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.

Visit Erika's Forbes.com Blog

Latest tweets

  • Loading tweets...

Be Bad First

Get Good at Things FAST to Stay Ready for the Future
Learn More...

Leading So People Will Follow

Proven leadership framework that creates loyalty, commitment and results.
Learn More...

Being Strategic

Plan for Success; Out-think Your Competitors; Stay Ahead of Change
Learn More...

Growing Great Employees

Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers
Learn More...

Bg Ribbon Green

Archive for August, 2012


Peter Liguori – How Passion Drives Innovation

“I’ve noticed that young leaders, especially, can fall into the trap of feeling like they need to be dogmatic in order to be seen as powerful. In my experience, the opposite is true.  Last fall I was having a conversation with Peter Liguori, where he was telling me that he thought the Discovery Creative Council should spend some time focusing on how to improve the organization’s creative process.  I disagreed, initially – I thought the council should focus more specifically on generating creative ideas.  Peter listened carefully to my disagreement, then offered a clear and impassioned rationale for his point of view: that he felt strongly that the Council members, as creative executives, were most at the effect of any problems with the creative process, and would have great insights into how to solve them.  He also explained that he was concerned that having the council come up with great creative ideas, and then putting them into a less-than-great organizational process, would be frustrating and counter-productive. He made the case that focusing on the creative process was the more foundational and strategic place to begin.  Peter never told me my point of view was wrong, and he never implied his point of view was the only way to see the situation.  But he made his case so clearly, and with such honest passion, that I was sold.  (And we ended up having a meeting focused on the creative process that has had a positive ripple effect throughout the organization.)”

                                           – From Chapter 4 of Leading So People Will Follow

I really loved facilitating Discovery’s Creative Council, a handpicked group of “productive creatives” from all over the organization, with whom Peter worked to – as I note above – improve Discovery’s creative process and generate fresh ideas. I was sad that Discovery decided to disband the Council when Peter left the company.  The Council members were all interesting, smart folks with great skills and insights, and Peter did a wonderful job of drawing them out and encouraging new thinking.

I observed, in working with the group, that Peter’s combination of deep passion and  openness to disagreement was a powerful catalyst for the council members’ passion.  His approach made it both OK to feel strongly and OK to disagree — and I often saw the group work their way to a better idea because he was modeling that blend of passion and openness for them.

The entire experience made me realize how closely the leadership attribute of passion is tied to innovation. To come up with new, better ways of doing things and then actually implement those new approaches requires deep commitment combined with a curious and inclusive spirit – the essence of true passion. When leaders can find that balance, exciting stuff can unfold…


Nancy Tellem’s Passion Is Deep – Not Loud

“Nancy Tellem is listening intently. I’m telling her about my son’s inspiring experiences with an organization in Kenya, One Home Many Hopes, that rescues orphaned and abandoned girls, and gives them the chance to lead lives of positive contribution.  Nancy has a kind of focused brightness, and when she’s listening, she becomes very still. When I’ve finished speaking, she nods reflectively and then begins to tell me about her own experience with Foundation Rwanda, a group that works with victims of the genocide in Rwanda, providing educational funding for the children born from rape, as well as medical and psychological services to their mothers, and also supports them in finding or creating income-generating activities.  Nancy speaks quietly, but with complete conviction; it is clear to me that she will do whatever is in her power to advance the cause of this organization, and to enlist others in support of it. 

I’ve seen her passion in how she approaches her profession, as well.  When she believes in something, she will support and work for it with true commitment, most often gaining others’ support through the consistency and depth of that commitment. One very public example: in the late 90s, when she was President of Entertainment for CBS, she became convinced that “Expedition Robinson,” an incredibly successful Swedish show about people trying to survive on an island, and being asked to leave one by one (sound familiar?) that had been considered too controversial for American TV, could become a huge hit here.  She fought for it with clear rationale and quiet determination, marshaling her team to overcome the financial and even psychological concerns.  She gained the support she needed; Survivor first aired on CBS in 2000 – and the rest is, as they say, history. 

