When I described our most recent restructuring plan to a friend – a seasoned and successful financial professional – he was certain we must have hired McKinsey & Co. to help us think things through. Wrong. It was Erika Andersen. Danny Meyer, President, Union Square Hospitality Group


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Archive for January, 2013

Jan
30

If Something Happens All the Time, It Can Still Be a Miracle

I’ve realized lately that there’s something I love no matter what form it takes: growth. The process of something changing its form to become more complete, more mature, more fully established and able to fulfill its innate purpose – wonderful.

SAM_0407It’s marvelous to observe in nature; it’s why I enjoy gardening so much. Think about it: a tomato seed is tiny, almost transparent, fragile-looking.  (If you’ve never seen a tomato seed, here’s a comparison: a tomato seed is about the size and shape of this capital O.) And that tiny object, when put in the ground and watered, first breaks through the ground as a little green seedling. And then over the next few months – a remarkably short period of time – it grows as tall and wide as an adult person, yields dozens and dozens of tomatoes, each of which is hundreds of times larger than the original seed.

Miraculous.

And I’ve understood that growth – any kind of growth –  requires two things: a framework for expansion and a compulsion to evolve.  In nature, DNA provides that framework.  The tomato seed contains all the instructions needed for the fully mature plant, as the human egg and sperm do for the adult human being.

The compulsion to evolve is the thing that fascinates me.  I see it in all life: it shows up in animals as the urge to survive and reproduce; in plants as breaking through the ground, turning toward the light. It shows up in human beings as curiosity, competition, the will to create a better life for one’s children.

Earlier this week I had the chance to spend a couple of days with a very senior team in a large client company of ours.  I’ve been coaching the leader of this team for the past five or six years. My intention – as is always the case when I coach – has been to offer him good frameworks for growth, and help him get in touch with his own compulsion to evolve. It’s been a joy to observe his growth, as a person and as professional, over these years.

But this time I saw his team evolving, as well, and it was so exciting to me.  Over the past five years, I’ve worked with this team on 3 different occasions. This time, I saw framework + compulsion.  By framework, I mean that they’re finally set up properly: they have the right people in the right roles, they’re clearer than ever on what they’re trying to do and how they’ll do it. We did some work in this session that helped clarify those framing supports even more.

The new thing though, and the most wonderful to see: the awakening of the compulsion to evolve. In previous iterations, there were people on the team who weren’tat all sure they wanted to grow as a team.  This time, every single person in the room genuinely wanted to evolve into a high-performance team that will get great results and have fun doing it.

And to me, that’s as amazing as the tiny seed becoming a gigantic fruitful plant.  That a group of people would come together and make a conscious decision to pool their passion, their experience and their trust in order to evolve into a new thing; a team.

A business miracle.


Jan
22

Language As a Living Creature

My partner Jeff sent me this wonderful article from The Week a few days ago.  It’s a list (with definitions) of 14 words for which there are no English equivalents.  A couple of them pinpoint experiences I’ve had so precisely (Koi No Yokan, in Japanese, is the sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love) or are so obviously high-utility (Zeg, In Georgian, means ‘the day after tomorrow’) that I immediately wanted to co-opt them and insert them into English.

And it made me reflect on the wonderfully organic nature of language.  Live languages grow like organisms: they evolve toward usefulness and away from functional dead ends; they interbreed with other languages to acquire elements that serve them better.  For instance, think of all the words that we now think of as English, but that are actually borrowing of genetic material, if you will, from other languages.  Words that we added into our lexicon because we didn’t have a good word in English for the concept or thing they describe.  A few examples:

Kindergarten – German for “children’s garden”; a great word to describe a place where children go to grow that’s not quite a school but more than a play group

Rendezvous – In French, rendez – vous, “go to you”; a meeting, usually with one other person, at a predetermined time and place…a very useful word, and so – voila! – we now think of it as English. (Like “voila,” a contraction of vois la which means “see there” and which we use to mean lots of things, from “there you go,” to “here it so,” or “so it happens.”  Also very useful.)

Pundit – In Hindi payndit is ‘a learned man, master or teacher.’ Good to have a single word to describe someone who is considered (though perhaps only self-considered) an expert on a particular topic.

And then there are all the words that morph into new parts of speech to suit a particular need. At what exact point in time, I wonder, did Google become a verb as well as a descriptive noun?

As the pace of change and the globalization of communication continues, I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings in terms of the evolution of the English language.

For myself, I’m going to just start using a bunch of these words – including Lagom (Swedish for “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right”).

 


Jan
16

Putting Up Your Sails – 01/16/13

I just spent a couple of days doing something that’s become a yearly ritual for me, and is one of the highlights of my year: I attended 800CEOREAD’s Author Pow Wow.  If you’re seriously considering writing a business book, I can’t recommend this conference highly enough.  It’s a small (intentionally small) gathering of business book authors and authors-to-be, along with publishers, publicists, agents, and a few highly-regarded folks in social media and speaking skills.  The purpose is to help authors understand the business of creating and marketing business books, in order to help them be more successful. The publicists and publishers, et al, donate their time – but I suspect they’re on the lookout for great new authors as clients and partners; I met my dear and awesome publicists Barbara and Rusty at past Pow Wows.

I’ve attended four out of the past six years, and every year I’ve created great new relationships and learned valuable stuff.  This year I was thrilled that a dear friend of mine, Mitch Ditkoff, attended. Mitch has just started working with my wonderful agent Jim Levine, and has a book proposal out – so the timing was perfect for him.  It was so fun for me watching him absorb everything.

Figure out where the right wind is blowing for you…

Now I’m on the plane, on my way back to New York, and I’m seeing a larger ‘good’ here, one that I wanted to share with you.

There are many more pulls on our time these days than any of us can accommodate. On top of your “regular” life – family, job, exercise, etc.  – people (and websites) are continually recommending conferences, books, videos, friends, parties, consultants, etc. etc. It’s easy to get into a kind of automatic “no thanks” mode, just to avoid getting overwhelmed.

But being in the right place at the right time can be so incredibly valuable, that I think it’s worth it to pause, when someone (especially someone you trust) suggests a new way to invest your time.  Take a breath, take a minute, think about whether that particular event or person might be truly helpful in taking you where you want to go, or in expanding your life in an important way.  In other words, reflect on whether that particular “wind” might be blowing strongly enough in the right direction that it’s worth putting up your sails to catch it.

Sometimes (and this is certainly true for me in the case of the Pow Wow) that wind really catches you, and moves you even farther and faster than you expected, toward your destination.

Bon voyage…

Very warmly,

Erika

Posted in Insider List

Jan
15

An Exaltation of Larks

There’s a name for phrases like this: in the English language, collective nouns for groups of a specific animal are called “terms of venery.”  For instance, “a pride of lions,” or “a gaggle of geese.”  As I understand it, this tradition began in Europe in the middle ages – and it became a fun and fashionable thing to do to create whimsical and ever-more-exotic terms of venery.  In fact, in the 15th century there was even a fad for extending terms of venery to groups of human beings (“a sentence of judges,” “a melody of harpers”).

Some of these terms are simply wonderful.  “An exaltation of larks”  is one of my favorites, but I also like “a murder of crows” and “a clowder of cats.”  I love how these terms were created to capture some essential quality of the animal described.

Over the past couple of days, I was in Austin to attend 800CEOREAD’s Author Pow Wow – an absolutely marvelous, fun, useful yearly conference of business book authors and the people who support and partner with us in the creation of our books: publishers, publicists, social media consultants, presentation skills experts, ghostwriters, agents.

It’s so great.  Spending two days with 40 smart, curious, funny, collaborative people who are trying to figure out how to teach and share important ideas in an industry that’s changing faster than we can name the changes: Exhilarating. Inspiring. Reassuring.

So, my extreme thanks to 800CEOREAD, and Pow Wow sponsors Cave Henricks Communications, Shelton Interactive, and Greenleaf Book Group.

And I’ve decided that the proper term for our Pow Wow group is “an insight of business book authors.”


