What I Wish I Knew: George Leamon

What I Wish I Knew: a series of conversations around first jobs

It’s that time of year again – your social feed is filled with commencement speeches, graduation photos, and first-day jitters. And whether you’re entering the workforce for your first “real job” or you already have a few career changes under your belt, we hope our second annual “What I Wish I knew” series inspires new perspectives on work overall.

Leading the pack this year is George Leamon, Director of Latin America Business Retention, who has been with MetLife for over three years.

What do you wish you knew when you started your first job out of college?

George Leamon: I wish I knew to be proactive and brave – no one is better equipped to decide your career path than you. It’s important to take risks and try new things that may uncover some hidden skill, especially when you’re young.

What are some critical dos and don’ts for starting a career on the right track?

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to further enable your strengths and how to bolster your weakness.
  • Become your best advocate – know what makes you special and be able to sell yourself.
  • Knowing what you don’t want to do is equally as important as deciphering what you do want to do. Be clear about your ‘must haves’ like autonomy, a collaborative working environment, and your ‘deal breakers’ like a lack of growth opportunities or work/life balance.

What is your current role?

I work with global, regional and local partners in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay to put our customers at the center of our business and deliver more human, intuitive experiences, at every touchpoint for our customers.

What is your background?

I was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Political Science. After, I served in the Peace Corps in a Dominican Republic community, where I constructed an aqueduct for clean water. I later returned to school and received a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Columbia University and then took a position with the Organization of American States (OAS) in Uruguay, working on an international human rights project in Colombia, Guatemala and Jamaica. My project in Jamaica resulted in the implementation of a national public policy on violence against children. This experience made me realize I wanted to have more impact and greater scale with my work and I could only do this in the private sector. And so, I pursued an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University because of its emphasis on team work and collaboration.

What did you picture yourself doing after college?

I pictured myself working in the public sector – either Peace Corps or Teach For America because I wanted to make a positive impact on others.

And how do you think MetLife helps you continue making a positive impact?

MetLife helps millions of people around the world create their own safety net and it gives me a career that has the reach to positively affect lives everywhere. If you want to make tangible change in people’s lives – this is a fantastic place to do so.

What was your first job?

I worked as a lifeguard at a local neighborhood pool and to make a little extra money, I gave swimming lessons on the side, which made me realize the value of taking initiative.

What qualities do you most admire in leadership?

I admire leaders who are self-aware and encourage others to bring their whole selves to work because inclusive workplaces encourage transparency and integrity. I also respect energetic, collaborative leaders who serve as a unifying force among colleagues while driving overall team results. Leaders wield enormous influence over organizations – how they lead is equally important to what they achieve.

How do you approach networking and career growth?

I’m a social person by nature and I love being collaborative, so I actively seek opportunities to meet people, learn about their lives and their work and the ways we can build a mutually beneficial relationship.

How do you manage up?

While managing up is important, I think that managing down and across are just as important. By motivating both your peers and subordinates to accomplish goals, you gain the trust of people who are senior to you and effectively influence beyond your level of authority.

How do you ensure you continue to learn and grow professionally?

I feel everyone has something to teach me and so I look for opportunities to learn from those around me. I also strive for self-improvement – how can I can be better? Perhaps learn a new skill, language, find a mentor, exercise, etc.

What styles of leadership do you see at MetLife?

MetLife has a collaborative culture and attracts leaders that enjoy working together to achieve success. Fortunately, our leaders are open to accepting feedback from across the organization, which helps to create a strong sense of shared purpose and direction.

Do you have a mentor or a champion? If so, how has this relationship helped you progress in your career?

Yes, I am extremely fortunate to have two mentors at MetLife who serve as sounding boards but more importantly, tell me things I may not necessarily want to hear but will lead me to become a better version of myself.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Hungry for more career advice? Click here for more from our What I Wish I knew series.