Nancy’s passion has built her an equally passionate following; a few years ago, standing at a celebration with members of her team, listening to them speak of her with genuine affection, admiration and respect, I realized that her passion – along with her other leadership qualities – had made her a true leader.”

                                         – From Chapter 4 of Leading So People Will Follow


The quality of Nancy’s passion is one of the things I enjoy most about having her as a friend and colleague. True passion in a leader is an unusual thing: it combines elements that may seem mutually exclusive.  Passionate leaders are deeply committed to the causes, goals and ideas that are meaningful to them, and yet they are also open and curious…even in those areas where they are most passionate. They keep listening; they stay respectful of others’ points of view. Their passion doesn’t devolve into dogmatism or demonization of those with opposing viewpoints.

I’ve often noticed this wonderful combination in conversation with Nancy: when we’re discussing something about which she feels strongly, she’ll  still invite and consider my point of view, and stay engaged even if it’s very different from hers.

When a leader can find that balance point — of being deeply committed without being close-minded — that person’s followers are free to come to their own conclusions, and their support then comes not from coercion or fear of reprisal, but rather from their own passion, their own sense of what’s important. Passion in a leader is inspiring; it helps to catalyze our own sense of purpose.


Josh Sapan’s Far-sightedness Catalyzes Innovation

One leader I know who’s especially good at this aspect of far-sight [curiosity-based testing of their vision] is Josh Sapan, the President and CEO of AMC Networks.  Over the years, I’ve watched Josh throw out ideas about possible futures to his team, using a “where we could go” and “who we could be” frame that most people find both compelling and inclusive.  At first, he can be charmingly self-deprecating about the possibility he’s presenting.  And sometimes the ideas are shown to be unrealistic or not useful – and then Josh may be the first to let them go.  But often the ideas take shape and acquire heft and power in the interchange, and as that happens I see Josh – and the team – gain ever greater confidence in the future they’re envisioning. I notice that even people who may not have been engaged by the idea to begin with start to feel the pull of the possibility: it becomes increasingly compelling to them as it’s shaped in conversation.  And this approach, of reflecting on and discussing an idea together, is by its very nature inclusive.  Under Josh’s stewardship, the AMC Networks brands have grown and prospered dramatically, and continue to break new ground in the media landscape – and I believe this ability of Josh’s, to envision new possibilities and then express them with increasing clarity and confidence, is an important element of that success.

                                             – From Chapter 3 of Leading So People Will Follow


I have the great pleasure of watching Josh in action on a regular basis. He holds a quarterly strategy meeting with his team that I get to facilitate.  It’s a big meeting – almost 30 people – but it feels much smaller, because Josh creates such an open, inquisitive environment.  Ideas get teed up, thrown around, pursued or dismissed. People ask questions, disagree, say “I don’t understand” or “What does that mean?” They laugh, listen to each other, stay engaged, get excited.

This is an important part of Josh’s far-sightedness: he focuses on the future in such a compelling and inclusive way that he draws people into a place of curiosity about the possibilities. He ignites their own farsightedness.

I’ve seen the power of this again and again. AMC Networks has had tremendous success over the past decade. Some of the key ideas have come from Josh, but most of them have come from folks on his team.  He catalyzes, invites and rewards their vision. True farsightedness in a leader is infectious.




Bonnie Hammer And The Power of Seeing The Future

“Bonnie Hammer is tiny. She stands before the Universal Cable Production Studios team, forty-some people who together have created some of the most successful cable television shows of the past few years—Warehouse 13, Royal Pains, and Psych among them—and those in back rows have to sit up straight to see her. This is the first time in the studio’s brief history that the whole group has come together to focus on their vision for the studio’s future and plan how to get there.

Bonnie is the chairman of NBCU Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. She’s had huge success building her portfolio of businesses over the past decade, so folks in the room respect her and would be ready to listen even if she wasn’t inspiring. But she is. She may be little, but her energy is infectious, and she builds a picture of how the media industry is changing and the role this group could play; of how the studio can succeed both financially and creatively in this new world. She talks about how their collaboration with each other and with all their partners both inside and outside the company will support them in creating great content for people to enjoy not only on TV but online, on their phones, in games, and on platforms and in formats yet to be invented. She describes a future of risk taking rewarded, of working hard, having fun, being pioneers.

