You're not the smartest person in the room — and that's a good thing

When you reach the point in your career when it seems like everyone is coming to you for answers and advice, it's a sign that it's time for you to get out of your comfort zone, find a new challenge — and start to learn again.

In our industry, the opportunity to learn and expand your expertise is endless. Start with this simple tip: When you enter a room full of smart people, shut up and listen. Do not try to impress them. You are there to learn. Then, you can  go execute the golden nuggets they share with you. 

Follow up with the smart people you meet and ask smart questions, ones that demonstrate you are trying to execute their strategies. Do your homework before reaching for their expertise. (If you can find the answer on Google or ChatGPT, then don't ask that question.) 

Read more: A medical procedure should have cost $100 — it was billed for $8K. Why this is a call to action for advisers

Rather than, for example, asking someone how to execute a 105 plan, instead consider, "I read your article on 105 plans, and I wanted to learn how you involve owners in the plan. My research shows this isn't possible, yet your article states it can be done. What am I missing?"  Smart people want to leave a legacy, so you will find them generous with their knowledge if they know you are serious about your craft. 

If you are too busy attempting your own expertise rather than listening to the wisdom of your peers, you will be left with no diverse ideas and miss opportunities you could have achieved through collaboration. There is a reason why human resource professionals work to build diversity into the cultures of the organizations they serve. Without diversity and diversity of thought, there is no business success. 

Read more: How to build inflation-proof benefits for employers

"Masterminds" are the key to moving your influence and impact forward — but what's a mastermind, anyway?I heard of it initially in the book called "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill, but I didn't understand it until I experienced the NextGen mastermind group with Nelson Griswold and Scott Cantrell. They led agency owners in the room, and got them to share their business strategies and challenges. When a challenge was shared, the other owners worked to solve the issue at hand. 

The experience is a bit intimidating. Admitting your agency has challenges takes vulnerability, and sharing that with others takes maturity. You literally sit in the center of the room with your toughest problem. They may call it the hot seat, but I prefer to call it the spotlight. Everyone in the room helps you solve your toughest business issue. In the process, we learn together. We all face similar challenges running an insurance agency, so learning how others solved our problem is valuable for everyone in the room. 

Even though I was a sole proprietor when I started with my mastermind friends, they found my insights helpful, and to say that they helped me learn and grow is an understatement. My business went to an entirely new level after meeting these experienced business owners. 

Read more: Give employers the tool kit to support employees' mental health

I thought differently than many of those in the room. They didn't care if I had a small book of business. I was selling and I did it without quoting to win business. They said, "Tell me more." They had processes that seemed innovative and strategic. I said, "Tell me more." 

Together, we are so much more than we are alone. We elevate each other, and I am forever grateful for my mastermind friends. I have never found a format more effective at accelerating growth.

If you are struggling to find this kind of support and growth opportunity, start small: Take smart people out to dinner. Ask smart questions, listen, learn, go execute —and then ask another smart question.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Employee benefits Professional development Continuing education