Thursday, April 27, 2023

How Magic and Happiness Impact Leadership


Today is National Tell A Story Day, and we’re celebrating an amazing storyteller and leadership expert, but first, a little background. According to National Today, “National Tell A Story Day was first celebrated in 2009 by George Rafeedie, who runs a creative marketing agency called Tell Your Story, Inc. His business relies on promoting and marketing a brand through storytelling techniques. By creating a story with the product as the main character, the product is central to the plot and is viewed as important in continuing the storyline. Storytelling, at its most basic form, thus, contributes to highlighting certain themes, be it for moral purposes, and/or entertainment.”

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Erika Andersen for many years, and she first appeared in a Q&A on my blog back in 2011. If you aren’t familiar with her books, blog posts, guest posts, Twitter feed, podcasts, or websites, get ready to be inspired. Highlights of our recent discussion about leadership and workplace culture follow a brief introduction.

Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, where she and her colleagues support leaders at all levels to get ready and stay ready to meet the future. Erika advises senior executives, and she also shares her insights through her books, speaking engagements, and social media. In addition to her latest book, Change from the Inside Out, she is the author of four previous best-selling books: Be Bad First, Leading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic and Growing Great Employees. Erika is also a popular leadership blogger at, and the creator and host of the Proteus Leader Show podcast.

QUESTION: In a post for Forbes entitled, "In This New Era Of Hybrid Work, What Makes A Great Team?" you described five key elements for success. What were the highlights?

(Read the full post here:

ERIKA ANDERSEN: I had written a post for Forbes in 2015 explaining the five high-performance team attributes that we use as framework to help leaders improve their teams. Last fall, my partner Jeff, pointed out that since we’ve found those same five attributes are key to success in hybrid and long-distance teams, it could be helpful to write a new article to share that truth – and thus, this post!

Our observation is that the most effective teams have these five things: clear goals that are meaningful to everyone on the team; agreed-upon, simple measures of progress toward those goals; well-defined roles that are aligned with the goals; consistent, efficient team processes – ways of working together; and high trust among the members.

It turns out that these things are even MORE important in hybrid and distance teams. When people are all in the same physical location, there tends to be a good deal of informal, ongoing communication and interaction that can make up – to a certain extent – for a lack of clarity around these elements.

But when people spend most of their time not being face-to-face with their teammates, it’s all too easy to get out of sync and operate at cross-purposes without those good “stakes in the ground” of goals, measures, roles, process, and trust.

Making sure that you and your hybrid or distance team clarify and then rely on these five elements will help assure that you can still get great results and enjoy your colleagues while operating in this changed world of work that we all live in today.   

QUESTION: In a post on your blog entitled, "Practical Magic," you wrote: "Next time someone in your personal or professional life suggests a way to move forward or solve a problem that you don’t understand, or can’t quite see, before you say no, take a moment and ask yourself, 'Do we believe in each others’ magic?'" Please explain.

(Read the full post here:

ERIKA ANDERSEN: As I noted in the post, I learned this phrase from my son. He is a deeply intuitive leader and collaborator – and people of all kinds love working with him.

What “believing in someone’s magic” means is having faith that that person – based on who you know them to be and the experiences you’ve had together – can imagine and do things that you aren’t capable of – and that you may not even understand.

Believing in someone’s magic is that moment when your spouse or colleague or friend, who you love and trust, says “I want to do this and I can make it happen” … and even if you can’t see it, even if you’re not quite sure what they’re talking about, you support their effort with full energy and hope.

Believing in the magic of those around you is a powerful way to let go of your own limitations, and it’s a powerful way for groups and teams of all kinds to be able to achieve new, exciting things that are beyond the capabilities of any single member of the team.

SHARE THIS: Believing in the magic of those around you is a powerful way to let go of your own limitations. ~@ErikaAndersen #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: There is a relatively new title in the C-Suite: Chief Happiness Officer. What do you make of this, and can it, or should it, become standard in all organizations? And if so, how could it impact the overall employee experience?

ERIKA ANDERSEN: I’m a big fan of this if it’s real. That is, if it’s not just “the flavor of the month,” but signals an actual, practical effort to increase employees’ joy and satisfaction at work, then I think it’s great.

There’s so much research now showing a correlation between at-work happiness and productivity, retention, overall health, and even happiness at home. And that same data shows that younger workers have a much higher expectation that they’ll find happiness at work than their older counterparts – and that their expectations are increasing all workers’ hopes about happiness at work.

So, it seems to me that organizations do need to focus on how to create a work environment that nurtures their employees’ happiness, if they want to be able to hire and retain the best workers and support them to do their best work.

QUESTION: You've written an array of inspiring leadership books (THANK YOU!). What leadership books inspire YOU?

ERIKA ANDERSEN: My favorite business book of all time is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Even now, more than two decades after it was first published, I find the insights valid and tremendously valuable. (Note from Debbie: I read this book during graduate school in 1995, and I often refer back to it for its timeless lessons!)

The two other business/leadership books that have had the greatest impact on me, I believe, are Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, and Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust. Both books clarified for me important ideas that I was wrestling with but hadn’t yet nailed down. I had that wonderful experience, on first reading each of them, of thinking:“Yes – that’s it. That’s what I’ve been seeing, but I didn’t know how to capture it!”     

QUESTION: If you could have dinner with three leaders from history or the modern era, who would you choose and why?

ERIKA ANDERSEN: I love questions like this. Sorry, though, I have to cheat, and choose four: Llewelyn Fawr, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela.  

Llewelyn Fawr (Llewelyn the Great) was a Welsh prince who lived in the early 1200’s, and held Wales together for almost 45 years through a combination of diplomacy and warfare. Before him, Wales was not a single kingdom, but merely a collection of loosely affiliated fiefdoms. He had amazing vision and seemed far ahead of his time in many ways.

I’d choose Lincoln for his ability to navigate through such a fraught time in American history and his ability to self-reflect and change.

Eleanor Roosevelt is fascinating to me as an extraordinarily wise person and as a woman leader who had a powerful impact within the constraints of a very male-dominated society.

Nelson Mandela is hugely inspiring as an example of a leader having absolute fidelity to a cause and the ability to manage his own mindset through decades of unimaginable personal hardship.

Assuming all four could speak the same languages (or we could have a Star Trek-style universal translator), I’d love to just sit back and listen to these four very different people from very different periods in history discuss their understanding of human beings, their motivations, and how best to lead others. What an amazing conversation that would be!

My gratitude to Erika for once again spending some of her precious time to provide inspiration about leadership and workplace culture.

Image Credit: VectorStock.

Research that Erika mentioned in the question about the Chief Happiness Officer:

Connect with Erika at these links:
Twitter: @erikaandersen
Learn more at or

For more inspiration, check out Erika’s previous appearances on my Blog:

Tips to Become “Change-Capable (May 2022)

Three Leadership Secrets: Build Consensus, Be Open to Challengers, and Delegate (May 2021)

Review of: Leading So People Will Follow by Erika Andersen (October 2019)

Leadership + Strategy = Amazing Employee Experience (November 2018)

Review of: Be Bad First by Erika Andersen (October 2018)

Are You the Type of Manager or Leader YOU Would Follow? (January 2014)

Want to be Nicknamed Strategy Guru? (July 2011)

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