About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

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Archive for January, 2012


The Whole-Hearted Life

I went out for dinner the other night with a dear friend; the food was amazing, the company even better.  We covered topics both light and heavy – industry gossip and catch-up about kids and spouses, but also hopes and possibilities, new directions and how best to be open to them.  Just before she dropped me back at my hotel, she said, “You’ve got watch this amazing TED video.  It’s about the power of vulnerability. The speaker talks about living a life of connection and openness. It’s how you live your life, and how I’m trying to live mine.”

Flattered, of course, and intrigued, I watched it to see what she was talking about – twice – and it’s quite wonderful.  The speaker, Brene Brown, is a researcher in the area of human connection.  She talks about trying to find, as a researcher, the differences between people who live lives of love and belonging, and those who don’t – who struggle to connect.  And she discovered that the only significant difference between the two groups was that those who were living love-and-belonging-filled lives believed they were worthy to have those lives.

So she got really intrigued, and spent the next six years investigating.  She found that the key to the whole puzzle was vulnerability: the willingness to be exactly who you are, and to be fully seen in all your glorious human imperfection.  She found that those who didn’t feel worthy of feeling loved and connected were terrified by such vulnerability and found it excruciating.  Those who felt intrinsically worthy neither loved nor hated being so vulnerable: they simply found it necessary.  They somehow knew that being open – to their own imperfections, to uncertainty, to being disappointed or hurt – was essential to being loved, to connecting deeply to others, to feeling joy.

The irony was that those who resisted being vulnerable because they were afraid of feeling rejected by or disconnected from others – were walled off by their own lack of vulnerability so that they felt rejected by and disconnected from others.

As I was watching, I realized how profoundly true I’ve experienced this to be, not only in my personal life, but professionally as well.  When I’m feel loving and lovable; when I’m comfortable and confident in who I am and what I bring to a situation; when I feel willing to enter with full hope and curiosity into a new relationship – my interactions with others tend to be fun, fluid, productive, creative and joyful.  And this is true whether I’m spending time with friends, cuddling on the couch with my husband, meeting a prospective client, hanging out with my kids and grandchild, working with a client group, or collaborating with a colleague…pretty much whatever.

Brown says so many true and resonant things.  One idea captured me most: she spoke about the fact that people who are vulnerable, who live lives of ‘love and belonging,’ demonstrate three qualities – courage, compassion (for themselves and others) and connection.  She then went on to note that the word courage comes from the French coeur – heart – and that the original definition of courage was ‘to tell the story of one’s life in a whole-hearted way.

I love that.  I want to do it every single day.  So: here’s to the whole-hearted life.


Why Some Books Last

I was truly thrilled to find out that Growing Great Employees was on the INC./800CEOREAD Business Book Bestseller List for December.  I love knowing that people are still finding it valuable five years after it was first published.

It also got me curious about why certain books continue to find an audience over time and some don’t.  On the INC/800CEOREAD list of 25 books, I noticed that about two-thirds are quite recent – published in the last year or two – and about a third are older.  Most of those came out around the same time as Growing Great Employees – 2007 – but 1 or 2 are even older.

To put this in context: about 11,000 business books are published every year in the US.  So why are some of them still selling 5, 10, or even 15 years after they arrive on the scene? And why do the vast majority fade away….even many that sold extremely well when they first came out?

Here’s my hypothesis: I think two kinds of business books continue to sell over time, for two very different reasons.

The first kind I call “promise of a quick fix” books.  I think of them as the diet books of the business world: they propose that you can meet complex challenges with a few minutes of effort, or with one simplistic idea.  I put the perennially-popular One-minute Manager into this category.  We KNOW you can’t actually manage people in minute…but we sure would like it to be possible – so much so, that we’ll buy the book in the hope that it will reveal some magical secret that would make it possible.

