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Archive for the ‘communicating’ Category

May
24

The Power of Words…Especially For Leaders

My husband and I play a word game that consists of figuring out the negative names and the positive names for things.  Here’s what I mean:

  • For large properties owned by a single person or entity: “estate”=good; “compound”= bad
  • For someone who behaves in unpredictable ways: “eccentric”=good; “crazy” = bad
  • For people whose job is to execute someone else’s directives: “staff”=good; “minions”=bad
  • For a newly formed religious group: “sect” = good; “cult” = bad

We’ve found that there can be a world of difference in the implications of using one word vs. another to describe something. The two of us play this game because we find it fascinating, but it also makes me think about how often we can reveal our unconscious prejudices and assumptions about people and situations through our word choices.

And when you’re a leader, the power of that is magnified.  Let’s say you’re a manager, and you’re talking to someone about a guy that works for you who has lots of ideas and enjoys talking about them.  If you describe his behaviors as “enthusiastic” or “passionate,” your colleague will have a very different sense of him than if  you describe him as “loud” or “pushy.” Sometimes, sadly, people do this kind of subtle character assassination on purpose – when they want someone to be seen badly. But too often, we do it without conscious malice, simply based on unrecognized negative assumptions we have about someone…and don’t realize the negative impact it can have on them.

I was coaching someone once who had three direct reports.  When she spoke about two of them, Emma and Joe, she nearly always used “good” words. In her description, they were forward-looking, inspiring, big thinkers, and risk-takers. These were qualities that she saw and liked in herself and in them. The third report, Damon, was very different from the three of them, and she would describe him as old-school, slow, formal, and sensitive. When I pointed out to her how these words might come across to others, she responded that they weren’t negative words, and that she thought they were accurate. So then I asked her what impression her boss had of the three, based on her descriptors.  She thought for a moment, and then responded (I gave her high marks for honesty), “He probably sees Emma and Joe as big assets to the organization, and Damon as OK but not great.”

“Is that how you see him?” I asked.

“Not at all,” she acknowledged. “He’s really valuable.  He reins us in and keeps us from making impulsive decisions. We need him.”

Once she had seen that, it was easy for her to see how the words she used to describe him arose out of her feeling less comfortable with him and of unconsciously wanting him to be more like Emma and Joe.  And how those descriptors might lead others to see him in a less-than-positive way.  I asked her to think of alternative, yet still accurate ways of describing him that would let others see the value she saw. Instead of old-school, slow, formal, and sensitive,  she began to talk about him as being professional, thoughtful, measured, and considerate.

And not only did her altered description begin to change her boss’ perception of him, I noticed that she, Emma and Joe all started to treat him differently: to make better use of his complimentary strengths, and to more often acknowledge his contributions.

I encourage you to think about how you’re describing situations or people in a way that might subtly (or not so subtly) devalue them in your mind or to others.  How could you describe them differently to create more openness and appreciation?


Mar
21

Spreading Good Ideas…Person-to-Person

First, my apologies for not posting last month.  It’s been a bit wild in Proteus-land lately, all for very good reasons. There’s a lot happening because we have a number of new clients and new consultants – which is fun and exciting, and requires attention and effort.

The main wildness-inducer for me, though, has been the launch of my new book, Be Bad First.  The official publication date was March 8 – but the pub date is less and less meaningful these days: the hard copy, e-book and audio versions were all available on Amazon before that date, and lots of interviews, reviews, and articles had already come out related to the book. Two things I’m especially excited about: an article about the book’s model in the March issue of HBR, Learning to Learn, and the book being selected as an Editor’s Choice by 800CEOREAD.

There’s a tremendous amount of  effort involved in putting out a book, not only for me, but for our publishers and publicists — and the Proteus staff (especially my wingman Dan) have done a lot to support the book’s success, as well. But it all seems worth it: having these ideas about learning and mastery out in the world is good for lots of people.  It supports the growth of our business, it gives our consultants more tools to help our clients, and it helps those clients navigate this complex world.

The part of writing a book that’s especially meaningful and almost magical to me is knowing that thousands of people I will never meet or know are reading it and, I hope, benefitting from it.  I love thinking about them finding out about it, deciding there’s something in it that might be interesting to them, and then starting to read or listen.  A long-time client and friend of mine was commuting into NYC on the Long Island Railroad a few weeks ago, and the woman across from him (he didn’t know her), pulled Be Bad First out of her bag and showed it to her seat mate, remarking that she was reading and liking it.  He took it from her and started reading the back cover – that’s when my friend Brad shot this picture.

