[Erika] offers simple, straightforward, and, most important, effective steps for a creating a community in which people are so fulfilled and so productive that they achieve superior results. James A. Autry, author of The Servant Leader


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Archive for the ‘people’ Category

May
21

Signposts on the Leader’s Journey

I got an email last week from Kathryn Cramer, who wrote a book that I like, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do.  She was writing to let me know about a new campaign she’s launching, focusing on what she terms  the Leader’s Heroic Journey. Those of you who have read my book Leading So People Will Follow know how fascinated I am by storytelling, and by leader stories in particular, so it’s not surprising that I quickly went to check it out.

Kathryn has created something very cool; a modern and resonant series of six infographics that take you through the steps of the Hero’s Journey (as defined by Joseph Campbell).  But she’s reframed for today’s leaders – those of us who are trying to lead through a time characterized by more and faster change than at any other time in history.

She’s offering one of the six steps in the journey each week on her website, or you can download the full ebook, also on her site.  With this series, Kathryn has teed up some of the most critical inflection points we all face as leaders, and provided simple, practical insights and ideas for navigating those passages.

It’s a wild time to be a leader – we all need help.  Kathryn’s campaign is food for the journey.


Feb
22

Getting Older and Better

I’m about to turn 63. Fortunately, age holds very little negative connotation for me, so I’m excited, as I am every year: I love birthdays. And I love how my husband celebrates my birthday with me.

It is fascinating being a good deal older than many of the people in my life. A number of my clients and a few of my colleagues at Proteus are young enough to be my children (and a few are younger than my actual children). For the most part, I don’t notice the difference in our ages making much of a difference in other ways. All the noise folks of my generation make about the Millenials is largely puzzling to me; I don’t see them as being that dissimilar to me, at heart. They want to create work and relationships that are meaningful to them, and to feel proud of what they’re accomplishing. They want love and respect, and they don’t like people who lie to them or take unfair advantage of them. Sounds right to me.

But even though I don’t feel that different, generally speaking, from people who are a generation or two younger than I am, I do notice some shifts happening in me as I move into the last third of my life. Some of these changes are positive and exciting; some are a pain. Some help me to live a better life; some get in the way. Here’s my personal list – your mileage may vary.

Great things about getting older:

  • I am more interested in other people than I’ve ever been. I’m just fascinated by people and how they see themselves and the world; the stories they tell themselves about their reality and the impact it has on them. I love to listen and do it much more than in years past.
  • My reactions to circumstances are much less black–and-white than they used to be. I can see more possibilities in a given situation, and am more willing to entertain alternatives.
  • I am less interested in getting credit and more interested in other people feeling motivated and excited.
  • It bothers me much less to be inept at things; I am more willing to take the time to understand and get better at new endeavors.
  • Patience, which has never been my strong suit, is much easier for me than before. I’m willing to take the time to do things that deserve my time.
  • Because I have more financial resource than I did as a young person, I have the opportunity to go new places and do new things. I love that.
  • I’m wiser: having had lots of experiences, I often have insights that I wouldn’t have had in earlier years – and those insights benefit me and others.
  • Having grandchildren.
  • Still being my kids’ mom, but also being friends and equals in a completely new and positive way. It’s a fantastic combination that can’t really happen until your kids are grown.
  • I don’t want to waste a single hour. I choose more consciously how and with whom to spend my time. I am much less likely to engage with negative people, in useless activities, or in thinking about unhelpful or unhealthy things.
  • I am much kinder to myself than I used to be. I’m more likely to acknowledge my good qualities, and much less likely to beat myself up for mistakes or perceived lacks.

Not-so-great things about getting older:

  • I can’t expend as much energy for as long as I used to without paying a price. Even ten years ago, I could work a 14-hour day, sleep 5 hours, and do it again – and again – without any discernible impact. These days, not so much. It’s partly that my body doesn’t put up with it in the same way, but – perhaps more important – I’m just not interested in doing it anymore.
  • I have aches and pains. Don’t get me wrong: my health is excellent, and I’m fit and flexible. But I do notice that I stiffen up if I sit in one position for a long time; my neck hurts if I’m not careful about how I hold my head while I’m working on the computer; I have to stretch my back when I first get out of bed in the morning.
  • Mortality is real: The time in front of me is less than the time behind me. That’s daunting; I love being alive, and I don’t want to die. I want to be around to see my grandchildren’s children grow up and get married; that’s highly unlikely. I want to have at least 50 more years with my husband; pretty certain that won’t happen.

