CEO: To Lead, People Must ‘Want To Follow You’

By Lenore Sobota
The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Tricia Griffith has been with Progressive Insurance for 30 years, starting out as a claims representative and working her way up the ladder president and CEO.

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Being the person who does the hiring and fills out the reports does not make you the leader, the head of Progressive Insurance said during a Business Week keynote address Thursday at Illinois State University.

“What makes you a leader is when people want to follow you,” said 1986 ISU graduate Tricia Griffith, president and CEO of Progressive Insurance since July 2016. That same year, she was named one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” by Fortune magazine.

Griffith, a 1986 ISU graduate, said a leader also needs to “know when to get out of the way,” but she admitted that’s “still a work in progress for me.” In addition to her ISU degree she is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business’ Advanced Management Program.

Leadership is about creating “a culture of trust” and bringing out the best in people, she said.

“It’s also about admitting mistakes,” said Griffith. “That lets them know that making mistakes is OK; covering them up is not.”

Among her leadership principles is transparency.

Griffith goes to the company lunchroom every Friday, looks for a random table with an open chair and asks the employees if she can join them.

“They can’t say ‘no,'” she said with a laugh. Doing this helps her know what’s going on and lets employees know she is approachable, Griffith explained.

A mother of six, Griffith said “balance is important” and people should have interests outside of work, whether it’s family or watching the Olympics.

Griffith has been with Progressive for 30 years, starting out as a claims representative and working her way up the ladder. Griffith liked that she was always learning something new, could be herself and believed in the company’s core values.

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