The second kind I call “timeless usefulness” books.  They’re books that provide practical insight or skills around an ever-present challenge or area of  endeavor.  For instance, humans will always want to know how to understand what they’re good at and what they’re capable of: books like Strengthsfinder 2.0 (also on INC/8CR’s) list and What Color Is Your Parachute (still selling after 40 years) fulfill that need.

And as long as people work together toward common goals, they will want to understand how to make their organizations work well (Good to Great), how to manage people (Growing Great Employees) and how to lead (Love Leadership – also on the list this month).

I like to think that I’m writing books that fall into the second category: those that offer useful skills and insight to address the challenges that face people in business now, next year, and into the future.


Helping Leaders Balance ‘Being’ and ‘Doing,’ with Mary Jo Asmus

Today I’m starting a series of guest posts featuring folks I’ve come to know and respect online over the past few years; people whose blogs in the leadership and business arena I find especially useful and inspiring.

Allow me to introduce my first guest blogger, Mary Jo Asmus.  Her blog is a continuous pulse of warm insight about leadership, and her company, Aspire Collaborative Services, works with organizations to help their leaders be truly effective.  This post is a bit longer than my usual posts, but I think you’ll find it well worth reading:

Q. You talk about “working at the intersection of leadership and relationships.” I’d love to get your sense of why that intersection is so important, and what ‘lives’ there.

For some reason, the leaders who need to balance their head-thinking (the logical and rational) with more of their heart-feeling (emotions and relationships) seem to gravitate toward the work I do. There aren’t a lot of leaders who model what it’s like to have this balance, and having this balance creates relationship. After all, you aren’t a leader if you don’t have followers, and people follow you because you’ve created a bond with them through relationship.

What resides at this intersection – of leadership and relationship – are corporate environments that reward “doing”, but rarely reward (and often disrespect) “being.” Yet it is “being” more human – working from the right brain and the heart – that creates the foundation for the results organizations seek. As human beings, we’re meant to relate to others in a way that is kind, respectful, open, inclusive, and loving. You wouldn’t see most of these words in a set of leadership competencies; yet they are the very characteristics that create great relationships and great leaders. When leaders demonstrate the opposite of these characteristics (unkind, disrespectful, closed, exclusive, and hateful), they tear people and organizations down.

So I help leaders to genuinely express more of these ‘being’ characteristics into their leadership in order to create the kind of relationships that will help them – and their organizations – to thrive.

Q. What can leaders do differently on a day-to-day basis to create stronger relationships with those they lead?

Since I primarily coach leaders in the middle of the management ladder in large, complex organizations, I often find that not only are they overwhelmed, but they’ve put developing relationships at the bottom of their “to-do” list. The first things they need to do is to prioritize, delegate, and stop doing the things that aren’t adding value in order to make space for the relationships that will support them in being and doing their best.

My advice to them at this point is to get out of the office and be as strategic about building relationships with your stakeholders as you are about meeting your bottom-line goals! I’ve always thought it was odd that strategic plans rarely include anything about reaching out to the people who can help to make the plan a success. We can all be more strategic in this arena.

Also, so many leaders are neglecting themselves in order to do their jobs. Eventually, they burn out. They must find ways to support themselves on a regular basis in the arenas of their emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical health. Almost every leader can improve in one of these areas, and when they put attention to it, they find that they become better leaders in the bargain because they feel more balanced.

Q. What advice do you have for leaders about how to take best advantage of having an executive coach?

I can only speak for myself – other coaches may find other things important. Success in a coaching engagement is as much – or more – about the effort a leader puts into it as it is about my coaching ability. Leaders I work with make progress in coaching when they are honest and open in their sessions, willing to take risks, intentional about practicing their “fieldwork”, and when they reflect and prepare for our meetings. In short, those leaders who are most fully engaged are the ones who make the most progress.

Working with an executive coach takes time and effort. I call it “short term pain for long term gain,” and most good leaders understand that this is what it will take for them to be great. In the end, coaching tends to be the most popular of their leadership development options because it is confidential and customized to their specific needs.