As you can see, the “great” list is considerably longer than the “not-so-great” list. And that actually is my experience; for the most part, I like and appreciate getting older. In fact, I very much enjoy feeling like a tribal elder, knowing that there are many ways in which I can be a help and inspiration to those who are coming after me.

I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to age like a great wine or a Stradivarius violin: getting deeper, more complex, and more valuable; bringing a greater degree of subtlety, beauty and joy to the world.

How about you?


Jan
23

Present Happiness

Last week, in the Atlanta airport, I had enough time for a real meal (vs. something grabbed from the food court).  So I went into a TGIF and was greeted by the hostess.  As she led me to my table, she asked, “How are you today?”

I said, “I’m fantastically good (which was true).  How about you?”

She turned and smiled at me, completely genuine, and said, “If I were any happier, I’d have to be twins.” Then she gestured me to my table and told me that my waitress would be right with me, and walked away.

My first thought: What a great line – I’m stealing that; so happy, one body can barely contain it!  My second thought: How wonderful that she feels that way.

My third thought: Yet again, I’m reminded that happiness and contentment are independent of circumstances. And I decided to write something to you about that.

I believe that most people who are unhappy or discontented think that it’s because of their circumstances.  If I only had a better job, they say to themselves, I’d be happy. Or maybe it’s if I were only better looking, or younger, or richer, or more famous, or married.

In fact, I bet there are a lot of people working as hostesses at TGIFs around the country thinking to themselves, If it weren’t for this crappy job, I’d be happy.  And yet, here is this lovely woman in Atlanta, hostessing at a TGIF, so happy she shares her happiness with perfect strangers.

What if happiness is not primarily a function of creating some magical set of circumstances (right home, car, job, spouse, weight, shoes, etc…) that “makes you happy,” but is rather largely independent of circumstances?  If that’s true, it’s actually very liberating.  It means you can be happy by virtue of managing your internal mental and emotional landscape – over which you have almost total control.  In the beautifully simple words of Abraham Lincoln:

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Easier said than done, you might be thinking.  If I’m not happy, how can I just “make up my mind to be happy”?  As it turns out, there are a couple of simple, practical, things you can do to get happier. And one of them you can start doing right this minute.

Folks who study the sources of happiness have done a great deal of research over the past decade or so that points to the conclusion that people who are grateful are happy.  That’s right, gratitude pretty much equals happiness. So, how do you feel more grateful?

Start by thinking of something – a person, a possession, a capability, a situation – that you feel thankful for having in your life.  Think about why you’re glad you have that thing in your life.  For example, maybe you’re grateful for you best friend because she’s such a good listener.  Or maybe you’re glad that your apartment is in a quiet building.  Or you’re thankful that your health is good.  Now, one at a time, think of four other things you’re grateful for. Reflect on each one for a few moments: think about what it brings to your life. Let yourself feel thankful for it.

Feel happier?

When people do this kind of ‘gratitude training,’ researchers often have them fill out questionnaires, before and after the training, designed to measure their overall levels of happiness and contentment.  They don’t tell the subjects that the gratitude training is supposed to make them more happy.  And yet, almost without exception, the test subjects report that they are happier after completing the training than before – independent of whether any of the circumstances in their lives have changed.

I love the idea that we are the masters of our own happiness; I’ve experienced it largely to be true.  And I’ve also seen that being happy is the best place to begin, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish in your life.  If you’re happy, you’ll be clearer, more hopeful, more resilient, more collaborative, and more focused.

So, rather than assuming you’ll be happy if you get that bigger job, or house, or paycheck – be happy now, and you’ll be better able to accomplish whatever is truly important to you.


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!


Nov
25

If Change Is a Wave, Here’s a Surfboard

All aspects of our lives are now changing faster than at any previous time in history.  I doubt that statement is surprising to you, and unlike most similarly definitive and sweeping statements, it’s true. How we live and work; how organizations are structured and how they make money; the objects available to us and the ways we use them to learn, interact and consume…

And much of the change that surrounds and impacts us is disruptive and revolutionary, vs. gentle and evolutionary.  Who would have guessed, 15 years ago, how smartphones would transform most everyone’s daily routine?  Or the ways in which web-based commerce would alter our habits and expectations about buying and selling? Or the extent to which we’d interact regularly with people we may not have seen for years – or ever?

