[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

About Erika Andersen

erika Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

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Archive for the ‘Work’ Category


Impressive Nature, Impressive Human

My husband and I recently took a little mini-vacation to Grand Canyon National Park.  I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to get there – it’s not as though I’ve never had an opportunity before now.  All that aside, though: it was astonishing.  If you’ve never visited, all I can say is that pictures absolutely do not do it justice; it’s much more vast and beautiful and other-worldly than you can imagine. It made us feel small, but in a completely positive way; a tiny part of an awe-inspiring whole.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Hopi House; Courtesy of Wikipedia

While we were there, I kept noticing buildings that I really loved.  There was Hermit’s Rest, the Hopi House, and the Desert View Watchtower. As it turns out, they were all designed by a woman named Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the first half of the 20th century as an architect and designer.  In the words of Wikipedia:

She was one of the very few female American architects in her day. She was the designer of many landmark buildings and spaces for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, notably in Grand Canyon National Park. Her work had enormous influence as she helped to create a style, blending Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival architecture with Native American motifs and Rustic elements, that became popular throughout the Southwest.

MJC ca 1893 by California Artist Arthur Mathews from the Program for Art on Film Web site

MJC ca 1893 by California Artist Arthur Mathews
from the Program for Art on Film Web site

I was so charmed by her buildings and intrigued by her story that I bought and read her biography. In 1902, Ms. Coulter began working for the Fred Harvey Company, which partnered with the Santa Fe Railroad to open the American Southwest to travel and tourism in the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. Coulter was one of the only female employees of the Harvey Company at that time who was not a waitress – and the only woman with management responsibilities.

As I read about her, and looked at the buildings and interiors she designed – and the construction of which she oversaw and managed – I tried to imagine the combination of vision, strength of character and diplomacy required to be successful as a woman leader working with an all male group of colleagues and staff to establish a new kind of architectural style in a barely-civilized part of the US, at a time when any sort of woman professional was a rare creature indeed.

Talk about a high bar.

I’m inspired and humbled to find that she was able to do all of that, to leave us a legacy of wonderfully evocative buildings, structures that live at ease in the landscape of the desert southwest. Her designs are unpretentious and yet in harmony with the grandeur around them, while marrying indigenous Native American and Mexican styles with modern applications.

I suspect I’ll think of Mary Jane Coulter’s life and work from now on when I’m in what I believe is a difficult situation. I kind of feel as though my toughest challenges would seem like an easy day to her. It’s good to remind ourselves of those brave souls who have gone before us; it helps us find that pioneer inside.  It supports us to be bold in asking “Why Not…?” and in finding ways to do things that haven’t been done before.

Thank you, Mary…

Posted in people, Thinking, Travel, Work


Lights, Camera, Action!

I love being around people who are good at things. Last week and this, we’ve turned the NYC Proteus office into the Proteus pop-up studio: the swing office is the edit suite, the coaching space is the actors’ green room, the kitchen is craft services, and every other space is somehow being used as a set. Over five days of shooting, we’re creating 24 separate pieces of video, all of which will be up on ProteusLeader.com when it goes live in October.The still below is from the filming of the intro to my new book (coming from Bibliomotion in March), Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future.

2015-08-25 11.34.05[3]

Our partners in this endeavor are the talented, smart, funny and warm professionals of Capisco, a Paris-based film group led by Clement Jouve. It’s such a pleasure to work with them – I’m finding out so much, both about film-making and about great teams. Watching Jim, the director, work with the actors and Delphine, his second camera person, to get exactly the shots that make each scene work, and that give Max, the editor, just what he needs to make it all work.  And Max is, frankly, a magician.  It’s really fun watching him make each scene flow just the way it should (and make a two-camera shoot look like a three-camera shoot). Nicolai, the sound guy, is invisible and essential, and Clement keeps everything moving and connected.

They work together like a dance ensemble or a sports team: fluent, continuous hand-offs of action and responsibility, graceful and frictionless. Because they mostly speak French to each other, and I don’t speak French (except for, now, “c’est bon!” “je suis pret” and “quoi?”), I can observe the shape of their interaction rather than getting caught in the words.

And so I’m noticing that, like all high performance teams, they have clear goals (creating excellent film that meets the client’s needs), agreed-upon measures (clear standards of quality and time benchmarks for each piece of film), well-defined roles (everyone clearly knows what each person on the team is responsible for doing), simple process (how they operate together – it’s like a well-calibrated machine) and high trust (it’s obvious that they respect and have affection for each other, and feel that each person on the team is highly capable and will get results).