Q. What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I can look back and see that my whole life has led up to this “calling.” Everything I’ve ever done was preparing me for this work. I enjoy being able to apply my own past experiences and learning to this work. I enjoy working hard to get better at what I do.

More importantly it is such a pleasure and an honor to work with great leaders who are interested and invested in being even better. Watching leaders get excited about their progress, achieve their goals, and observing the effect it can have on their life and that of others is pure joy. I know that I am blessed to be a small part of the lives of leaders in this way.

I will likely be doing less coaching in the future, but I won’t give it up. I’ve wanted to make an impact on larger numbers of leaders, and am just beginning to manage some large-scale coaching engagements for Fortune 500’s. With this new aspect of my business, I have more interactions with coaches than with individual organizational leaders. That’s pretty exciting stuff too, because I find executive coaches to be quite amazing people, who model great leadership themselves.


Tikatok Ticks On

Just over a year ago, I posted about working with the team at Tikatok to clarify their core values.  Tikatok is a cool little entrepreneurial company that lives within Barnes & Noble.  Tikatok describes itself on their website as “a fun world where kids create and share their own books.”

At the time, I noted that the five core values the team identified seemed powerful for a couple of reasons – they applied equally to relationships with customers and with each other, and they seemed like clarifications of an already-existing culture on the team, vs. something contrived or overly aspirational.  Their values are:

1)      (TRUST)  We believe in our customers and each other. 
2)      (EMPATHY)  We care and we build communities that care.
3)     (PERSONAL IDENTITY)  We encourage self-expression.
4)     (ACHIEVING FULL POTENTIAL)  We inspire everyone to achieve their full potential.
5)     (HAPPINESS)  We invite people to do what makes them happy.


I remember leaving the session feeling Sharon and her group had a great foundation for success.

Just today, Sharon sent me a link to an article in this month’s edition of Hemispheres, United Airlines inflight magazine.  She and five other entrepreneurs are profiled as “innovators who promise to change the way we live.”  I’m thrilled to see that Tikatok continues to thrive and grow – it reinforces my belief that people can do well by doing good.


Hit the Reset Button

OK, I know that the “new year” is a purely human construct, and has no real meaning beyond that which we give to it.  (If we actually cared about the concept of the new year having some connection to physical reality, I imagine we’d celebrate it at the winter solstice.)

But – too bad.  I still like to think of January 1st as a time to start fresh.  It’s interesting –
my business partner Jeff pointed out me last week that two of my recent January 1sts have come with huge changes that, at the time, seemed only difficult and negative.

Four years ago on January 1st, my first marriage broke up.  And while it was devastating at the time, it opened the way for wonderful things that never would have happened otherwise. As most of you know, it gave me the freedom to meet, fall in love with, and marry my beloved Patrick – and I literally can’t imagine a better life partner, love, friend and companion.  And leaving my former marriage freed me to be more fully myself on many other levels, too.  I believe this is not only true for me, but for my ex-husband, as well.

Then last January 1st, my long-time assistant suddenly announced that she was leaving Proteus. We were already in the midst of big transition – planning to move our East coast offices to New York, focusing on creating significant growth – so it was especially destabilizing.  But now, a year later, I see that it catalyzed us to make a whole variety of needed changes, and has been a very good thing for the organization overall, and for me personally.  My assistant Dan is simply stellar, and it’s great to have our own lovely NYC office (a ten-minute walk from my apartment!)

Here’s why I’m sharing these events in my own life: hitting the reset button isn’t necessarily easy or fun…especially when it’s not your idea.  But even though change may not be your choice, it’s your choice how to respond.  You can either sink into feeling helpless, bitter, overwhelmed, out of control — or you can say, “This is chance to make a fresh start.  This is a chance to take what I’ve learned and improve. This is a chance to create the future I most want.”

To new beginnings, however they may arise.