What sports taught insurance exec Lori Fouché about leadership

December 12, 2013: 1:48 PM ET

The Prudential Group Insurance president and COO learned a life lesson sitting on the bench for her college softball team.

131212132254-lori-fouche-620xaFORTUNE -- Before joining Prudential Group Insurance (PRU) as president and Chief Operating Officer in June, Lori Fouché spent over 20 years at various prominent insurance firms such as Fireman's Fund (where she was president and CEO) and Chubb Specialty Insurance (CB). The Harvard MBA also played Division I softball while an undergrad at Princeton University, learning lifelong leadership skills that continue to help her navigate her career.

Fortune's Most Powerful Women started as a list in 1998, kicked off its annual Summit the following year, and has since become a community of the preeminent women in business, government, philanthropy, education, and the arts. This weekly Q&A features one MPW's personal take on leadership, aspirations, and (of course) balance.

1. What currently excites you most about your industry?

I am fortunate to be a part of the group insurance industry, which plays a significant role in helping to secure and improve the financial well-being of so many -- from people just entering the workforce to retirees. As the employee benefit landscape changes, I am excited about the potential that exists to educate people about opportunities to help secure their financial future, and to create new and innovative solutions to meet their financial challenges.

2. Who in the business world do you admire most and why?

I admire a few leaders. Here's my list:

  • Warren Buffett, Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) -- he reminds me that business doesn't have to be (nor should it be) complicated to be successful.
  • Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo (YHOO) -- for her decisiveness and courage in doing what she thinks is best for Yahoo.
  • Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple (AAPL) -- for his inventiveness and attention to detail.
  • Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com (AMZN) -- for driving customer-centric decisions and actions.

3. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

I played Division I softball in college. I was benched at the beginning of my sophomore year. When I asked why, I didn't like the answer. I felt, if I couldn't start, I didn't want to waste my time. After quite a bit of soul-searching, I decided that every team needs players with a variety of talents, so I did my part to be the best hitter I could be. In the end I played all four years and achieved many honors along the way. I learned everyone has a role to play on a team and hard work alone is not enough. I also learned how to be a leader among my peers.

MORE: Cisco's CTO: Keep your eyes on the stars and feet on the ground

4. What was your biggest missed opportunity?

Periodically, I wish that I had chosen to study abroad in college. But I believe that everything in your life happens as a consequence of the choices you make. I don't find it helpful to spend a lot of energy thinking about missed opportunities.

5. What would you say to a group of young people looking to enter the tough job market?

Be open to taking a position that isn't exactly what you are looking for, but could help you build your skills. Be open to starting as a temp or an intern. Once you are on the inside, it can help you learn more about a company and it will be easier to land the full-time job you're looking for.

6. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

I want to attend a game for every Major League Baseball team in the country.

7. What do you do for fun?

Spend time with my two daughters and my husband. Anything we do as a family is fun for me -- watching and playing sports, game night, movies, and cooking are some of our favorites. When I can squeeze in some time for myself, I enjoy working out and reading.

8. What's your take on the "having it all" debate?

I find it interesting that "having it all" is being debated. I don't see it as a debate. Rather, I see it as a dialogue that encourages women to lean into their careers and challenge employers, overcome biases, and provide a workplace that allows the flexibility for women and men to support their families and manage successful careers. I don't believe any of us have it all. We all do the best we can to find a balance that works.

9. What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was Sonia Sotomayor's autobiography, My Beloved World. I was really moved by her life's story. There were parts of the story I could really relate to as a minority female attending Princeton University, my alma mater. And there were other parts that I was awed and inspired by, given her life's challenges.

10. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The ability to read minds. Many times, people don't say exactly how they feel or what they are thinking. Understanding people's motivations, what they are not saying, what they are afraid of, or what they love would provide me with deeper insights and would make me much more effective. I would be a better mom, sister, daughter, co-worker, leader, and problem-solver.

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About This Author
Colleen Leahey
Colleen Leahey
Fortune

Colleen Leahey joined Fortune in May 2011 to cover leadership, technology, and small business. She also focuses on building the Fortune Most Powerful Women franchise in the digital and live media space and manages programming for the MPW Summit. Previously, Colleen worked at The New Yorker and Bicycling magazine. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and lives in Manhattan.

Email Colleen Leahey | @cmleahey
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