Observing a great team is really fun; getting to work with them is even more fun. Realizing that their excellent product is going to be an integral part of  ProteusLeader is the most fun. It’s so gratifying to have partners who, like us, believe that supporting people to be better managers and leaders is important, and who can help us bring to life our vision of an online learning platform that helps people build those skills in a way that’s simple, fun, and highly useful.

I’m so excited about having all of this to share with you in October!


New Ways to Get Better

I’m excited.  For the past four or five years, my partner Jeff and I have been  acknowledging to each other (and to anyone who cares to have the conversation with us) our need to have an online/mobile aspect of what we do available to our clients.  We recognized that if our core focus is, as we say, leader readiness, we needed to support leaders to be ready 24/7, not just when they’re with us in a coaching, training, or facilitated session.

We’ve been able to create some very good audio and video “nuggets” over the years, and we have lots of useful written material to offer (between this blog, my Forbes blog, other articles, and my books.)

But now….drum roll, please…we’re in the process of putting bite-size pieces of our existing audio, video and written content – plus a lot more great stuff that we’re now creating – into our new online/mobile learning resource, ProteusLeader.com.  It will be going live in October – so I’m giving you, dear reader, a heads-up now.  Partly because I just want to share it with you (as I said, I’m excited), but partly because I’d love your input if you’d care to weigh in. If you have suggestions for stuff you’d particularly like to see, or topics you’d like added, that would be hugely valuable for us.

Here’s how we’re envisioning it.  There will be 16 topic areas – the main areas we focus on in our work with leaders. Those topics are:

  • Accepted Leader
  • Be Bad First
  • Being Strategic
  • Coaching
  • Company Culture
  • Delegation
  • Giving Feedback
  • High Performance Team
  • Leading Change
  • Listening
  • Making Agreements
  • Managing People
  • Managing Your Career
  • Self-talk
  • Social Style
  • Tough Conversations

You can go straight to this list of topics from the home page (and then select one you’re interested in), or you can get to groups of related topics by selecting one of four “interest areas.” Under each of the 16 topics, we’ll have resources in three “buckets”:

  • See It/Hear It – video and audio nuggets focusing on that topic, offering models, tools, insights, or skill demonstrations.
  • Try It  – video, audio, and written activities to help you assess yourself, prepare for, and practice the skills in that topic.
  • Read About it – quick, practical articles about the topic that offer insight and recommendations.

So, what do you think? Anything you’d like that you don’t see listed? Any ideas for specific support in these topics?

I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to launch – but for now, I’d love to know what you’d find useful and interesting…

Thanks, as always, for being here.


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.


Award-Winning Beer: An Entrepreneur’s Handbook

I have to admit upfront that this post is primarily a thinly-veiled excuse to say wonderful things about my husband. However, be assured there is an important life/work lesson here as well. My husband Patrick is in the final stages of setting up his craft brewery, and it’s been fascinating watching him travel down five parallel business-building tracks for the past year. I’m realizing that any successful entrepreneur needs to walk down these same paths.  (He’s doing this much better than I did 25 years ago, when I started Proteus, but still I recognize the pathways from my start-up days.)  Here’s what they are:

Facilities/Physical:  From the moment he rented his brewery-space-to-be last May, Patrick has been focused on a wide variety of physical, object-related tasks, from revamping the space (cleaning, painting, putting in trench drains, having the plumbing and electrical upgraded); to speccing out and ordering the brewing system and deciding how to set it up in the space; to switching our main vehicle from a car to a truck for schlepping purposes. Almost any entrepreneurial venture – even something like a one-person Cloud-based enterprise that seems not physical at all – requires asking and answering questions about physical requirements and doing the associated tasks.  Where are you going to work? What equipment will you need? What work processes will require physical space and how will you set that up?

Relationships: Patrick won’t be hiring any employees during the brewery’s early days – but that doesn’t mean relationships aren’t important to his success. He’s spent more time with his landlord, his plumber and his electrician that with most other people he knows over the past few months.  And he’s working to build good relationships with a much wider group as well: his suppliers, the folks who built his brewing system, and other local brewers, just to name a few.  Even if you’re starting a single-person enterprise (or at least single-person to start with), don’t underestimate the necessity of having a web of people around you who want to do business with you and are supportive of your success.  If you don’t tend to those relationships, it’s really hard to accomplish almost anything.

