Let’s Talk Leadership: Bill Hogg Interviews John O’Donnell, CEO Allstate Insurance — PART 1

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Competent leadership is a critical success factor for all organizations. Failure to have strong leadership at all levels of your organization will inhibit your company’s ability to grow and achieve its defined business goals and objectives.

In this interview, John O’Donnell, President and CEO of Allstate Insurance, talks with Bill about leadership competencies and how he approached dealing with leadership teams when he joined the company.

There are generally two types of leadership that organizations are looking for – people leadership and thought leadership. People leaders need to have coaching skills, be able to develop talent internally and be team players. Thought leaders must have a strong knowledge base, but also be able to apply this knowledge, anticipate future developments and make sound decisions in an ever-changing environment.



However, there are also some non-negotiables that candidates must have to be considered for a leadership role.

John agrees and takes a similar approach at Allstate: There are some non-negotiables that we look for, such as leading with integrity, being a team player, I think are critical.  If you don’t have that, then it’s hard to build off of anything else.  When we look at leadership competencies, I’m personally looking at people leadership as well as thought leadership.

Not enough organizations really take a fairly hard stance on non-negotiable leadership competencies. To create that non-negotiable head space within an organization, you have to have real clarity around your values.  When John first joined the company, he was focused on creating a leadership culture.

“This is really a combination of some of the things that I saw worked for me and my personal style, and how I like to lead teams and organizations, so I talked about the fact that we need to be collaborative, we need to be transparent, and we need to empower people throughout the organization.  We really built those three pillars, or tenets, of leadership: collaboration, transparency, and empowerment,” says John.

When John entered this environment, he didn’t dismiss or diminish what the leadership environment was previously; rather, he was focused on the need for an environment that reflected his leadership style.  To understand what the values of the company should be, John started by listening to employees and spent a lot of time with his leadership team.

“We talked about some of the dysfunctions of a team and tried to open up with each other… And we graded ourselves. We took a little survey about how strong are we with trusting each other, and being open and vulnerable with each other. Had some exercises.  It was uncomfortable in some of those meetings, and I made it a point to—and I still do—meet offsite with the leadership team once a month, and we have some good conversation.  We can work on team building and taking the temperature on the culture in the organization,” John says.

One of the main issues in the boardroom is trust. Getting to know your leadership team and spending time with them onsite and offsite will help establish a trusting relationship. This can help create open conversations and allow leadership to get to the root causes of internal issues and identify areas that require attention.

John agrees, and takes a great approach: “I encourage an environment of challenge and debate in the boardroom, to the point where if something’s said and someone’s being silent on a matter and I think they may have an opinion, to try and dig it out of them, because my goal is to have that challenge and debate, and then everyone’s heard.  Once we get aligned, we’re aligned; and we’re lockstep when we leave the boardroom.”



An environment where people can be open and speak freely also makes it easier to hold each other accountable.

“Once you can really get to that type of environment among the team, you really can have that openness.  People have to understand, it’s their responsibility to hold each other accountable,” says John.

Part 2 of our interview will continue our conversation with John O’Donnell and look at the concept of shared organizational goals and accountability.

Watch the interview video on YouTube

About John O’Donnell

John O’Donnell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, and Vice President of the Allstate Insurance Company of the United States.  John was appointed President and CEO on July 18th, 2011, after having served as Field Vice President – Southeast Region in the USA. John has also held leadership roles with GMAC Insurance, Walt Disney Corporation, and Goldman Sachs.

John earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy, and served as a helicopter pilot in the United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of captain prior to leaving the service.  He also holds a master’s degree in business administration, finance, and economics from the University of Chicago.



About Allstate Insurance

The Allstate Insurance Company of Canada, with headquarters in Markham, is a member of one of the largest organizations in the world, the Allstate Corporation.  Allstate Canada has provided property and casualty insurance products to Canadians since 1953.  Allstate provides a full line of auto, home, individual, life, and financial products through a network of 450 agents in over 250 communities and 1,000 employees.  The slogan, “You’re in Good Hands,” exemplifies the commitment, knowledge, and professionalism of Allstate’s trusted advisers to customers, making Allstate one of Canada’s strongest personal line insurers.  You can find out more about Allstate Insurance at www.allstate.ca.

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