IMG_3536[1] I loved having this little window into two people I don’t know (and may never know) being touched by the book and (I hope) exploring the ANEW model.  I love even more getting to see the viral aspect of this: she liked it, and then told someone about it. It’s lovely to imagine that happening all over the world (we’ve just heard that they’ve sold the rights in China, and are working on a rights sale in South America)…people being helped to become better learners, and turning to friends, family, colleagues, and telling them about it, so they can become better learners and more able to future-proof themselves, in order to thrive through change.

It’s one of the great things about living in a world where knowledge can spread so quickly and efficiently – one person, one idea, one action, can have a huge positive impact. So: do good things.

____

If you’ve read Be Bad First and enjoyed it, please spread the word by writing a review on Amazon.  Thanks in anticipation!


Jan
23

Navigating The New World of Publishing

It’s been a little over nine years since my first book, Growing Great Employees, was published in December of  2006.  At the time, about 75% of book sales still happened in brick and mortar stores.  I remember that most of my publisher’s efforts went into getting distribution into Barnes & Noble and Borders, with a bit of effort to make sure it was available on Amazon.

Fast forward to today, when Borders is no more, B&N has shrunk and re-trenched, and online book sales have surpassed in-store sales. Which brings us to Amazon, now the 800-pound gorilla of the publishing world.  As online book sales have exploded over the past decade, and because Amazon now has almost two-thirds of that new market share, all of us authors and publishers are dancing to their tune.

One of the many things I love about my new publisher, Bibliomotion, is that they are fully accepting this new reality – and are learning quickly and continuously how to best operate in this new world.  I love finding out from them about how to make things work with Amazon.

For instance, because Amazon’s goal is to get people things they want, as quickly, simply and inexpensively as possible (they believe that this total focus on the customer is key to their own  success and growth) they’re continually trying to figure out the “things they want” part. That is, how can they let their customers know about things that they might like and want to buy.

Recently, they’ve discovered if a book has a lot of pre-orders and a number of early reviews, it’s more likely to be something a lot of people will want – so Amazon sits up and starts to do things for that book: highlighting and promoting it in various ways.

So we want to take advantage of this, with your help. We’ve created a special pre-order offer for you – one that will benefit you and us. Here’s how it works:

  • Go to Amazon and pre-order Be Bad First
  • Then come back here, to erikaandersen.com, and type in your email address and pre-order number under the “Be Bad First Pre-Order” heading on the home page.

That’s it. And as a thank you for doing that, we’ll send you two  gifts: A one-month all-access membership to proteusleader.com, our online resource that’s chock full of dozens of great, snack-sized nuggets of real leadership and management learning; and an exclusive PDF of the first article I ever wrote about the Be Bad First model (you can see how it’s evolved).

Thank you very much – both for reading my blog, and for helping Be Bad First find its audience in this brave new world of publishing .

 


Dec
23

Underneath the Holiday Bustle…

I know I say this every year, so those of you who have been with me for awhile might be rolling your eyes about now. Nonetheless: I love the holidays.

All the stuff I grew up with is charming to me: twinkling lights, presents under the tree, crackling fires, stockings hung on the chimney, old-fashioned Christmas carols, delicious food, seeing people I love and don’t get to see often enough. I even mostly like the things that other people don’t like: corny Christmas movies, looking for just the right gift for someone.

Most of all though, I love what’s at the heart of all this, at least in my mind. The sense that life and love are astonishing gifts to be treasured every day.

Today is my last day of work for the year, and I’m already expanding into what I think of as holiday gratitude mode. I’m a pretty thankful person under ordinary circumstances, but during the holiday I really make the effort to consciously recognize all the gifts and joys in my life on a daily basis.

At Proteus, we have year-end review and look forward conversations with everyone on the team. I’m just about to have my final one for the year (I’ll be having a couple more in January), and feeling tremendously appreciative of all the smart, good-hearted, committed people I get to work with at my company. After that, I’m going to go and meet my husband at his first “beer event”; a tasting and brewer appearance for his new brewery. And I’m feeling so proud of him, and so deeply grateful to be sharing my life with such a remarkably kind, high-integrity, curious, brilliant, funny, loving, brave, handsome man.

And as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my living room enjoying our sparkling Christmas tree, each ornament connected to a fond memory. Grateful to have such a wonderful place to live, and the good health and mental capability to enjoy it.

I could go on and on. Feeling grateful elevates you, making your interaction with everything and everyone around you more conscious, hopeful and loving. When you are grateful, it feels wonderful and at the same time makes you a positive force in the world.

