Melissa Cerny is Area President at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a US-based global insurance brokerage and risk management services firm. In her role, Melissa manages 100+ people across fours offices.
Here is what Melissa had to say when we asked her about managing and mentoring:
What are the most important aspects of being a successful manager and leader?
A common mistake managers and leaders make is that they want people to follow them because they tell them to. Leaders need to make goals intrinsic to team members. That means you need to align your own incentives with the incentives of your team members. This takes time, but it will be worth it. I failed many times as a leader, but those failures have only made me a better one. I also believe successful leaders and managers should have fun with their teams! Create opportunities for team building and allow people to laugh together. When team members have fun together, they feel safe and like they can trust each other, which makes them more efficient and productive at work.
What is your leadership style and how has it evolved over time?
It’s a big experiment! I’m always trying new tactics and thinking of ways to be an effective and empowering leader. When I was in my early 30s, I wanted everyone to like me, follow me, and be excited about it. Now, I’m more focused on investing in my team. Usually, when people leave a job, it is because of poor management—they feel their boss didn’t hold team members accountable. As a leader, you need to have the tough conversations and run to conflicts to make sure you don’t lose your good team players.
How can you start developing your leadership skills while you are still in school or working as a young professional?
Look for or create opportunities where you have the chance to be a leader. Ask your manager if you can organize a networking event for the new hires in your office. In doing so, find people who support you in your pursuits. Leadership takes a decade. You won’t get it perfect on the first try, so don’t let your fear of failure hold you back. Failure is exciting and necessary, and success is on the other side.
Negotiation is an essential part of leadership. How do you prepare for a negotiation and what skills do you utilize throughout the negotiation process?
I teach my team member how to negotiate. In negotiations, people often say, “I want, I need, and I deserve.” Rather than using those words, embrace an operations mindset. An operations mindset is removing hurdles and seeing where your incentives align even if it’s way down the line—the longer term. Remember, it’s not you or me, it’s we.
How can you be a good mentee? How can you be a good mentor?
The best mentor and mentee relationships really come to be organically. Two individuals have similar interests and are excited to connect with each other because they both have something to bring to the relationship. Just because a mentor has done, x, y, and z, it doesn’t mean she should be your mentor. A good mentor is someone who is passionate about mentoring her mentee. She pushes you outside of your comfort zone and is able to give and receive transparent feedback. A good mentee keeps her mentor in the loop. She tells her mentor of her progress and shares her successes and failures. A good mentee also expresses gratitude for her mentor. It’s important that if you’re lucky enough to find a mentor who invests in you, you pay it forward and mentor another individual who you see a spark in.
What is your most important takeaway when it comes to managing and mentoring?
One, mentorship is a two-way street. Build your network by finding the passions and drivers that connect you with another person. Two, don’t keep people in your corner who are envious of your success.
Melissa Cerny is Area President at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a US-based global insurance brokerage and risk management services firm. In her role, Melissa manages 100+ people across fours offices. Additionally, she is responsible for innovating the business and curating the client experience. Melissa is very involved within the insurance industry, in helping more women get involved at the highest level. Her team is almost all female in sales and management, which is unique for the industry. Melissa is based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, Jeremy, and two children, Dylan and Lyla.