So what does a leader need in order to succeed in these wild times? Fortunately, some of the most necessary skills and capabilities are the same as they’ve always been: what it means to be a good leader, for instance, and the importance of clear, honest, open communication. But there are also some brand new skills and ways of thinking that will help you “surf” this continuing wave of change.

I’m excited to let you know about a session being put on by two colleagues of mine, David Nour and Jennifer Bridges, that will offer attendees support in both these areas: timeless core skills and new tools for your toolkit.  It’s called the #New NormSummit, and it’s being held in Atlanta on January 9th.

The Summit website has a lot more information about each of the day’s 4 sessions – but here’s the thumbnail version: David Nour will talk about how to keep your company’s business model relevant through adaptive innovation; Seth Kahan will focus on how to engage people in creating change rather than imposing it on them; Roger Young will share the power of Design Thinking, a human-centered approach to problem-solving; I’ll share our model for becoming the kind of leader that people will follow – no matter what changes arise.

I think it’s going to be fun, thought-provoking, and useful – my favorite combo.  I’d love to see you there…

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Oct
27

Are You Really Delegating?

I’ve noticed lately that lots of senior executives believe they’re delegating fully when they’re really not.  Full delegation means that you’ve transferred the responsibility for achieving an outcome to another person, and because you have faith in their ability to fulfill that responsibility, you actually let go of it.

“Let go of it” means you don’t think about whether or not they’re doing it, you don’t pester them with questions on a daily basis, you don’t give direction to their people about how to do it, you don’t second-guess their decisions about it, you don’t leap in and start doing parts of it without asking, and you don’t “stand in for them” – take phone calls with their partners, share progress reports with the organization, etc. – unless they ask you to do so.

I’m convinced that partial delegation is to blame for a lot of the inefficiency and bad feeling in most organizations. The execs who don’t fully delegate become bottlenecks for action – too many decisions have to go through them, and even if they work 24/7, it’s impossible for them to keep up with demands they’ve created for themselves.  And for those who work for them, it’s a truly demoralizing bait-and-switch.  They believe their boss has given them responsibility for part of the work, and they – proudly and with a sense of their own capability – begin to do it…only to find that their boss isn’t really allowing them to do it.  They most often end up feeling frustrated, embarrassed, and powerless.  And those who work for them can get confused and feel caught in the middle: should they follow their boss’ direction, or the (often conflicting) direction they’re getting from their boss’ boss?

If you’re reading this and seeing yourself in it, how can you get better at delegating?  If you and I were siting together in a room, I’d teach you our delegation model, and we’d practice, using a real situation of your choosing. But since that’s not happening, here are a few ideas that could help:

– Only delegate those things you’re really willing to delegate.  Often, I notice that executives try to delegate projects or responsibilities that they’re not really willing to stop doing.  For instance, a number of years ago I coached an exec who had been in charge of a yearly client event in Europe for many years.  She tried to hand it off to someone else, but kept jumping back in.  As I observed this, I pointed it out to her – and she finally realized that it was the highlight of her year, and she didn’t really want to let go of it. She ended up taking it back, and delegating other parts of her job to which she was less attached.

– Make sure you have confidence in the delegatee.  Quite often, when I ask execs why they’re not letting someone do something that they’ve supposedly delegated to him or her, they tell me they’re not sure the person will do it well. My response: either make sure they have the skills and experience to do the thing before you delegate it – and if they don’t, and no one else who works for you does, and you don’t feel you can coach them in the areas that are new to them…hire better people.  I’m serious.  If no one who works for you is capable of taking on key responsibilities and doing them to a standard that’s acceptable to you, then you need to build a stronger team.

– Have realistic expectations.  Many execs who don’t delegate well tell me it’s because they don’t believe anyone on their team will do things the way they do them.  That’s probably true – everyone does things differently.  But in order to delegate fully, you have to make a distinction between “doing things well” and “doing things the way I would do them.”  Someone who works for you may complete a responsibility very differently than you would – rely more on others or work more independently; use a different organizing approach; be more linear or less, etc. etc.  But as long as that person gets the needed outcome and doesn’t hurt key relationships – it doesn’t matter.

