Ann O’Dea, curator of Future Human, and Eric Andersen, president at Aon, chat during a presentation at Future Human 2022. Image: Future Human

Why Aon’s Eric Andersen is optimistic about the future of leadership

13 May 2022

Eric Andersen, president of Aon, told the Future Human audience about the importance of holistic leadership.

At Future Human today (13 May), we learned that leaders are just like us. Eric Andersen may be president of one of the world’s major insurance and professional services firms, Aon, but that doesn’t mean he is averse to admiring the bookshelves of his co-workers on Zoom.

The self-confessed optimist was speaking to Future Human’s Ann O’Dea about the future of leadership and all that entails.

Aon has a workforce of around 50,000 people spread out all over the world, as chief people officer Lisa Stevens explained yesterday. Andersen told O’Dea that he felt he had grown closer to his staff over the past few years thanks to seeing their home lives during online meetings.

“You used to work with people for 20 years and know nothing about what their personal life was like. They were just work colleagues. Today, you’re in their kitchen … you see the kids walking around, the dogs.”

Andersen added that this increased intimacy has worked both ways, and that his staff now know more about him and other leaders, too. The “square screen” has also taken away some of the “pomp” and “trappings of success” associated with the traditional office environment.

“You can look at these individual colleagues more holistically,” he said of hybrid working.

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“I think there’s the need for business leaders to look at individual colleagues as whole people, understanding what they bring to work.

“Work is just a part of it. And so, how you lead them, how you manage them, how you train them and develop them … You really have to step back and think about all aspects of them, not just the eight or 10 hours you’ve got them when they’re working.”

People are as important as tech

Andersen described Aon as a “people business” in that it provides advice and services to clients. Therefore, it continues to be important for the company to get its own internal workplace culture right. It is as important as investing in new tech, he said.

“How you actually lead the people who you train and develop starts with having the right culture and ultimately the ability to draw people into our firm who are committed to the way we want to work and the value that we want to bring to clients. That has become the most important part as we step back and think to our strategy for this year in the next three to five years.”

From his point of view, Andersen said the change in leadership culture in general over the past few years is helping him and other leaders deal with pressing problems facing all of us in our working lives. These range from cyber to climate to health and wellbeing.

“When I look at the topics that we are wrestling with, to create that human-centred world, around climate, around cyber, around health and wealth and all the big issues, I feel like our firm is positioned where we can actually make an impact, which ultimately drives confidence and optimism around what we’re doing.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic