Monday, October 9, 2023

FALL BACK TO READING SERIES – Featuring Erika Andersen

This year, as the seasons change and we enjoy fall, I’ve launched my FALL BACK TO READING SERIES. The series will feature two dozen leadership and marketing experts, who will share their inspiration in both fiction and nonfiction, and hopefully, provide the impetus to read more. To quote New York Times Bestselling author Kristin Harmel, “If you give a person a book, you give him the world.” For today’s post, I’d like to introduce Erika Andersen.

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. She 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 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: Which three business books have made the biggest impact on your career?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: I have to start with a caveat – I don’t actually read a lot of business books; maybe 4-5 a year. I find most aren’t very well written – either too self-consciously complex or too simplistic. And it seems to me that many of them don’t make a very good case for what they’re proposing. Having said that, though, there have been and are some real gems in the business book lexicon. Three business books to which I find myself referring to over and over through the years are:

Good to Great by Jim Collins. This one has really stood the test of time for me. I find that the ideas and understanding outlined in this book apply not only to organizations, but to individuals and teams, as well. Collins’ insight into “Level 5 leaders” is especially valuable – and in fact, was one of the things that got me thinking in the direction that led to the model at the heart of my own book, Leading So People Will Follow.

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. So much clarity came from reading this book. I had observed people who weren’t intellectually gifted, but who created wonderful careers and relationships for themselves – and others who were near-geniuses, but whose lives weren’t at all what they wanted. Goleman’s book offered a framework for explaining this phenomenon – and, more importantly, for doing something to help. Much of our executive coaching work over the years has centered on supporting our clients to become more emotionally intelligent – and it’s amazing how helpful that can be.

The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R Covey. You know how sometimes you read a book, and it’s exciting because it presents the solution to a problem you’ve been working on, but haven’t cracked? This book was that for me. I had been trying to articulate something I saw in myself and others, that when there was trust between us in a working situation, it was based on both practical things (Did the person fulfill their commitments? Did they have the skills to do their job?) and on more interpersonal elements (Did they tell the truth? Did they support others’ success?). Covey captured this distinction so clearly, in talking about trust based on “Character and Competence,” that it was a joyful experience for me to read. We’ve used his core ideas ever since, especially in helping teams build trust.  

QUESTION: Who is your favorite author, and why?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Debbie, that’s an impossible question to answer! But I can share a bit about a couple of my favorites.

At the risk of being nepotistic, one of my favorite authors is my brother Kurt Andersen. He has a unique ability to take masses of data and create an engaging and compelling narrative thread. I found that especially true in his books Fantasyland and Evil Geniuses. I also love his joyful curiosity – he gets so excited when he discovers and can share something weird or wonderful, or some single fact that encapsulates and demonstrates a complex concept.

In the timeless greatness category, my favorite author is Shakespeare. That may seem like a cliché – but there’s a reason people have been reading his works for over 400 years. He was able to touch and tell the truth of human emotion and relationship in a way that no one else has ever done.

For fun, I read tons of Regency novels – modern books in the style of Jane Austen. And my three favorite authors in the genre are Mary Balogh, Grace Burrowes, and Mary Kingswood. All are gifted storytellers and are particularly good at creating three-dimensional characters living within the strictures of that earlier age. And I’ve learned a lot about creating a graceful narrative arc by reading their work, as well.

Finally, I love Maya Angelou. Her writing pulls at my heart and is lyrical in a way that I find nourishing even when she is sharing difficult truths. Some of her aphorisms I reflect on and share almost daily. “When people show you who they are, believe them,” is particularly useful for me, as I tend to be overly optimistic in my assessments of people – even when I have evidence, from them, to the contrary.

QUESTION: What book did you read in high school or college that, to this day, you still remember vividly, and why?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: To Kill a Mockingbird. I grew up in a very white community in a very white state, in a very happy upper-middle class family – and reading that book woke me up to injustice and to the idea that everyone wasn’t getting to play by the same rules that I was. And I have to give props to my mom: giving me that book was one of many things that she did for me and my siblings to help assure that we would become aware, empathic, motivated world citizens. She knew that books were a powerful medium of inspiration and learning for me: she also gave me Elizabeth Blackwell, First Woman Doctor, and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Good work, mom.

QUESTION: Do you intersperse fiction with your business reading? If yes, what was the last work of fiction that you read, and what caught your attention about it?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: I read far more fiction than nonfiction; I’d say almost a 10 to 1 ratio. Lately, I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books in Spanish, as part of my ongoing effort to become fluent. (My husband and I recently bought an apartment in northern Spain and are spending about half our time there.)

I read the whole series when they first came out, as a fun thing to do with my kids, who were just the right age at the time and were also reading them. Re-reading them now, in another language, is giving me an entirely new appreciation of the depth and richness of the world Rowling created in those books.

QUESTION: If you created a nonprofit organization to promote reading to children and young adults, what would you name it, and why?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Great question. I would call it “Whatever You Want,” because that’s true, and I think the idea would be appealing to kids and teens who too often feel powerless, constrained, or bored.

Books really do offer a way to discover, explore, learn, and see all the skills, all the ideas, and all the possible worlds that human beings have developed so far. They are an infinite treasure chest, available at any time. It’s why so many reactionary forces throughout the centuries have sought to ban or burn books: reading can be a revolutionary act.

SHARE THIS: Books are an infinite treasure chest, available at any time. ~@ErikaAndersen #Reading #DebbieLaskeysBlog

My gratitude to Erika for participating in this year’s fall back to reading series and for sharing her inspiring recommendations!

Image Credit: Lena via Unsplash.

Connect with Erika at these links:

Check out Erika’s previous appearances here on my blog:

How Magic and Happiness Impact Leadership (April 2023)

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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