Everyone in the room is engaged; there are smiles and nods. Watching from the side of the room, I see that at this moment, they are fully accepting her as their leader.

Bonnie is far-sighted…Over the years as I’ve worked with her and her teams, I’ve watched her again and again as she pulls people’s eyes up from the ground and turns them toward the far horizon, describing a possible future and inviting people to go there with her. She shares her vision of the future in a compelling and inclusive way.”

– From Chapter 3 of Leading So People Will Follow

When I started writing this book, almost three years ago, I immediately thought of including Bonnie.  The first time she and I met, I had come to speak with her about an executive on her team I was going to be coaching.  Within a few minutes, she impressed me as being both unpretentious and powerful – an unusual and appealing combination. As I got to know her, I felt it even more strongly.  And I also saw other great balances in her: she is both tough and kind; logical and intuitive; and – especially this – operational and far-sighted.  I could have chosen Bonnie as an examplar for a number of the Leading attributes, but I picked far-sighted because she’s such an excellent model of the power of having and sharing a clear vision.

I especially enjoy watching her as she consistently brings her team’s focus back to the big picture: Why are we doing this, and how does it serve or not serve our overall vision and our key goals?  She always does it in a respectful way – there’s no “I’m far-sighted and you’re not” sting to it – but it puts possible actions in the proper context and reminds everyone to think and act strategically about how best to use their time, attention and resources.

It’s a great practice for anyone in a leadership position to emulate. And that’s why I’ve chosen the 12 leaders I’ve used as examples throughout Leading So People Will Follow. I thought that, in addition to clarifying the six Leading attributes and offering practical ideas for developing them, it would be useful to my readers have real-world models of the attributes in action.

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be writing blog posts about each of my exemplars in the order in which they appear in the book. It’s a way for me to introduce you to these wonderful folks, and also to give you a ‘sneak peek’ at the book’s content.

Next up, AMC Networks’ Josh Sapan…..


Fully Accepted Leaders

The launch of Leading So People Will Follow, on October 9th, is coming up fast.  The interesting thing about publishing books (at least for me) is that everything else keeps going along as usual, with this fairly large project plunked down in the middle of it all!  I’m still coaching, consulting and facilitating client groups; still running the business with my partner Jeff; deeply involved in our Proteus re-brand; focused on continuing to develop my own skills and capabilities and those of my Proteus colleagues; spending as much time as possible with my husband and family….and at the same time, doing all the ramp-up required to launch a book well.

The leaders I’ve profiled in Leading are a big inspiration to me in this regard – many of them have far busier lives than I do, with responsibility for leading thousands of folks, and they do it with grace and thoughtfulness.

So I thought that I’d spend the next 6 weeks doing a kind of homage to them here on the blog, both because I’m such a fan of each of them and also to provide you with a kind of sneak peek at the book.

Each of my next 12 posts here will be focused on one of the Leading exemplars; I’ll include a brief excerpt from the book that focuses on how they lead, and then add a little about what I’ve seen and appreciated in working with them over the years. I’ll introduce the leaders in the order in which they appear in the book, and let you know which of the six attributes I chose each person to exemplify.

I’m very excited about giving you a small window into these folks and their leadership – each of them has enriched my life, and I believe they’ll be an inspiration to you, as well.

So stay tuned:  on Sunday I’ll be introducing you to Bonnie Hammer…


Bill Ringle – Helping Entrepreneurs Turn Talent Into Wealth

I met Bill Ringle when he asked me to participate in his interview series My Quest for the Best. He asked such good questions that I offered to return the favor!  So here’s my interview with Bill – I hope you find his insights provocative and useful.

Bill Ringle is the founder of Rapid Rise Business Academy and author of the upcoming book What Winners Say. He believes that business is fundamentally a vehicle for converting talent into wealth. Ringle is the author or contributing author of four business books and over 400 articles, and is a frequent media guest on strategy, marketing, and the psychology of business growth. Business leaders work with Bill to launch new products/companies, increase market share, develop high-performing teams, and slash labor intensity. To meet Bill and find more resources to help grow your business, follow @BillRingle and visitwww.AskBillRingle.com.

