Leadership Lessons: Jeffrey Bowman

As part of an occasional series by our executives on their experiences in the workplace and the lessons they have learned from them, CEO Jeffrey Bowman shares the lessons of a demanding boss.

Before I got into the insurance industry, I worked in several other businesses, including the recording industry, when I was young. I had a boss who was from the north of England, and he was one of the most demanding people I’d ever worked for. There was no such thing as an easy conversation with him. You had to know what you were talking about and you had to be clear. I did a lot of prep work whenever we had a meeting scheduled so I could avoid problems with him.

This sounds tortuous, and in some ways it was. I loved Friday night, when the week was over, and I started dreading work every Sunday evening. It was a demanding situation, but in the end that experience taught me much that has been helpful throughout my career. I learned that careful and thorough preparation is essential. If I didn’t have an answer to a question, I learned to say that I would do more research and get back to him.

In particular, though, I learned to pay attention to detail. I’m an accountant by training, and obviously being detail-oriented serves me well in that profession. But I also think it’s an important part of being a CEO, even though some people don’t see it as a characteristic of great leaders.

I believe if you can’t see areas where your business is failing to execute on its strategy, you can get yourself into trouble. That means being able to identify and understand small pieces of information that often point to the beginning of a larger problem or unwelcome trend. You need to pay attention to detail and you need to understand the big picture, too. Joining the two together is what makes a successful leader.

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