So, my wish for you: May you appreciate your holidays to the very fullest extent possible….

courtesy of Brainyquotes

courtesy of Brainyquotes


Nov
22

Keep Being Bad First…

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to be a part of a really profound learning experience. I was one of eight attendees at an Elite Group Experience – a two-day advanced speaking skills course with Victoria Labalme.

Even though I’ve done a great deal of speaking in front of groups over the past thirty years, and believe I’m good at it (and have gotten feedback that supports that belief), I decided this year to take my skills to the next level. I intend to do everything in my power to become a world-class speaker.

Victoria is a wonderful teacher, and my classmates – entrepreneurs, authors, and business owners – were without exception smart, focused and supportive.  The coolest thing for me, though, was seeing how well the ANEW skills I propose as being key to new learning served me in this situation, even though I’m not a novice.  Here’s how it worked:

Aspiration –  Before I attended the course, I worked on  increasing my aspiration – making myself want to improve my speaking skills.  It’s challenging to raise your level of aspiration when you’re already good at something: it’s all too easy to think that you’re good enough, thank you very much.  So I thought about the benefits to me of becoming a better speaker. First, we at Proteus have more important things to share than ever – and I love being able to share it. Also, I’m particularly convinced that the ideas and skills in my new book, Be Bad First, will be helpful to people if I have a bigger platform for sharing them.  I can easily imagine a future where being a better speaker would make that possible.

Neutral Self-awareness – I spent some time before the class reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses as a speaker. Some of the pre-work Victoria had us do supported me in that effort. I wanted to be as accurate as possible going into the session, so that I could take full advantage of the learning being offered, and I found my “current state” insights very helpful. (If you’re curious, I decided that my strengths were clarity, authenticity, and connection with the audience, and that I needed to work on having more control over my pacing and volume, making better use of the stage, and exploring new options to three-dimensionalize my speaking – visuals, sound, online support, etc..)

Endless Curiosity – This one was the easiest; I didn’t really have to  do much to ramp up my curiosity.  Very fortunately for me, being curious is my natural state, and I found myself, during the session, continuously interested in understanding and mastering what Victoria was sharing with us. Over the two days of the class, I watched myself ask lots of Why?, How?, and I wonder? questions. And saw, yet again, how curiosity is jet fuel for learning. Every time I asked one of those questions of Victoria or one of my classmates, I found out something new or something more that would help me improve my skills.

Willingness To Be Bad First – This one was definitely the hardest…but the most rewarding. It’s difficult enough to convince yourself it’s OK to “be bad” when you’re actually new to something.  But when you’re quite good at doing something already, there’s a strong momentum toward considering yourself an expert.  I found the most valuable and realistic “acceptance of not-good” self-talk in this situation was, I still have a lot to learn, if I want to be a world class speaker. I need to be open to everything I  hear.  As a result, I was able to hear important feedback from Victoria and from my classmates that I might have otherwise dismissed.  For example, in one practice, my partner pointed out to me that I was skimming over the uncomfortable part of the story I was telling – and he noted that “without the lows, the highs don’t feel like highs.” Because I was really listening and taking it in, I realized he was exactly right…and that it was something I do habitually.  I was able to integrate the feedback, and it had a real impact.

My husband once asked me “Are people ever done being bad?”  And now I can definitely say: No, fortunately for us, we’re not.


Apr
21

Step Aside For The New

I was talking to a wonderful, wise woman today: I learned a lot from her, and I hope she also learned useful things from me.  She told me a great quote that she has made part of her email signature line:

                People who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it.

When she said it to me, my first reaction was to laugh out loud, in that surprised way that happens when something strikes you as completely and unexpectedly true. I’ve seen that very thing happen in corporate life dozens, perhaps hundreds of times over the past few decades.  While some people are pontificating at length about why something isn’t possible, someone else is quietly going about doing it.  For instance, I just found out that, even as Wilbur and Orville Wright were preparing to complete their first successful trials of a manned, heavier-than-air flying machine, the New York Times published an article from which the following is an excerpt:

The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years—provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials.

— ‘Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly,’ published in theNew York Times, 9 October 1903.

It sounds really smart and well-reasoned (if somewhat smug and self-righteous), but it also turns out, as we all know, to have been complete and utter nonsense.

Fortunately, the Wright Brothers weren’t working for the New York Times, or any of the other thousands of people who were opining that what they were doing was impossible and foolish.  Where the quote above gets less funny, but even more true, is when the people doing the talking about what can’t be done are the bosses of the people who are able to do it.  That’s when innovation and creativity get torpedoed, and companies (if it gets bad enough and consistent enough) collapse.