Much of your work is with entrepreneurs.  What are the key qualities required, from your point of view, to be a successful entrepreneur?

Successful entrepreneurs tend to define what success means to them personally and don’t waste time chasing someone else’s dream or living under inherited assumptions or limitations. It requires a big mindshift from how the culture says you ought to be successful. But let’s take it one step further.

Let’s talk about the single biggest characteristic and observable behavior that separates the wanna-be entrepreneurs from really successful entrepreneurs, in terms of both revenue and impact. True entrepreneurs have a strong commitment to make a big vision a reality because it will make a difference.

Let me give you an example.When I sat on the board of an angel venture group, within the first two minutes, we wanted to hear the entrepreneur talk about a big problem, one that mattered to people, and to which she or he had the solution. There were other important factors, of course, like scalability, patentability, and a strong team, but those were all secondary to solving a big problem that mattered.

You talk about the “inner game” of business. Can you share with us some of your insights about what that game is and how to play it well?

This is important for leaders in businesses of all sizes. Basically, the outer game is the numbers, the environment and the products. The inner game is how people feel about who they are; what it’s like to do their job; how they think about using and developing their skills; what they expect, hope for, and appreciate about their relationships; and how they see the rewards of working at a particular company.

It’s useful to talk about the game of business as having an outer and inner aspect because it allows us to discuss rules, team building and measuring success from both aspects.

Mindset, which is the core of your inner game, makes such a big difference, but because it is an “invisible” factor, it is often overlooked, undervalued, and undisciplined.

The economy in the US and world-wide has been very strange over the past four years (to say the least). What advice do you have for business owners and leaders about how to succeed in this environment?

The single most important tactical thing I’ve told business clients has been to tune down or turn off the mass media. It’s about choosing your focus. The messages you’ll find on TV and in the news won’t help you cultivate a strong, positive mindset.

Deliberately identify and hang out with positive people, who want to see you succeed because they themselves have a strong self-image, business/professional foundation, and an optimistic viewpoint. Cutting down TV, radio, and print media frees up hours a week that you can devote to improving your business or enjoying your relationships more. That’s a great tradeoff!

What do you like most about having your own business?

I love making a difference and sharing tools and ideas that help people reach their goals through their businesses. I know that through the work I’ve done, my clients have prospered. One of the ideas I’m known for is that business is a vehicle for converting talent into wealth. Wealth isn’t the end goal, but it does bring freedom and freedom brings choices. When you have a successful business, you have more choices about where to live, where your children go to school, the food you eat, how and when and for how long you go on vacations, and other good stuff. That idea is always in the back of my mind as I’m helping someone because I want that for the person I’m working with and all of his or her employees as well as their families.

As you think ahead to the end of your life (many years hence!), what do you hope will be your legacy – how do you want to be remembered?

That’s a great question. Thanks for asking, Erika. I love talking about this with you and other successful entrepreneurs because we will have both private and public legacies. There will be the legacy of love we leave to our families and close friends and the legacy of our work that continues to add value and enrich lives after we step away from the business.

If you want to have a better future, it starts with having a better perspective on the present. I consider the legacy question as a set of concentric rings emanating outward. Here are the five most important levels to me.

I want to be remembered by my family for the love, hugs, laughs and adventures we created and shared.

I want to be remembered by my work team and colleagues as someone who recognized and appreciated their contributions more and more each year and gave them opportunities to develop and grow, at work and beyond.

I want to be remembered by my business clients for helping them achieve greater prosperity and freedom than they imagined when they launched their dreams and formed or joined a business.

I want to be remembered in the tennis community for the resources I developed that brought the joys, excitement, and growth opportunities of enjoying the game to thousands of people.

I want to be remembered by you who encounter the body of my work online as someone who inspired you to live up to your highest vision of your life, especially if you’ve chosen the path of a business founder, owner, or leader.


