Cultivating High-Performance Teams via People-Centric Leadership

Mike Mead, CIO of CNO Financial Corporation brought a fresh perspective, a deep understanding of cultural factors, and an ethos of collaborative leadership into the digital transformation of the half-century-old company.

Our guest in this episode of the Life Accelerated podcast is Mike Mead, CIO of CNO Financial Group (Carmel, Ind.). CNO, formerly known as Conseco, is the parent company of several insurance companies, including Bankers Life, Colonial Penn Life, and Washington National. For almost five decades, CNO’s goal has been to secure the future of middle-income America by providing life insurance, health insurance, annuities, financial services, and workforce benefits solutions.

In our discussion about what digital transformation looks like for CNO, Mike shares his insights into the company’s history, products, and distribution strategy. He also delves into his fascinating professional journey, which had huge lessons for understanding culture and how to deliver technology results to the enterprise.

During our conversation, Mike resonated with the phrase “the digital moment.” He did so in part, I think, because he’s been through the challenges of legacy silos, big bang projects, and other frustrations familiar to industry veterans. Mike has done his service in the technology trenches and understands the technology evolution that has happened and still must be accomplished.

What I find most interesting about his work at CNO is his focus on helping to align his team toward their mission, revealing the importance of culture, and the relevance of Mike’s experience and acumen in that regard. We could look at that as the “what,” but something I found especially interesting was the “how,” in the sense of Mike’s approach to leadership. In that vein, one of the moments in my conversation with Mike that I found most interesting was his story about a boss awakening him to the need to have full accountability. It was a typical story in the confrontation described, and I suspect most of our listeners think back in gratitude to what we might look at as the tough love of a superior. What struck me was that Mike was so willing to be confronted harshly in the interest of achieving excellence, but seems so unlikely to be as harsh with his own subordinates.

Inspiring Excellence

I see him as taking a more collaborative and consultative approach, and I see him as more likely to inspire his team to accountability. People often talk, and quite rightly, about understanding excellence in terms of people, process, and technology. But Mike Mead expresses his approach this way. “Think in terms of people, people, people, and the other things will follow.”

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