The law of addition

By Alicia Rollo, CHRL, Director of Education and International Affairs at the CIA

The law of addition in mathematics says that it doesn’t matter which order a set of numbers is added in – the result will be the same. The law of addition in leadership, however, says that for every addition you make, the results are multiplied. Leadership “law” also says that subtraction leads to division. That’s the new leadership math.

My parents spent their 60 years of marriage following the law of addition. They added value to 10 children and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They contributed to their church and community, bringing their music to people in care facilities and participating in community events to raise money for various causes. They volunteered when they had no time, gave when they had little and expected nothing in return. I’ve always found their generosity and energy to be a very high bar and openly admit that I’ll never live up to it. I feel a little selfish by comparison, but as I’ve matured, I’ve realized that we can’t emulate others when it comes to the law of addition and leadership, and in life in general. We must each find our own way of adding value and leading in a way that’s genuine to us.

I think John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership should be essential in every library, whether you consider yourself a leader, aspire to be one or simply want to leave a more positive impact on the lives of those around you. All 21 rules are worth integrating into daily work and life, but I particularly like number five: the law of addition. I thank all the people in my work and family life who have added to my potential – who make me a better person and hopefully a better leader – so I want to pay the principles forward.

I thought that actuaries might also appreciate the law of addition, not just for the mathematical reference but also because I think it speaks to a significant attribute of the profession. Adding value is at the core of what actuaries do. They’re strong technical experts with a core foundation in mathematics, risk management and analytical thinking. Layer on the application of professional judgement, independence of thought and action, and above all, the implicit bargain that being a professional brings – to do good for the benefit of society, to serve the public interest – and I think that’s an exponential value offering that every organization should leverage.

Well-rounded actuaries offer great insight and help their organizations make good business decisions that are founded on professional training. Their value increases exponentially when they also hone their professional communication and leadership skills, making opportunities quite endless. The CIA’s new education system – for which I can’t help putting in a plug – is rolling out over the next three years. It aims to give every new actuary access to this invaluable toolkit while maintaining a strong technical foundation. We want the next generations of actuaries to have even greater opportunities to add and multiply the value they bring.

But back to the law of addition and leadership development. The bottom line, according to Maxwell, is not how far we advance ourselves, but how far we advance others. His view is that every relationship we have either adds or subtracts. He asks us to consider whether we’re making things better for the people who follow or work with us. If not, we might be subtractors and not even know it. Maxwell also says that if we don’t change our approach, this subtraction will eventually lead to division. So, think about why you lead, or why you might want to lead. Is it a desire for positional power, or is it to make a difference?

Addition must be done intentionally. We must push ourselves out of our comfort zones, intentionally seeking to ensure that we’re valuing others and that we understand what they value, and then we can apply the law of addition. The success will compound.

Alicia Rollo is a strategic leader in the non-profit association management industry who emphasizes serving the public interest. She utilizes her skills in human resources, association management, education, professional development and international relationship building for the benefit of the CIA and its members and is currently playing a leading role in the transformation of the actuarial education system in Canada.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.

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