If You Treat People Like Robots, That’s How They’ll Act

My husband and I were watching an old episode of Doctor Who last night, where the Doctor and Rose had traveled back to 1953.  One of the characters was an officious, Napoleon-esque little man who tried to keep his wife, mother-in-law  and son in line by the simple expedient of getting right in their faces and shouting “I’m talking – you listen to me when I’m talking!” whenever they tried to say anything. He did it in order to keep any of them from saying something that might call into question his version of reality.  He wanted to be the one saying what was so and what wasn’t. He wanted to see and hear only those parts of his family that he deemed acceptable.

courtesy of Andre Blais

It occurred to me, as I was watching, that too many organizations and managers practice the same approach. Through a combination of implicit and explicit rules that severely limit people’s autonomy, curiosity, and independent response, such companies and managers think that they will somehow produce a tidy, well-functioning, highly productive organization.

For instance, in one organization we worked with many years ago for a brief period, it was widely known that if the CEO said something in a meeting, the only safe response was agreement.  The CEO took this lack of disagreement as consensus, and bragged about his team “all being on the same page.”  In another company, the leave and vacation policies were so strict, and so rigorously enforced, that many talented people – especially young parents and people who had health issues or family requiring care – simply went on to other jobs because there was so little flexibility.  The CEO in yet another organization decided one day that outside callers were going to voice mail too often, and so decreed that no one in the company would have voice mail.  The organization tied itself in knots trying to get around that one in order to do business at all, creating a whole shadow system of routing callers to cell phones that had voice mail messages, etc.

I am not making any of this up.

If you deal with employees as though they are cogs in a machine, you will get only that part of them that is most like a cog in a machine: the part that shows up on time, does exactly what’s asked – no more no less – and goes home.  You will not get the 90% of each person that is what can make him or her a great employee, partner, team member: the initiative, the questions, the passion, the concerns, the hope, all the quirkiness and joy and excellence that people will bring to their work if you invite them to do so.

Of course, it’s harder to manage and lead real, full human beings. You have to bring your whole self to work, and decide to let them bring their whole self, too. You have to make sure that the “guard rails” you put up – the rules and policies – are fair, and reasonable, and actually hold people accountable for great work (vs. reinforcing mediocrity).  You have to look at each person as an individual and consider flexing the rules if it will help both that person and the organization. You have to think about how it would feel if someone treated you the way you’re treating them…and figure out how to behave differently if you decide it would feel like crap.

It’s harder…but it’s the only way to create a great organization.



Motivation and Priority – What’s the Connection?

I just found out via a tweet from a friend, Franke James, that this blog has been named one of the top 50 leadership blogs. As you might imagine, I was pleased and humbled. And, interestingly, I felt inspired to post more regularly here.

That got me curious.  Was it purely my competitive nature (being #49 on the list, and wanting to move up)? Or was it something else?  It got me thinking about motivation and prioritization.  I think the two are very closely linked, and that this link is largely unrecognized.  A lot of people talk about prioritization (all time management courses and systems are basically about prioritization), and a lot of people talk about motivation (think about how many ‘motivational speakers’ there are in the world), but what’s the connection between the two?

I’m convinced that motivation trumps prioritization every time.  We do what’s important to us.  For example, I know someone who’s been ‘making exercise a priority’ for the last 10 years…and pretty much never exercises; it’s not important to him.

If blogging here has suddenly moved up my priority list, then that says to me that finding out it’s a top leadership blog has suddenly made it more important to me.  And why is that?

Here’s what I think. There are three things that are truly important to me: achieving my own hoped-for future; loving and supporting my husband and children; and doing things that help the greatest number of people. So discovering that a bunch of people find this blog helpful has suddenly made it more important to me. Until yesterday, I thought of it a little bit as my own pet project – prioritized behind all the other things happening right now (Leading So People Will Follow about to launch; creating the multi-rater Fully Accepted Leader assessment; re-branding Proteus; keeping up with our business growth; finding enough time with my family). I’ve been thinking of my Forbes blog as my “real” blog.  But this discovery moves erikaandersen.com up the list.

So.  Expect to see more regular posts from now on. If you’re reading it – I’ll write it. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it and finding it useful.