For instance, I will bet you any amount of money that there were young people working for Barnes and Noble in 2005, who were trying to tell their bosses that e-readers were the wave of the future, and that they could build one of they just had the support, and those bosses rolled their eyes and dismissed the idea entirely, and blathered on about the strength of the B&N business model and how people will never give up the feel of a real book, or stop coming to bookstores, especially now that we have cafes and kids’ play areas and blah blah blah blah. And all the while Jeff Bezos and company were busy inventing the Kindle in a back room somewhere.

So the next time someone – especially someone who works for you – comes to you with an idea that you believe is just plain impossible, or impractical, or too expensive, or not how people want to do X….just shut up. Suspend your disbelief, and really listen.  Ask them to walk you through how they would do it, and what it would require.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to see how it could be done, and why it should be done…

And that could change everything.


Dec
23

A Baker’s Dozen of Holiday Inspirations

One thing I really like about the holidays: people are much more likely to say lovely and loving things about the world and each other.  It’s as though we somehow give ourselves permission to be more innocent and hopeful during the last two weeks of December.

I’d love to propose that, rather than seeing it (cynically) as an anomaly preparatory to reverting to our ordinary unlovely and unloving behavior, let’s assume that how we talk and act during the holidays is our aspiration for how we’d like to be year-round.  And here are some wonderful examples of that as our benchmark:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. Wishing you happiness.”      – Helen Keller

“This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!”     – D.M. Dellinger

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”      – Hamilton Wright Mabie

“Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you. Thinking of you this holiday season!”     – T.A. Barron

“As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December’s bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same.”     – Donald E. Westlake

“May your walls know joy, may every room hold laughter, and every window open to great possibility.”      – Mary Anne Radmacher

“Sharing the holiday with other people, and feeling that you’re giving of yourself, gets you past all the commercialism.”      – Caroline Kennedy

“Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a holiday humor, and like enough to consent.”     – William Shakespeare

“New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday.”      – Charles Lamb

“The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing others’ loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the holidays.”       – W. C. Jones

“The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; The secret anniversaries of the heart.”      – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.  It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”      – Agnes M. Pharo

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”      – Bob Hope

 

Happy Holidays!


Aug
5

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Can you have too much of a good thing?  We humans have been debating this question since long before it first showed up in print (in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, around 1600).

Most of us would say yes, having experienced the after-effects of a mega-dose of great wine, wonderful food, high-quality chocolate, or even a fantastic party.

I’ve been experiencing it lately with work: I love it – and there’s simply a great deal of it lately.  I feel a somewhat conflicted about this.

First of all, I know I’m fortunate to consider work “a good thing” at a time when surveys show that roughly two-thirds of all American employees are unhappy with their jobs. Also, I take great pride in the fact that Proteus and the work we do has become so highly thought of and in demand.  And finally, for someone (me) who loves more than anything to support people and organizations to clarify and move toward their hoped-for future – having so many opportunities to do just that is marvelous: the career equivalent of a pound of Godiva truffles.

But then there are the realities imposed by living in a physical body – and one that’s got some mileage on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m healthy, strong and full of energy…but I can’t power through a month of not enough sleep and too much travel like I could in my 30’s, 40s, or even my 50s.  And there’s also the fact that, to my great good fortune, there are many other things in my life besides work that I also love – hanging out with my darling husband, kids and grandkids; spending time with friends; traveling – and a whole list of avocations as well (gardening, reading, knitting, sudoku, cooking, hiking, learning languages….the list goes on).

So what’s a work-lover to do?  I’m discovering that my approach to work needs to be very similar to my approach to good food (which I also love): keep the quality high, and be sensitive to the symptoms of overdoing it.

With food, what that looks like is: don’t waste my calories on stuff that’s not worth it (junk food, things I don’t really like, poor quality), and stay attentive to my body telling me when I’ve had enough.

With work, what that looks like is: don’t waste my time on stuff that’s not worth it (tasks that others in my company can do just as well or better than I can; clients who don’t really want to spend the effort or money needed to get results; ‘rabbit hole’ conversations that suck up valuable time and mental energy) , and stay attentive to my body (and brain) telling me when I’ve had enough – when I’m too tired to think well or focus properly, or when my usual enthusiasm and hopefulness start to wane.

And just as the solution when food threatens to become too much of a good thing is simply to stop eating, the too-much-work solution is the same: stop working. Now I (like you, I suspect) can’t just walk off the job when it gets to be too much – but I can create little respites.  A day, an hour, even a minute when I turn my attention to something else – or to nothing else.

Earlier today I was feeling particularly overworked.  Then suddenly I was presented with some “found time.”  A client session ended much earlier than expected, and I had the choice to dig into the pile of to-dos that were backlogged on my computer…or lay down on my hotel bed and take a nap.