Organizational/Admin:  I now know that starting a brewery – even a small one – requires jumping through an astonishing variety of administrative hoops.  The federal permitting process was a daunting seven-month journey of frustration and bureaucratic nitpicking through the bowels of the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Watching him go through it and listening to his very legitimate complaints, I was astonished that anyone who doesn’t have a fleet of lawyers and accountants to call upon ever ends up opening a brewery.  The two-month long state permitting process was, by comparison, a walk in the park. Then pile on all the local requirements (building codes, business license, city council OK, etc. etc.) and the internal functional questions to be answered (How will we bill customers? What accounting program will we use?). Any entrepreneur who assumes he or she can just start producing their cool thing and make a million is courting disaster.  I think for most people, this is the least fun part of starting a business – but if you don’t think through it in a pretty structured way (or work with someone who can help you to do that), and build the time and effort required into your start-up plan, your business will grind to a halt before it even starts.

Product:  I’ve been truly impressed with the fact that, as he’s been fully immersed in these first three aspects of starting his business, Patrick has also been devoting a lot of time to making sure his product is extraordinary.  He’s spent the whole year doing exhaustive recipe development and testing on each of his four standard beers and two seasonals. Now that his system has arrived, once he gets it set up he’ll be going through a whole new product loop of figuring out how to replicate the quality he’s achieved — at 20x the volume.  He’ll be going from 5 gallon homebrews to 3.5 barrel (108 gallon) production batches.  It’s all too easy as an entrepreneur to think “I’ve got a great thing – it will knock everyone’s socks off.”  And yet – will it?  It’s essential that you build rounds of testing, ramping up and improvement into your pre-sales start-up planning.

Marketing and Sales: And yet, just having a great product or service isn’t enough.  You have to think clearly and practically about who your customers are, how you’ll let them know that you have something they need, and how to communicate that in a compelling way. This is Patrick’s least favorite part, and so the one in which I’ve been involved most involved.  We’ve had many branding discussions: that is, what are we promising, and how do we want to convey that promise in words and images? Based on that, we’ve put lots of thought into naming and labelling for each beer. Since we’re now a couple of months away from having beer to sell, we’re focusing on all the decisions, large and small, needed to connect our product with a delighted customer base. For instance, we’re only selling to restaurants and bars, vs. retail, so we identified the criteria for the hospitality businesses that could be attracted to our product and price point, and then made a list of all those businesses within about a 45-minute drive of the brewery.  Now we’re figuring out how to support and inspire our future customers to let their patrons know they’re carrying our beers. And then how to make it easy for those patrons – once they’ve tasted and liked the beer – to become vocal fans and advocates.  In other words, even great products don’t sell themselves.  Before you have product to sell, think about who your target audience is, why they need your product, and how you’ll let them know it exists and can meet their needs.  And do your best to do some market-testing beforehand: it’s easy to think people will love your thing just because you do, but you need to get some independent confirmation of that love.

And, happily, Patrick just received some great independent confirmation:  he sent his four standard beers (1875 Milk Stout, 1829 IPA, 1758 Witbier, and 1855 Cream Ale) out to six national competitions a few months ago.  Just last week, he found out that he won awards in four of the six: 2 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze medals – and each of his four beers won at least once.

All of which goes to show – when you take care to walk down the right paths as an entrepreneur, wonderful things can happen along the way.


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…

Speakersbanner V2


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…


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.


The Seduction of Incrementalism

I’ve been noticing lately how very much easier it is to focus on making good things a little better – rather than figuring out how to re-invent good things to make them fantastic.  Ad I’ve also been seeing the benefits of doing the latter:

Example #1:

I spent the last couple of days with a client group that did a truly bang-up job of NOT going for the easy answers, even though it would have saved them a lot of time and mental energy to do so. We spent the second day doing a “re-boot” of the vision and strategy map they had created in 2013, and when we got to strategies, it was clear that the ones they had come up with last year were pretty good and still directionally correct. It would have been by far the easiest choice simply to re-commit to last year’s strategies and come up with new tactics for this year.  We actually started down that path, but after a few minutes, we all kind of looked at each other and said, “This isn’t going to hit on some of the most critical new aspects of our business – imperatives that have just arisen over the past few months. We need to start from scratch.”  It required about 90 minutes of brain-stretching conversation to come up with those new strategies, and another couple of hours to craft appropriate tactics, but at the end of it they had created an exciting plan for this year that has the potential to be game-changing for them.

Example #2:

My husband, who is in the process of creating Great Life Brewing, has come up with some really excellent beers – especially his milk stout and IPA.  He recently entered his first round of competitions, and received “good” ratings, along with one “outstanding” that garnered a medal.  Based on the feedback he got, the easiest thing (and perfectly reasonable) would have been to do slight tweaking of the recipes to make them a little better.  Instead, he decided to experiment with a significant change to the sparging process (part of extracting the malt from the grain) to raise the specific gravity of the unfermented beer – which would address a consistent piece of feedback he’d received about the ‘body’ of the beer, and that he felt kept the “good” ratings from being “very good” or even “outstanding.”  After a 12-hour dawn-to-dark brewing day yesterday: success!  His new approach to sparging increased the specific gravity by a big margin – and (according to him – I haven’t tasted it yet) made an immediate difference in the taste and mouthfeel of the beer.

