Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a coaching, consulting, and training firm that focuses on leader readiness; and over the past 30 years, she has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are tailored to the challenges, goals, and cultures of her clients. Erika and her colleagues at Proteus focus on helping leaders at all levels GET ready and STAY ready to meet whatever the future might bring. In addition, Erika is the author of many books as well as the author and host of the Proteus Leader Show, a regular podcast that offers quick, practical support for leaders and managers. Follow on Twitter @erikaandersen and @ProteusLeader – and also on the web at www.proteus-international.com. Erika and I recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below.
QUESTION: When President Obama introduced Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve Chair in October 2013, he said, "Janet Yellen is a proven leader who knows how to build consensus, the kind of person who makes everybody around her better." Certainly, President Biden remembered this when nominating her as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury. What three characteristics do you think are necessary to create a consensus-builder?
Blog post referenced: What Kind of Leadership Legacy Are You Creating?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: The first three things that come to mind when I hear “consensus builder” are listening, “fair witnessing,” and generosity.
Listening – true, deep listening, where your intention is to fully understand what the other person is saying – is foundational to all good leadership and management, in fact to all healthy relationships. It’s especially necessary to building consensus: understanding what all parties think and feel is the core pre-requisite for being able to find a solution that includes the most important elements of each person’s point of view. It also assures that each person will feel heard and respected – which goes a long way toward “unsticking” people from rigid positions.
Being a fair witness, which I talk about a lot, means being as objective and neutral as possible. That becomes more challenging the more emotionally attached we are to a topic. If, as the person responsible for finding consensus, you can maintain a neutral focus on finding the best outcome for the greatest number of people (vs. lobbying for your preferred solution), I’ve found that helps everyone become more objective and less likely to simply argue for their own outcome.
Finally, generosity. Such a critical leadership capability – especially when emotions are running high and people have different and strongly-held viewpoints. If you as the leader can assume positive intent about everyone involved – that they are advocating for what they truly believe is the best outcome – it provides a powerful hopeful example that makes it less likely that people will fall into negative and limiting beliefs about each other, and much more likely for consensus to be achieved.
QUESTION: Last year was the “year of women” in visible seats of influence - see my Blog post written in December. From your personal and consulting experiences, how can more women earn positions of influence in business, law, medicine, nonprofit, etc.?
Blog post referenced: 2020 Was the Year of Women
ERIKA ANDERSEN: I have great faith in the younger generations – Millennials and Gen Z – who now make up a majority of the workforce, and who will continue to grow as a force over the next decade. They are more diverse than previous generations, and more progressive in their thinking and actions regarding inclusion and collaboration of all kinds. The people I know in their 20’s and 30s expect that women – and people of color – will have power and influence commensurate with their skills, capabilities and ambition. I think that means that the future is in good hands.
But what about now? First, I would hope that any woman who is now in a position of power and influence will do her best to be a model of representation, and to remove obstacles and provide opportunities for those who are coming up behind her. I would also encourage powerful women to turn to their male colleagues and help them understand how they can be practical allies by creating more opportunities for women to succeed.
And all of us can, with kindness and hope, recognize in ourselves and point out to each other where we might have limiting assumptions about women – and people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized people. And once we recognize those limiting assumptions, we can all work to question and work against them, so that we invite and welcome a more diverse group of people into positions of power and influence.
QUESTION: I read a recent post from Wharton that shared the concept that all leaders need to be surrounded by a “challenge network.” Can you elaborate on this?
Blog post referenced: Why You Need a “Challenge Network”
ERIKA ANDERSEN: I love this idea – that leaders need people who will challenge their ideas and conclusions. I talk about something like this in my book “Leading So People Will Follow,” where I contend that leaders need “Wizards, Well-wishers, and Wildcards.”
Wizards are those people who know things you don’t know, and who can help you break through your image of yourself or of what’s possible and find new solutions and new ways of operating – part of what you can get from a “challenge network.”
Well-wishers are the opposite of a challenge network: they’re the people who genuinely think you’re marvelous, and truly want the best for you (which I think is also invaluable –being challenged all the time is demoralizing and unhelpful).
Wildcards are those people from whom you get unexpected value – they may seem negative, or grouchy, or just weird, but they have insights, skills or assets that can support you to achieve an outcome or solve a problem better than you could yourself. The essence of what a challenge network provides!
