Leadership insights aplenty come from David Prosperi, Vice President of Global Public Relations, Aon plc, during his interview with DePaul graduate student Lindsey Barber. David was one of 17 business executives and public relations leaders who volunteered to sit down with students in my spring quarter leadership class. Results of the students’ research and interviews are appearing this month and next on the Let Go & Lead website.
Here are David’s responses to Lindsey’s questions:
Q: How do you communicate Aon’s vision?
A: We have a tremendous amount of thought leadership in our risk and in our HR businesses. So, it’s identifying that type of content, coordinating the messaging, developing the right brand messaging, and then targeting the right platforms; whether it’s traditional media, social media, or electronic. In order to position ourselves in the way that we want, which is to be seen as one of the leading global professional services firms, we advise companies on two of the most important issues of the day: risk and people.
Q: How does the Manchester United partnership play a messaging role at Aon?
A: The Manchester United partnership really is a powerful example of how we help companies around their risk and people issues. Our partnership with one of the most powerful sports brands in the world really puts us in a unique position. We help the club on issues like succession planning, as well as assist them to identify talent. We help them with their healthcare planning and pensions. On the risk side, there are a tremendous number of risks associated when you have 76,000 people filing into Old Trafford to watch a match. How do we help them manage those issues, while at the same time minimize the risk involved? So, the partnership with Manchester United is a very vivid and a powerful example of what we bring to clients every day.
Q: How do you foster a collaborative environment at Aon?
A: We foster a collaborative environment through engagement. We’re really very focused on how we can engage our global colleagues. We have 66,000 people around the world, 120 different countries, six different continents, and multiple time zones. The power of the Manchester United partnership is that it helps us to engage our employees around a common theme of Aon United. What that means is no matter where you work in the world, and no matter your level of expertise, you’re part of a global network to serve clients. So, if we can identify clients in Europe or Latin America in order to help a client in Japan, that’s the power of Aon United: bringing all that global capability to work on a very local level.
Q: How do you navigate communicating on a global scale?
A: It’s a challenge. I’m not sure we always get it right, but we’re constantly working on ways to improve it. We communicate on a variety of platforms. Our CEO, Greg Case, is very engaged with employees. Whenever he travels around the world, he does town hall meetings with our colleagues. As part of our intranet, we pretty much have our own Facebook program where you can create your own page and talk about the things that you’re interested in-including the capabilities that you can bring to the firm. So, if I am a client-facing colleague, and I have a client in Japan who is looking for some help on how to deal with supply chain interruption, I can type in some key words into our intranet and it will pull up the names of colleagues around the world who have that knowledge and capability. By doing so, we can bring the best of our firm globally to clients anywhere in the world.
Q: When dealing with risk management on a daily basis, does that affect how you communicate with your employees?
A: No. You know, as risk advisors, we’re advising our clients on how to turn risk into opportunity. So, from a communication standpoint, we shouldn’t be risk adverse. There are certain situations where we may be forced to, but we need to treat our colleagues the way we treat our clients. How can we advise them on the best way to do their job? How can we challenge them to do better? How can we challenge them to be more engaged? To answer those questions, sometimes you have to take some risks. You have to push things forward. We like to be proactive. We want our employees to be engaged, and the way to communicate with them is by being proactive. Bring them into what’s going on, help them understand the rationale behind decisions, and help them understand what it means for them as a member of our global team.
Q: What do you think is the biggest difference between leading and managing?
A: Managing is nothing more than sitting behind a desk and doing project management. Leading is getting out front and setting an example, encouraging people to do good work, and creating opportunities for them to succeed.
Q: What are the most important aspects when leading through change?
A: It is important to be transparent, to communicate, and to stay ahead of what you think needs to be communicated to your employees, to your clients, and to your markets. You need to be thinking ahead in terms of: what will our clients want to know because of this announcement that we are making? Or for our employees: how does this impact me? You need to be ahead of the curve and you need to be willing to communicate on a variety of levels. There needs to be a constant flow of information in a very transparent way, and you should always be accessible.
Q: What separates great leaders from others when it comes to inspiring creativity?
A: What separates great leaders is that they recognize that they need to do things that will help their colleagues succeed. They need to create opportunities. They need to give them innovative ways to do their jobs better, so that they can be recognized for it.
Q: As a communication leader, what is the biggest challenge or lesson you have faced during your tenure?
A: For me personally, I think it’s the advent of technology. The evolution of it and the need to stay a step ahead is a constant challenge. When I started as a press aid with Governor Reagan on the 1980 presidential campaign, there was no social media. There were three television networks. There wasn’t cable TV. You could manage the message. Today, it’s a 24-hour news cycle. Things are happening all the time. The first thing I turn on in the morning is my Blackberry and the last thing I turn off at night is my Blackberry, because I’m constantly getting messages and communications from colleagues around the world. It’s a challenge to stay a step ahead of the constant change that’s occurring.
Q: What was your very first lesson in leadership?
A: My very first lesson in leadership was something that I learned from President Reagan. He treated everybody the same. No matter what your level in life, no matter your position in government, no matter your position in the business world, you treat everybody the same. I just saw how people reacted to that, and it was a very positive reaction. I think no matter what some people thought of his policies, they liked him as a person because of the respect he showed his fellow human beings.
See a quick snapshot of David’s career and other insights on the Let Go & Lead website. Special thanks to communications consulting firm Gagen MacDonald for helping make this program come to life.