Lorrie Leonard on How Listening Goes a Long Way

Lorrie Leonard explains how a focus on listening has made her a better leader, business partner, and mentor at AGCS

Lorrie Leonard is a natural helper and problem-solver. But when she transitioned from private practice to an in-house position, she had to learn how to be an effective people manager.

Leonard decided to attend law school because she wanted to help others (and because she didn’t like statistics enough to pursue the training to become a psychiatrist). And in her twenty years at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, North America (AGCS), she is proud of all the ways she has worked to help the company with its various insurance products and services.

Lorrie Leonard, VP, Associate General Counsel, and Chief Litigation Counsel, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, North America (AGCS) Photo by Steve Capers

“When I first started in the insurance industry, I spent weeks just reading insurance policies,” Leonard remembers. “And I’ve done so many different things since then. My prior jobs included working in claims and managing litigation spending. Since I have been in the general counsel’s office, I’ve volunteered for projects in areas that were new to me and taken it upon myself to become a subject matter expert in areas where someone needed to be an expert, like bankruptcy and real estate.” Leonard continually strives to understand both the business and legal aspects of insurance so she can maximize the benefits of her services to AGCS.

Leonard credits her success as a vice president, associate general counsel, and the chief litigation counsel at AGCS to this flexible, helpful, and solution-oriented approach. Her litigation team is also known as problem-solvers, Leonard says, but it has been a bit of a journey for her to figure out exactly how to best motivate and adjust to her team.

“My mentor at my first insurance company job actually told me that I needed to work on communicating with my team more,” Leonard explains. “I was used to being a litigator, where you’re arguing a motion before a judge and have just a short amount of time to state your case. My mentor taught me that I needed to slow down, listen more, and rely on my team.”

Leonard says that this is something she is still working on to this day. “I’m always asking myself, ‘Do I really need to talk at this particular time, or should I just listen?’ she explains. “Sometimes, if you just wait, the answer that you need will come to you.”

Waiting applies to electronic as well as verbal communication, Leonard believes. Just because we can message each other instantly, she says, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a breath and pause before sending the message. “I actually have Post-its all over my monitors reminding me to wait a second before pressing the send button,” Leonard laughs. “You don’t have to react immediately.”

Every day, Leonard tries to be the best leader and listener she can be. And she wants her team to be good listeners, too.

Leonard’s litigation team regularly hosts all-hands meetings for the entire legal and compliance department to share hot topics in litigation with the rest of the department.  Leonard explains that the all-hands meetings last for about an hour. During this time, her team shares approaches, ideas, and concerns with the rest of the group—but in a “fun way,” Leonard says, chuckling. “We’re the fun team! One time we had a Jeopardy-style tournament, with the music and prizes at the end, and another time we did a skit complete with costumes. The point is to show other members of the legal and compliance team what it’s like to live a day in the life of the litigation team.”

“Sometimes, if you just wait, the answer that you need will come to you.”

Leonard says that a “listen more” approach has also helped her be a better mentor, not just to her team members but to anyone interested in a career in insurance or a position in a corporate counsel office.

“I believe that as a leader, I’m supposed to help prepare people for their next role or the next stage in their career,” Leonard says. “I ask people about what they want to do next and what can I do to help them reach that next level, and after listening to them, I do what I can to help them achieve their goals.”

Leonard says that in the name of helping her team members achieve their goals, she has worked with her peers to establish opportunities for her team to shadow other members of the legal and compliance group. That way, they can learn more about any areas of interest.

Sometimes, Leonard says, what people are interested in is completely unrelated to the company and its work. But that doesn’t matter to her. “People like to work for companies that allow them to participate and engage in activities that they have an interest in outside of work,” she notes. “So, my team is encouraged to take advantage of the many AGCS programs that promote social and community involvement.”

According to Leonard, AGCS and the group of Allianz companies organize volunteer events, host an annual charity golf tournament, match employees’ contributions to nonprofits, help improve financial literacy among seniors, and give employees opportunities to take leave if they want to participate in a charity function or community program. Employees are able to donate their vacation time to other employees in need, and Leonard says that members of her team have taken entire workdays to volunteer as teachers in classrooms or to work with high school students to prepare them for their first days at college.

“I think we all want to help, greatly,” Leonard remarks. “As an insurance company, we see a lot—we work with the victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters—so we really do just want to do our part. Hopefully, we are part of a larger industry effort to provide for and give back to the community.”

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Foster Swift:

“From the beginning of her career as a Foster Swift associate attorney to her present role as Allianz Associate General Counsel, Lorrie Leonard has been a highly intelligent, innovative, and indefatigable problem-solver. Congratulations, Lorrie!”

–Mike Sanders, President

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McDowell Hetherington LLP:

“Lorrie has a keen legal mind and is a leader in the business. She has an exceptional grasp of the law and consistently develops winning strategies. It is a privilege to work with her.”

–Jodi Swick, Partner

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Modrall Sperling:

“Allianz is well served by Lorrie’s consistently thoughtful guidance and wise counsel. I am honored to work with her as outside counsel and value my relationship with her—both as a client and a friend.”

–Jennifer G. Anderson, Shareholder