– Be truly willing to share credit. Leaders who delegate well are comfortable saying, “So-and-so did that – she and her team deserve all the credit.” If you have a hard time doing this, you’ll have a hard time delegating. If you can do it, though, you’re opening up your future and theirs in a powerful way. When you can fully acknowledge – to yourself and out loud – that others on your team are completing important parts of the work independently, that’s when you’ll be free to take on higher order work or a bigger job, and your folks will be free to grow and achieve their potential, as well.

Delegating fully is good for you, for those who work for you, and for your organization. I’d love to hear how you’re doing it, and what’s happening as a result…


Sep
26

Can You Make Yourself Want Something?

I’ve been thinking lately about how we come to do things.  It’s been especially top-of-mind for me as I’m writing a chapter of my new book that focuses on “Aspiration” – wanting things (specifically, in the case of the book, wanting to learn new skills or capabilities).

My focus hasn’t been on why we do things – lots of very smart people have been focusing on that over the past few years.  Most recently, Dan Pink made a huge wave with “Drive,” his book that brought Self-Determination Theory to a wider audience.  In SDT (as translated by Pink), what most motivates people is mastery, autonomy, and purpose. That is, we’re motivated to do things that we believe will bring us an opportunity to make choices (autonomy) to get good at something (mastery) that’s meaningful to us (purpose).

I agree.  The question is, can we make ourselves want to do something that we don’t now want to do?  We all spend a lot of time thinking about doing things and then not doing them: exercise more, be kinder to our spouses, save money, go back to school, find a better job… the list goes on and on. The reason we don’t do those things is – I believe – pretty simple.  Even though we say we want to do them, we don’t do them because we want the alternatives more.  We say we want to exercise –  but we want to sit and watch TV more. We say we want to save money – but we want to spend it more. In order to do something, you have to want to do it more than the available alternatives.

So the important question is: can we make ourselves want to do something enough to actually do it? Fortunately, I believe the answer is yes.  The secret is to discover how the thing that you’re not doing will provide you with benefits that are important to you – with mastery, autonomy and purpose – and to fully envision a future where you’re attaining those benefits as a result of having done the thing.

For example, let’s say that someone – let’s call her Alex –  has been saying for years that she wants to exercise – but she continues not to exercise on any regular basis. I’m convinced it’s because she isn’t recognizing the benefits of exercise – not the theoretical, everybody-knows-them benefits, but the actual, personal benefits to her. She tries to “should” herself into exercising (I’m so lazy, I’ll just keep getting fat, I ought to be able to do this), but that doesn’t work.  She reads articles about how good exercise is for your health, but that doesn’t work either.

Then, finally, one day Alex talks to a friend of hers who just started working out and is loving it, and one thing the friend says really resonates: “You know, I just needed to find the kind of exercise that works for me.” And Alex starts to think, Hmmm…I wonder what kind of exercise I’d like? Maybe something dance-based, like Zumba.  I’ve always loved to dance.  And then she thinks, If I did that, I bet I could get pretty good at it.  And I would really love to feel strong and good in my body. 

Voila: real, personal benefits. Autonomy (her own choice), mastery (getting good at it), purpose (feeling strong and good in her body) – and she’s envisioning the future where those benefits are true.

I suspect that Alex will now suddenly be much more likely to start exercising.

What aren’t you doing that you say you want to do?  Think about how doing that thing might provide you with mastery, autonomy and purpose, and then imagine a future in which you’re getting those benefits.  See what happens….


Jun
5

Pioneering Within

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

                                                                       – Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.  In the 1960s, she was considered the fastest woman in the world.

Astonishingly, this world-class athlete and inspiration to millions was born prematurely, weighing only 4.5 pounds. She was a sickly baby and child, surviving attacks of infantile paralysis, polio and scarlet fever that left her with a twisted leg requiring an orthopedic brace, which she had to wear until the age of 12.  She once said, “My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” 

As time goes on, I become more and more convinced that, though we can’t always control the circumstances of our lives, we can always have tremendous control over our reaction to those circumstances.  For example:

Today I was telling some colleagues about an amazing woman named Tao Porchon-Lynch, a 96-year-old yoga teacher, championship ballroom dancer, wine connoisseur and  peace activist who has become my inspiration and role model.  I see no reason, barring illness or death, that I (or you) can’t be living an equally satisfying and active life in our nineties. 