A lot of research over many years has shown that one of the biggest predictors of leadership failure is an environment where others can’t or won’t push back on the leader’s decisions. Having a challenge network filled with Wizards and Wildcards helps make sure that doesn’t happen.
TWEET THIS: One of the biggest predictors of leadership failure is an environment where others can’t or won’t push back on the leader’s decisions. ~@erikaandersen #LeadershipTip #ChallengeNetwork
QUESTION: Many people believe that leadership is only possible with a title. But there are many ways to lead and to be a leader. How do you counsel your clients to promote from within and build people up?
To read more on this topic, check out this Blog post: Spot these types of hidden talent in your organization:
ERIKA ANDERSEN: A lot of our coaching of leaders focuses on helping them become better developers of people. In addition to teaching them the core skills of feedback, delegation and coaching, we also encourage them to think about applying the “hedgehog” model Jim Collins popularized in Good to Great, where he noted companies that become great find the intersection among three things: what they’re best at, what they’re passionate about, and what “drives their economic engine” (i.e., makes them sustainably profitable).
Leaders can apply this to their folks by helping them think through what they’re best at and most passionate about, that will drive the organization’s economic engine. In other words, to focus their coaching and development on those areas where the employee would love to improve, where they can become really excellent, and where the company needs more capability.
Too often, leaders try to coach and develop just based on what the company needs, without thinking much about the employees’ interest or natural talent. And employees sometimes over-focus on what they’re passionate about, without thinking enough about whether they can get really good at that thing – or whether the company needs it.
And once you, as a leader, have helped an employee get clearer about what they could be best at and passionate about, that will drive the company’s economic engine, it’s important to determine two other things. First, you need to find out if the employee is really willing to make the effort needed to grow (and, unfortunately, you can only really know that by seeing how they respond to growth opportunities). Second you need to have a “coach mindset” about that employee, which we define as “believing in their potential and wanting to help them succeed.”
If all these things align, you get to have that wonderful experience of watching someone grow, knowing that you’ve helped.
TWEET THIS: Too often, leaders try to coach and develop just based on what the company needs, without thinking much about the employees’ interest or natural talent. ~@erikaandersen #LeadershipTip #LeadershipCoaching
QUESTION: You wrote a post published in Forbes comparing great leaders to movie heroes. Can you explain this comparison?
Blog post referenced: What Do Great Leaders And Movie Heroes Have In Common?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: I just used the movie hero comparison as an interesting way to tee up the importance of delegation!
It’s easy to think that being a hero means doing everything yourself. But in almost every good movie, one of the things the hero learns is how essential it is to have the support, collaboration, and skills of others – that achieving difficult outcomes is almost always a group effort.
And leaders who are good at delegation, who have and use the skills and the mindset needed to share power and responsibility, are much more likely to build teams of capable and motivated people who achieve great things. Then, they all get to be real heroes!
QUESTION: Lastly, you have another inspiring leadership book out later in the year (October). How does it differ from “Growing Great Employees,” “Being Strategic,” “Leading So People Will Follow” and “Be Bad First”?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Thank you for asking! The new book is called Change from the Inside Out, and it first explains the simple, predictable process any individual has to go through in order to make any change – we call it the Change Arc. Then it offers a model for cascading any change throughout an organization, by focusing well and consistently on the nuts-and-bolts necessities of change while supporting everyone in the organization through their own mental and emotional Change Arc.
The book offers new insights and models, and leverages many of the core skills and models you’ve seen in my earlier books, all in the service of helping leaders, their teams, and their organizations become more change-capable – better able to thrive and grow in this era of continual, disruptive change. I hope that’s a good “trailer for the movie” – and I look forward to having a more in-depth conversation about it as the publication date draws nearer this fall!
My heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Erika for appearing on my Blog again and for sharing her leadership insights!
For more inspiration, check out Erika’s previous appearances on my Blog:
Review of: Leading So People Will Follow by Erika Andersen (October 2019)
(Fall Back to Reading with 12 Thought-Provoking Business Books)
Leadership + Strategy = Amazing Employee Experience (November 2018)
Review of: Be Bad First by Erika Andersen (October 2018)
(Fall Reading Recap: Leadership, Branding, and Voice of the Customer Marketing)
Are You the Type of Manager Or Leader YOU Would Follow? (January 2014)
25 Employee Engagement Tips to Improve Your Workplace
Want to be Nicknamed Strategy Guru? (July 2011)
Image Credit: Etsy.