‘A Little Adversity Is a Good Thing’ — Lessons for a Successful Leadership Journey

Sponsored by The Hartford

Photo courtesy of The Hartford.

Photo courtesy of The Hartford.

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Fairygodboss
April 17, 2024 at 6:39PM UTC

Many great leaders view challenges as opportunities. For Melinda Thompson, chief operating officer of Personal Lines at The Hartford, the challenges she has encountered throughout her career helped her grow into the leader she is today. 

“A little adversity is a good thing and it builds confidence over time,” said Melinda. “You learn that you can deal with whatever you’re facing, even if you don’t have the answer right away. While difficult at the moment, the obstacles I faced were opportunities to dig deep and, ultimately to grow.” 

Melinda credits critical skills like tenacity, grit, competitive spirit, work ethic, humility, and confidence to help overcome those challenges.

“The first few skills came more naturally to me than confidence did,” said Melinda. “Properly earned confidence takes time, experience, and a track record of overcoming the unknown.”  

Melinda took time to share some of her top learnings with us. To take a closer look at her career journey, how she inspires creativity, building a team around inclusion, and tips for those considering a leadership role, read on...

To start, tell us a bit about your Chief Operating Officer of Personal Lines role. How long have you been in this role, and how long have you been with The Hartford?   

I work with the entire Personal Lines leadership team to drive successful outcomes for our policyholders, our strategic partner AARP, and The Hartford’s shareholders. I have been in the role since May of 2018 and with The Hartford since 1997. I started as an intern in our commercial side of the business and have held various field and home office roles in both commercial and Personal Lines.

That’s an amazing journey! As a leader, how have you fostered an environment that rewards innovation and creative thinking? 

I firmly believe I am at my best when surrounded by other great leaders and teammates. For me, execution prowess, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking come with great thought partners and unique perspectives.

I welcome and solicit ideas, suggestions, and I love a great brainstorming session with the team. And being in the office rejuvenates this for me, as I am intentional about being together for discussions that are enabled by personal connections. At The Hartford we have been able to maximize the employee experience with hybrid working arrangements allowing us to manage business performance and collaboration with a balanced and contemporary approach to flexibility.

Could you share more on what you have done to build an organization of people of diverse backgrounds, talent, and perspectives? 

For me, appreciating the talents and strengths of different backgrounds and experiences is the first step to building a well-balanced team. Know what you do well. And, even more important, know what you need to balance out your team. Learn what motivates people, learn how they operate, and listen to their ideas — it’s critical to deeply understand how people operate as you think about building your team

I firmly believe in hiring the best person for the role by contemplating everything they bring to the table. Leadership roles, capabilities and technical experience are a big part of a person’s success. Equally important are having individuals who offer different perspectives and challenge our thinking. That is what make a team special. Look for those elements as you interact with people every day. You may not have an immediate need but you will at some point, so constantly network and assess the attributes of your colleagues as you think about your team and your talent pipeline.  

Also think about how the team fits together — team dynamics and respect are critical to team success.

Finally, what is your No. 1 piece of advice for other women who are moving into or want to move into leadership? 

Value humility in yourself and others — we are all human. We are all learning, developing, and growing and no one is entitled to leadership, including you. You will encounter people who lift you up and people who will tear you down along the way. Learn to tell the difference in those you work with, even if you learn the hard way sometimes, and focus on those who lift you up. Invest in others as you have been invested in — it’s the most rewarding part of leadership!



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