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 April, 2012


Deja Vu All Over Again

Today my husband and I were talking about one of the traits we’re glad we share: we’re both very willing to enjoy things over and over, and at the same time, we love finding and experiencing new things.  For instance, we wake up every weekend morning and look out our bedroom window at the trees, and the Hudson, and the sky, and find it beautiful and engaging every time. And each spring we’re charmed anew by the fresh unfolding of the season.

And then tonight, I was searching ‘spring’ here on my blog – just to see what I had said in years past, and found this post from last April:

Spring never fails to charm me.  Everything gradually waking up, reviving; all the rough grays, browns and tans softening, showing green or red.  Purple croci, yellow daffodils.  Running water appears from snow.  Mist on the river instead of ice.

You’d think it would get boring – after all, it’s pretty much the same every year.  But I find that if I’m open to being touched, lovely things always touch me.

Which makes me think that the experience of being jaded – “been there, done that” – is pretty much entirely a matter of what you assume about what’s happening, vs. the event itself.

For example, I know that I could look at the tree outside our bedroom window – we call it the beauty tree – and think, “Yeah, OK, here it goes again, just like every year: the buds that are starting to swell.  Then the leaves will unfurl from the buds.  Ho hum.” And that if I framed it that way in my mind I wouldn’t really see it; I would just check it off my mental list as something familiar.

But I can also not do that. Instead, I can sit in bed and notice how something that seemed completely dead two weeks ago is changing before my eyes; that the angular structure of every branch is softened by the rounding of the buds, making the ends of the branches almost hazy, and that tiny stripes and touches of the tenderest green color are beginning to give that haziness the look of green gauze.  I can be astonished by the beauty and the relentless, quiet swell of renewed life.

I can choose to be bored; I can choose to be enchanted.

And I thought – that’s exactly the experience I’ve been having the past couple of weeks; that’s pretty much the experience I have every year.

I very much appreciate that somehow I am mostly open to what’s happening in a given moment.  In the present moment, there is almost always something to be learned, to be enjoyed, to be explored, to be savored. And that moment can be fully engaging whether it’s filled with brand new experiences or experiences you’ve had a hundred times.

Almost every spiritual tradition in the world encourages people to live in the present moment (even Christianity: a verse in the gospel of Matthew notes, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”).

Why do you suppose that is?  I’m convinced it’s because we’re only fully alive when we’re aware of this moment.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about some mindless state of not thinking or planning (I’m all about envisioning/planning/executing).  I’m just saying that when my consciousness is grounded in the present moment, even as I’m  thinking about the future; when I’m aware of myself and of the world and the people around me – I truly enjoy being alive.

I recommend it highly.


What is Wisdom?

Today when I went to respond to a comment on my Forbes blog, I was struck by the quote of the day:

Cleverness is not wisdom.

And it made me think: there a lot of qualities that are somehow adjacent to wisdom, yet having them doesn’t necessarily make you wise. For example, intelligence, knowledge, analytical ability, thoughtfulness and – yes – cleverness.  All are generally useful and positive, all have to do with mental capability, Since wisdom is primarily a mental capability, too, I think it’s easy to confuse having these things with being wise.  Also, people want to believe they’re wise, so if we’re smart or clever or thoughtful, I think it’s appealing to assume that also means we’re wise.

So, what is wisdom?  I’ve thought about this a good deal, and spent years observing and coming to conclusions about it. Wisdom is one of the six core leader attributes in my new book, Leading So People Will Follow, and we’ve broken it into five behaviors, so you know it when you see it (and so you can tell if you are or aren’t being wise).  Wise leaders:

  • Are deeply curious – listen!they’re like children in their will to explore, and to understand what they discover.  
  • Assess situations objectively (fair witness)they make every effort to see people and situations as accurately as possible.
  • Reflect on and learn from their experiencewhether things go well or badly, they glean everything they can, to improve going forward.
  • See patterns and share their insights with othersthey “pull back the camera” to see the core elements – and they say what they see.
  • Act based on what they believe to be morally rightthey’re clear about their own moral code, and they live by it.

As you can see, from my point of view, wisdom requires intelligence, thoughtfulness and analytical ability – but it’s more than any of them.  The essence of wisdom is to be insatiably curious and yet objective, and then to reflect on and decide how best to move forward, based on what’s you’ve discovered.

There’s something about wisdom that seems old-fashioned; the monarch in an ancient tale; the guru at the top of the mountain. And yet, I believe wisdom is more essential today than ever before. With so much information, opinion, and activity coming at us all the time, it’s critical to be able to step back and get curious about what’s really happening; to look for patterns; to make decisions based both on objectivity and on a sense of what is morally right.

Without wisdom to guide us through, this 21st century world can devolve into a barrage of images and emotions, overwhelming and senseless. With wisdom, our vision, passion and courage have a foundation.

Since I started by quoting a wise man on what wisdom isn’t, I’ll end by quoting another wise man on what it is:

It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
Henry David Thoreau


Wally Bock on Leadership, Blogging and Books

Wally Bock is one of my favorite ‘virtual colleagues’ (we’ve never actually met in person).  I find him unfailingly thoughtful, kind, and supportive – and his insights about leadership always strike me as both practical and aspirational.

I recently interviewed Wally via email (of course!); I wanted to share his coolness and wisdom with those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of his company, as well as those who have.

Q: “Three Star Leadership” has been a top-rated leadership blog for a number of years.  How did you start writing it – and where did you get the name?