I napped.

When I woke up, I felt like a different person. And I’m convinced that the work I did post-nap was both much higher in quality than it would have been pre-nap, and accomplished much more quickly. Plus I really enjoyed doing it.  And that’s the bottom line, really – if you consistently have too much of a good thing, then it stops being a good thing.  If you can figure out how to have just enough of a good thing – that’s really good.


Jul
10

Why Not?

I enjoy being in situations that defy common wisdom.  Recently my husband and I were vacationing in Italy, where we spent one day in Venice.  We traveled there by train, and simply walked off the train and started wandering around (fortunately, the places most people want to go are pretty well sign-posted, or you’d be irretrievably lost after about five minutes.)

Venice1At one point a sweet young Dutch woman asked us to take her picture, and then we asked her to return the favor.  It wasn’t until we were standing there, not moving, that I realized how quiet the city was.  I said as much to my husband, and he responded, “no cars.”

Of course!  How strange to be in an urban area completely devoid of traffic sounds and smells. The only motorized vehicles in Venice are the water taxis, which are pretty quiet.

Once we’d been reminded of this auto-less situation, we noticed all kinds of interesting adaptations: a cool little machine shaped kind of like the bottom of an army tank that some guys were using to take a refrigerator up a set of stairs; a dolly with a second smaller set of wheels to transport containers not only through the streets but up one side of the stepped bridges and down the other.

The experience immediately made me think about how we might do things differently in other cities to reduce or eliminate car traffic. I noticed how just one example of a non-car-based urban area shifted my thinking from “We couldn’t possibly do without cars” to “Why not?”

Now, don’t misunderstand me – I’m sure there are thousands of people infinitely more equipped to think about this question than I, who have been wrestling with it for many years.  I’m not really talking about how to create car-free cities; I’m talking about how to challenge your assumptions.  And this day in Venice reminded me that when I encounter something that pushes against what I believe is possible (it could be anything: a conservative Republican who’s concerned about social justice; a simple approach to income taxes that will actually work; a way to stay in shape that takes 15 minutes a day), it has – if I’m open to it – a wonderful effect of making me question my set-in-stone assumptions. And that’s always a good thing.

And to have my mind opened up in addition to simply being in Venice:  priceless.


Apr
13

Sharing The Planet

I read the most amazing article recently, about elephants’ ability to recognize and react appropriately to human voice and language.  In Kenya, elephants generally encounter people from one of two ethnic groups: Maasai or Kamba.  The Kamba tend not to pose a danger to the elephants – while the Maasai often clash with the elephants over land and water rights.

Researchers had elephants listen to recorded voices of adult Maasai or Kamba males saying, in their own language, “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming!” They also recorded Maasai females and children saying the same thing. Then they played the recording for family group of 58 elephants.  Here’s what happened:

When researchers played a Maasai male voice, elephants immediately started sniffing the air for danger and retreated into a bunched, defensive formation. By contrast, the elephants were unfazed by the Kamba male voice. Further, elephants didn’t seem to mind the voices of Maasai women and children.

Even when researchers re-synthesized the Maasai male voice so it resembled a female’s, the elephants still recognized it was male and acted defensively. The results indicate that elephants can pick up even the subtlest vocal cues to assess the level of a threat.

Many studies besides this one have shown that elephants are extremely intelligent: among other things, it seems they experience a subtle and broad variety of emotions, including joy, playfulness, sadness and grief. They can learn new facts and behaviors, mimic sounds, self-medicate, demonstrate a sense of humor, create art (that is, do activities that seem to have only an artistic or expressive purpose), use tools to complete tasks, and display compassion and self-awareness.

This particular study caught my attention, though, because it demonstrates elephants’ ability to distinguish between humans who are likely to be a threat to them and those who are not. In other words, that they have the capability of trusting (or not trusting) humans based on previous experiences they’ve had with humans of various sorts.

Once I got past feeling sad that some humans  are a threat to these gentle, intelligent creatures, it made me think about how casually we assume our own superiority to all other intelligences on the planet.  And how, as we spend more time getting curious about highly intelligent animals like chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, and pigs, our assumptions about our superiority come into question.

Thank goodness that the scientific method, when properly applied, doesn’t allow us to remain in comfortable ignorance, our assumptions unchallenged.  I look forward to the day when scientists discover facts that demonstrate beyond doubt that these creatures with whom we share this orb have gifts and capabilities surpassing our own.

Until then, while I may not have proof, I suspect the elephants often pity us, and the dolphins find us amusing.