If you’ve been in business as long as I have, then you’ve probably heard about how Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company did right by their customers and demonstrated great leadership and humanity.
The company was founded in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1857. In 1859, the young company relocated to Milwaukee. That year was momentous for them, not only because of the move but also because it was the year they received their first two claims.
Two Claims and Not Enough Money
One day in 1859, a train left Janesville to Fond Du Lac in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the train derailed. Fourteen people were killed, including two passengers who had purchased policies with Northwestern Mutual. The total claims for the accident were $3,500.
Here was the challenge for Northwestern Mutual; they only had $2,000 on-hand to cover the claims. It was a crucial moment for the leaders of the young start-up, but the answer was easy for them. The president of Northwestern Mutual, Samuel Daggett, and the treasurer, Charles Nash, both took out personal loans totaling the amount they owed on the two claims.
Once they paid the claims, new business started to come its way, and the company took off. People started seeking out them out and purchasing life insurance policies. By 1865, the company was earning business throughout the Midwest and was expanding East.
Doing the Right Thing
There are so many different qualities to what we consider leadership. There are many definitions for it. The reality is that when you see it, you know it. Alternately, when you don’t see leadership, you also know that as well.
An element of leadership that is not often spoken about, but is very much part of its DNA is simply doing the right thing. In other words, having a healthy dose of humanity. When Mr. Daggett and Mr. Nash received the two claims, despite the fact they didn’t have the money, they still worked to make things right. It’s important to note that these two men took personal loans–not a business loan. In other words, they were personally liable for repaying the money to the bank. They were working from human instincts. Some people would not have done that and may have preferred to find another less risky path than becoming personally liable for claims.
I wonder how many people realize that in having humanity in our actions, and doing right by others that we’re demonstrating leadership?
Anyone of Us Can Do the Right Thing
When we look at the world around us, most people tend to think of leaders as people who are managers. In the case of Northwestern Mutual, that turned out to be the case. The president and treasurer of the company, the senior executives of the company, were also its leaders.
But, the reality is that anyone of us can be a leader, and it can start by just committing to do the right thing, especially in a challenging and trying situation.
Our daily lives provide us with endless opportunities to do the right thing, demonstrate humanity and develop our leadership skills. When we do the right for ourselves and others, we are roaring positivity and leadership with our actions. And, when people see activities that are honorable, there is a natural and human inclination and interest to follow the leader. The reason is simple. People have been told in many ways for millennia all kinds of stories about doing the humane thing. Most of us are conditioned to want to see the good.
You might not hold a high office within your company, or you may be the boss. But, whatever you do, realize this one simple fact, we’re all human. And, there’s a lot within us that makes us more similar than different. One of those characteristics is the desire to see real, humanity in leadership, which can happen at any time and in almost any given situation.
The next time you’re faced with a crossroads, do the right thing. And, when you’ve done it, and you come to another fork in the road, make the right choice again. And then do it again, no matter the challenge. You’ll find that by simply doing the right thing and demonstrating humanity, people will see you as a leader.