Writing has always been part of my business and life. I wrote my first book in 1972. Over the years I’ve done articles, marketing copy, web copy, audio and video scripts and columns. I thought that blogging would be a perfect vehicle for me and the kind of value I deliver, so I started the blog as a trial and continued it when it worked. Two thousand plus posts later, it’s still working.

The name comes from some research I did on the difference between top-performing supervisors and other supervisors. When I asked senior management to identify their best supervisors, they didn’t always choose those who were good, let alone the best. Eventually I discovered that I needed to study people who were rated as excellent by three groups: their bosses, their peers, and their subordinates. The great ones got star ratings from all three groups, hence, “Three Star Leadership.”

Q: I know that you’re largely focused, at this point, on helping people write great business books. It seems like a valuable service, since so many people want to write books. Can you tell us how you approach the process?

Most of the people who contact me are thinking about writing a book, but, since they’ve never done it, they have lots and lots and lots of questions. They have very different wants and wildly different preferences. That’s why I developed what I call an Options Review Session; a free, no-obligation one-hour session where you can ask all the questions you’ve got about writing and publishing a book that will help you achieve your goals. I answer as well as I can. Some of the people who have an Options Review Session decide that I can help them with their project, either as a ghostwriter or a coach. I only work with people in situations where I think we can produce a great book.

If I’m the ghostwriter, then I’m the one with the fingers on the keys. I’m the kind of ghostwriter who’s a writing partner, not a transcriber or editor. I work on projects where I can bring some expertise to the party beyond the ability to string subjects and predicates together.

Coaching varies a lot according to what my client needs. I’m a good idea sharpener so I can help structure the project. I know the market, so I can suggest ways to add value to the book. And I’ve written (by most standards) a lot of books, so I know some things that work and some that lead to trouble. The client picks the amount of contact that he or she wants. Some want regular sessions. Others prefer to schedule a session when they need one.

Q: In order to be excited about this work, you clearly have to like business books.  What do you see as the value business books bring?

Great business books deliver value on both sides of the process. Readers get their thinking challenged and pick up new ideas, insights, and inspiration. But there’s value for the author, too. Authors gain expertise and confidence by working with their material in new ways and in depth.

Q: Everything we’re talking about has to do with information: how it gets shared, what we do with it.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about how things are changing in this area, and why it’s important.

Information is now readily available at any hour of the day or night no matter where you are in the world. When I was starting out in business, you spent most of your time finding information and less of your time figuring out how to use it or present it. Now, finding the information is the easy part and you can spend more time on use and presentation.

Just because information is available doesn’t mean it’s accurate or complete. The information we get today is often not filtered or vetted. We have to become our own editors and researchers, figuring out what’s true and what isn’t.

I think that within the next 10 years the majority of the information that we use for business purposes, including books, will be accessed digitally. Business books will get shorter and shorter.

For decades, the “standard” business book has been about 200 – 250 pages, more than 60,000 words most of the time. In most of those books, the core ideas could be expressed in much less space, so too many books are mostly padding. Look for more business ‘books” to come in between 10,000 and 25,000 words, offering readers more value and more choice.

Q:  Finally, when you think about your life as a professional, what’s one way in which you believe you’ve had a strong positive influence on the world?

I think the greatest contribution I’ve made so far is that I have helped hundreds of men and women do a better job as a boss. I’ve affected their lives, the lives of the people on their teams, and the lives of their families and friends. I think that’s pretty great stuff. A lot of what I write today continues that work.

As you mentioned, a lot of my work today is helping people produce great business books. I want to make a difference in the lives of the people I work with and also in the lives and careers of the people who read their books.


Living in the Middle

My ex-husband sent me this link the other day, and I’ve since shared it with a number of people.  It’s a wonderfully simple yet detailed animation showing the relative size of objects in the physical universe.  By means of a scroll bar at the bottom of the page, you start at 10 to the 0 power (1 meter), and you can then make the graphic go all the way down to 10-35, on the infinitesimally tiny end – the abode of “quantum foam” and “string,” as in “string theory” – and to 1027 at the unimaginably vast end; the estimated size of the observable universe.

And there’s a human being, more or less in the middle.  That seems just right to me.

I’ve noticed that when people think of themselves as ‘too big’ – that is, as of having greater importance in the grand scheme of things than they actually do – it leads to all kinds of problems.  They tend, then, to think they’re more important than others, and to act accordingly: they must be right and others (who are different from them, or who disagree with them) must be wrong.  They can see the world as disposable, theirs to do with what they will. They can lose sight of how their actions affect others negatively – or, even more problematic, they can simply not care.

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that when people think they’re ‘smaller’ than they are – that their place in the universe is less than it actually is – they tend to behave in one of two unfortunate ways.  Either their actions demonstrate their belief that they’re tiny and powerless – not standing up for themselves, not trying to have a positive influence on the world, letting cruel or unfair practices stand without question.  Or their behavior demonstrates a continual defense against their belief they have no power: they’re aggressive, reactive, suspicious, envious.

The people I most admire and like seem to see their place in the universe pretty accurately: they’re content and comfortable to exist along the continuum of life. They recognize that some objects and events are much larger and more powerful than they are, and some are much smaller and less influential.  They have ‘reasonable aspirations’ about the impact they can have on their own and others’ lives – and they act to fulfill those aspirations.

Perhaps most important, their sense of their place in the universe fills them with curiosity and wonder, vs. fear, belligerence, or over-weening pride.  They are content, appreciative, and ready for life.

I think the core reason I love this graphic so much is that it marries logic and spirit: it’s a wonderfully scientific representation of the wisdom of the middle path.