In both instances, these folks avoided the seduction of making things “a little better.”  It’s really easy to justify that approach, to convince ourselves that we’re doing all that can be expected of us. Now understand – I’m not talking about taking the path of least resistance: shirking, or doing things badly.  I’m talking about doing what most people would consider an OK job.

But I’ve come to believe that world-class individuals and organizations are most often distinguished by their willingness and ability to do the tough work necessary to make break-through changes when that’s what’s needed, and what’s possible.

And the good news is – even though it can be a lot harder (it takes more of your time, energy, focus; more risk of failure; more letting go of assumptions) –  it’s so much more satisfying to make substantive, even disruptive improvement in something important that it generally feels as though it’s all been worth it, whatever the effort involved.


Seeing Selling Differently

courtesy of nostalgiapassages.com

courtesy of nostalgiapassages.com

I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with the idea of selling.  For some reason, even from an early age, I had the idea that sales was simply about finding people who had a real need for what I had to offer. So, for instance, selling Camp Fire Girls candy in grade school held no terrors for me: I’d go around and ask people if they wanted to buy it, and if not, I’d ask the next person.  I figured there was no harm in asking, even if they didn’t want it – and them not wanting it didn’t have anything to do with me; maybe they didn’t like candy, or were on a diet, or had already bought some from somebody else.

And actually, that’s pretty much how I sell today, 50 years later.  I set up a conversation with someone; I listen to find out whether he or she could have a need for something Proteus offers.  If so, I explain the service or product I think they might find useful. I ask if they’re interested in exploring a possible fit between their need and our offer.  If not, I assume it’s because they 1) don’t see the need in the same way I do, or 2) they believe they have a better way of meeting that need that doesn’t involve Proteus.  Next!

I recently read a wonderful little book, Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human, that pretty much reinforced the positive ideas I’ve had about selling for all these years.

However, it also made it much clearer to me why most people don’t view sales in a positive light – why they have a ‘cringe’ relationship with the idea of selling. Rather than seeing it as a collaborative, mutually beneficial process of finding a fit between need and offer, they see it as manipulative, pushy, inauthentic, slightly sleazy.  Sales, for most people, evokes images of being glad-handed and lied to by some untrustworthy used car salesman in a shiny suit and bad toupee.  No wonder people think they don’t like to sell!

The problem with holding on to that old, outmoded conception of selling is that almost all of us need to be able to sell.  If you define selling, as Pink does, as ‘the art of moving others,’ we’re selling ideas, opinions, and proposed courses of action every day – to our kids, our boss, our spouses, our PTA group, our employees.

And for those of us who are entrepreneurs or freelancers, even more of our time is spent ‘moving others’ to see that fit between our business or ourselves and their need.

So it makes sense to shift our ideas about selling – and that means (you know this is favorite topic of mine) changing our self-talk.  Here’s a quick and simple exercise for doing just that:

1) Ask yourself: What words come to mind when I think of myself as a salesperson?

2) Listen to the response that arises inside your head:

2a) If you find you’re thinking words like helpful, partner, problem-solver, relationship builder, mutual benefit  – congratulations. You have the core mindset of a successful 21st century salesperson.

2b) If your thoughts are running more along the lines of words like rejection, pushiness, annoying, drudgery, scary – I suggest you continue on to step 3.

3) What could you say to yourself differently that’s more positive and hopeful about the idea of you selling – yet still feels true to you?  I asked my husband (whose self-talk about selling is quite negative) and his response was, “I have a great product that some people will find useful. If people don’t want to buy it, it’s no reflection on me.” Great, simple, positive, accurate.

4) Once you’ve come up up with more supportive (yet still believable) self-talk, you’ll need to remind yourself of it whenever your old, unhelpful self-talk muscles its way toward the front of your brain.

Changing your mindset in this way is key to feeling differently and then acting differently about selling. And as selling starts to occupy a new place in your brain and heart, you might feel comfortable enough to explore ways to get better and better at it.

Just in case, here are two articles to support your evolution: The Unexpected Secret to Being a Great Salesperson, a post on my Forbes blog from earlier this year, and Sales Tips: 4Ways to Avoid Cold Calling, a post I wrote for the Salesforce blog.