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the day I met my beloved husband. We were reading through emails from the early days of our courtship, and agreeing that we love, like, and desire each other more today than we did five years ago – and that we fully expect our love to continue to expand and deepen throughout our lives. 

I’m entirely certain that I will be able to learn new skills, make new connections with people and discover new problems/mysteries/puzzles to solve until the day I die. 

In fact, here’s a suggestion. Whenever that voice in your head tells you that something you hope for just isn’t possible, stop and ask yourself –  Why not?


Feb
15

Thank you, St. Valentine

Yesterday, my wonderful husband gave me a beautiful custom-created card, complete with a romantic poem he’d written himself. Inside were tickets to an off-Broadway show (that he’d secretly worked with my assistant to schedule). I sent him poetry, and tomorrow I’m making him a carrot cake – his favorite. This morning, our granddaughter – proudly and with hugs – gave us a heart-studded card she and her mom had made for us.
From my point of view, Valentine’s Day is simply an excuse to express your love a little more extravagantly than usual. I get that some people don’t like it – that they see it as pure, cynical marketing and commercialization (US consumers, after all, will have bought almost $500 MILLION worth of candy this V-day week).  And I know there are thousands of other people who hate February 14th because it highlights the lack of love in their life: they feel especially lonely, unloved, and sad in stark contrast to the messages of love and romance they see all around them.

But, as with all holidays, it’s your choice – you can make Valentine’s Day whatever you want it to be: you can choose not to pay any attention to it at all; you can spend the whole day raging against cruel fate and/or the capitalist machine; or you can declare it a day of special care and lovingkindness to those who mean the most to you (including yourself).

I vote for the third option. I intend to keep using Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to do particularly sweet and thoughtful things; to be just a little more affectionate than usual; to look a little more kindly on my fellow humans; to be especially gentle with and supportive of myself.

Why not?

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Jan
15

Sharpening My Ax: the Joy of Mastery

Just got back from an exciting, inspiring, exhausting, fun and thoroughly worthwhile event: the first annual Soundview/Nour Author Summit in Atlanta.  For a number of year, I had attended a similar event put on by my friends and colleagues at 800CEOREAD, and when they laid down the torch after last year’s event, and weren’t talk-out-of-it-able, Rebecca Clement and David Nour decided to pick it up and carry it forward.

I learned useful stuff, met great people and laughed a lot. (I also ate an extremely tasty lobster dinner, which added to the overall impression of wonderfulness.)

More than anything, I understood even more deeply about the joy of mastery.  I learned yet again that mastery doesn’t mean getting to the point where you’re the expert and you get to tell everybody else how to do stuff.

with David Nour and Jennifer BridgesTrue mastery means wanting to keep learning, even when you’re good. That is, getting good enough at things to feel proud and happy of what you’ve learned and accomplished – and at the same time feeling hungry to keep going. I’ve become a good writer, a good teacher, a good(ish) marketer of my books and ideas, and I can build connections with lots different kinds of people — and I have so much more to learn in all these areas; so much I want to do better.

True mastery means being able to learn from almost anybody: those who are farther along the path than you, those who are journeying beside you, and those who are just starting out. Some of the things that most inspired me and made me think over the past two days were said by folks who are just writing their first book or just contemplating how to build a practice around their ideas.

True mastery means increasing – rather than diminishing – curiosity. I find myself more and more fascinated by the process of clarifying ideas and sharing them in a way that’s compelling and useful. I found myself listening to many different people, to hear how they do it, and whether that works for them.

True mastery means being willing to start over and over again. I discovered, for instance, how little I understand about using Twitter as a means of community-building, business-building and idea-sharing.  I thought I was pretty good with – but no: just scratching the surface.  Damn.  OK – time to go back to “I don’t know that…how does that work?”

And there is joy in all these things.  I have a suspicion that joy arises from freedom. When I let go of thinking I have to be an expert, a grown-up, a teacher, the one-who-knows, and simply share my insight and knowledge as a gift, and then learn more, take in more, from everything and everyone around me – that’s truly joyful.