Jan
10

Six Years and Counting

I started this blog six years ago today (time flies when you’re having fun…)  on the advice of a young publicist who worked for the publisher of my first book, Growing Great Employees, which had just been launched.  I remember clearly being daunted by the suggestion: I knew what a blog was, I had actually read some blogs.  But to create my own?

She recommended that I go to TypePad, where there was a really good, remarkably simple set-up-your-own-blog tutorial. A few hours later: voila!  Blogging!

So here we are, six years later, and social media is not only not daunting to me – it’s fascinating, fun and useful.  My social media platform  has become a big part of my brand – this blog, my Forbes blog, twitter, facebook, the Insider List, our LinkedIn group, Pinterest - and a great way to interact with people who share an interest in our work around leader readiness.  A big change in a fairly short period of time.

But, on the other hand, some things are remarkably consistent over time.  My initial post was about Robert Nardelli, who had just gotten fired from Home Depot. And even that specific situation is no longer current, the point of the article (that leaders ignore the “people part” of business at their peril) is still completely relevant. An excerpt:

At the same time, we’ve relegated the actual nuts-and-bolts people part of leadership – finding great people, bringing them into the organization well, providing them with the skills and knowledge they need in order to support the organization’s success – to a kind of second-class citizenship; it’s there, but it’s not nearly as interesting or sexy. Even though we all nodded wisely when Jim Collins told us, in Good to Great, that the first task of a “Level 5 Leader” is to get the right people on the bus, sitting in the right seats (yes, we knew that! we said to each other), we still behave as though people management is a kind of necessary evil; something that middle managers do when they’re not doing their real jobs. Company sloganeering about “people are our most important asset” and “we grow and develop our people” aside, people leadership is just not that cool these days. Executives even say, disparagingly, of other executives, “Well, I guess he or she is a good manager” – implying that the person is a plodder, not innovative, not much of a leader.

I wrote a post a few months ago at Forbes titled “Manage or Lead? Do Both.” – making pretty much the same point.

In other words, 6 years and over 400 posts later, even though social media has evolved dramatically, creating new business opportunities and consumar expectations in its wake; even though the entire media landscape overall is morphing even as we speak; even though national and global economies are transforming; even though a new generation is coming of age…still, the core elements of leading and managing remain the same – they’re based on timeless human needs and aspirations.

In fact, I’ll make a prediction: I believe that six years from now I’ll still be writing about managing and leading well, in a way that inspires and elicits people’s best, that builds strong teams and organizations and creates great results. I’ll be talking about why it’s important, what gets in the way, and how to do it. I’ll be inviting you to share your experiences and insights as well, so we can all keep developing our understanding and putting it into practice.

I’ll see you there…


Jan
2

A New Year; New Possibilities – 01/02/13

Here’s a quote to start your year off right:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I have a feeling this could be a great year for each of us – if we are bold.  The past few years have been, to say the least, unusual.  The world seems to be changing faster than we can name the changes.  This time requires new solutions in order to move forward well – politically, economically, and socially – and we have the capability to create those solutions.

We have the whole world at our disposal, in ways that weren’t available even a decade ago.  We’re living it right now: wherever you are in the world at this moment, I’m sending you this email and a link to a video I created just yesterday.  We may be many thousands of miles apart, but we can connect with each other moment-to-moment. So much is inherent in that capability. And we have access to more information, more quickly, than ever before.  Google anything, or look at Wikipedia: it’s all there.

Being our own best resource…

Such newness is exciting, but it’s also scary.  Not having the path laid out before us can inspire us to create what we want – or intimidate us into sticking to the tried and true.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen that the biggest obstacles to achieving what we most want in life are not outside us, but within us.  You’ll see that’s the focus of my New Year’s video for you, and it’s my core intention coming into 2103: to help all those I touch this year, myself included, be bold in overcoming our own internal obstacles to success.  If we can move past that doubting, unhopeful voice in our heads, we can plan and then create what we envision. This can be a year of joy, excitement and fulfillment – one that improves our own lives and the world around us.

Here’s to us, and to our lives, and to the year ahead.  Let’s go.

Very warmly,

Erika

Posted in Insider List