize that, too.    

While serving as a leader is rewarding, it can be tough. How do you stay fresh?

Play tennis!  Just kidding…but only sort of.  You do need to have balance and sometimes you have to get away from the challenges.  But at some point you have to address them, too, and sooner is usually better.  Just thinking about the tough stuff instead of acting on it can make it much more stressful, so moving forward through it as soon as you can really helps.  A mentor of mine once told me, in reference to a difficult situation we were addressing, “This, too, shall pass.”  Really simple words, but they helped tremendously and I have recalled and applied them many times since.


Challenge yourself, too, to do things differently from time to time.  Make yourself take an assignment you normally wouldn’t, or set a different goal.  But don’t forget the things that earned you the position in the first place.  That goes back to that genuineness thing. 

Finally, working with different people always keeps it fresh.  Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you get a new team and it’s a whole new ballgame!  Even after all these years, people continue to surprise me.

If you could go back in time, what piece of leadership advice would you give your younger self, before undertaking your first leadership role?

Know that you’re not going to get everything right on Day One, and that that’s okay.  It’s definitely a “learn as you go” sort of job – but then you can pretty much say that about life in general. 


I’d also tell myself to remember not to always assume everybody knows what you think they know.  Here’s an example of what I mean by that:  in taking a new team I generally assume (and usually rightly so) they all know more about the work than I do.  But I used to also assume they understood things like the link between their work, and the organization’s goals and the customer’s experience – and that’s not always the case.  Part of a leader’s job is to connect those dots and make sure everyone understands where they fit into the overall mission and vision, because that doesn’t always come naturally to everyone.  When people start seeing those links and what they’re doing in the grand scheme, well, those are the really cool light bulb moments that make leadership worth the price of admission. 



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