Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Inspiring Tips to Celebrate #NationalLeadershipDay!


Today, February 20, is National Leadership Day. According to National Day website, "The aim of National Leadership Day is to inculcate the values of leadership in each one of us. A good leader not only leads but inspires those around him/her/they to be the best versions of themselves. Anyone can be a leader — you just have to show up and encourage others to do the same...We know that an organization is only as good as its leaders, which means that having empathetic and just leaders at the top who lead by example creates an environment in which everyone is inspired to be their best."

Therefore, today is an especially appropriate day for Erika Andersen to appear on my blog for a conversation about leadership. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Erika for many years, and she first appeared in a Q&A on my blog 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 Forbes.com, and the creator and host of the Proteus Leader Show podcast.

QUESTION: One of your inspiring quotes is, "Great leaders don't do it alone...they get help." What are some tips for new leaders in order to embrace this concept of collaboration?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: One thing that gets in the way of collaboration for new leaders is that they’ve often been socialized to think that "Leaders should have all the answers." Allowing yourself to get curious as a new leader – about your team, their likes and dislikes, their skills – is a pretty gentle first step toward collaboration. For example, when you’re meeting with your folks, either individually or as a group, ask curious questions: "What should I know about you as a team?" or "What do you think are your/our most important strengths?" or "How can we best help each other succeed?"

And how you respond is even more important than asking the questions. Listen carefully, and make sure you understand – either by asking clarifying questions, or by summarizing what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve got their main points. If you immediately dismiss or disagree with what you’ve heard, without considering it, that sends a strong message that you aren’t really interested in or open to what they have to say.

After making sure you’ve understood, ask them how you might incorporate their insights and opinions into the work you’ll be doing together. For instance, if a team member says, "I think one of our biggest strengths is that we look for ways to overcome even difficult obstacles," you might respond, "How do you think we could use that strength in reaching our current goals?"

Voila, you’re on the path to collaboration.

QUESTION: In a post you wrote for Linkedin, "This is the first time in history that four distinct generations are together in the workplace: Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z." What are some insights to help everyone work together?

[Post referenced:
What Planet Are You From? Five Ways To Get Along With People Who Aren't Like You

ERIKA ANDERSEN: I think three of the five approaches I suggested in the article you’ve referenced are particularly helpful when working cross-generationally.

First, realizing that other people are not you. It might sound silly, but when we’re dealing with people who have different assumptions or outlooks, we tend to filter their responses as though those people are us. In other words, that their responses mean the same thing as they would if we were saying or doing them. An example: a few years ago, I was coaching a Gen X executive, who was very irritated with an extremely smart and ambitious Millennial employee. He had asked her how he could become a vice president, and she was complaining to me about it.

I asked, "Why do you think he was asking you that?"

She responded, "Because he thinks he should get promoted right away, and that’s just ridiculous – he’s just been promoted to manager."
I then said, "Maybe that’s what you would have meant by that, if you’d asked the same question at his age. And I’m betting you never would have asked it."

"Darn right," she grumbled.

I proposed, "But what if he was asking something very different. Millennials are used to being able to get all the critical information they need online, and he may be frustrated about the lack of a clear path to get from where he is to where he wants to be. He may just be asking for that pathway."

She acknowledged the possibility, and they went on to have a good conversation.

Leveraging complementarity vs. similarity is also an important tool in working with other generations. For example, Boomer and Gen X bosses can take advantage of most Gen Z employees’ knowledge of and comfort with AI and other forms of technology, and work with those younger employees to figure out how to best incorporate those technological advances for better and faster results.

Millennial managers - and now even newly-minted Gen Z managers – can leverage Boomer and Gen X team members’ experience and connections in an organization or an industry to smooth difficult negotiations and avoid unseen pitfalls.  

I’d encourage managers to do this "out loud," perhaps, by having a meeting where each person can share how they think the team could benefit from the strengths, skills, or knowledge they bring as a result of their age and the environment in which they grew up.

I predict people will find out a lot of interesting and useful things about each other, and it will also help to promote the final approach: starting from neutral. Unfortunately, one of the most common responses to differences between generations is to assume that different means WORSE. This seems to have been happening for most of human history: witness this quote from Socrates: "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise."

If you can make a habit of saying to yourself, "This person sees things differently than me – I want to find out more about why," instead of "This ____ (fill in the generational blank) is so wrong/bad/unprofessional," then you’ll be well on your way to figuring out how to work with great people of any age.

QUESTION: You wrote a post for Forbes comparing great leaders to movie heroes. Who are some recent movie heroes that demonstrate effective leadership?

[Post referenced:
What Do Great Leaders And Movie Heroes Have In Common?

ERIKA ANDERSEN: My husband and I rarely watch movies these days, but we do watch a lot of TV! There are so many really well-made shows these days, and we especially like good science fiction.

One show we’ve been enjoying is Strange New Worlds, the most recent show in the Star Trek franchise. I’ve really been enjoying Captain Christopher Pike, as played by Anson Mount. One thing I’ve noticed is that Mount, in contrast to earlier versions of the show - particularly the original with William Shatner – is much more vulnerable. He lets his crew know when he’s struggling with a decision, and invites their input. He’s also much more likely to listen when a crew member who he respects disagrees with him.

I find this heartening, because I believe that TV and movies tend to reflect the beliefs and mores of popular culture, and what this says to me is that we, as a culture, are generally starting to be open to more collaborative and egalitarian approaches to leadership (back to your initial question!) 

SHARE THIS: TV and movies tend to reflect the beliefs of popular culture, and what this says to me is that we, as a culture, are generally starting to be open to more collaborative and egalitarian approaches to leadership. ~@erikaandersen #Leadership #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: What inspiring leadership books have you read recently?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: A wonderful book, and one that I’d recommend highly, is "Speaking While Female," a compilation of 75 largely unknown speeches by American women over the past four hundred years. It was compiled and published by Dana Rubin, a speaker, coach, and consultant who runs the Speaking While Female speech bank. The speeches are inspiring, riveting, insightful, thoughtful and unexpected, and the book is one step toward redressing the imbalance in what we are all taught about who are/were the important figures in American History.

QUESTION: Lastly and sadly, Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor passed away in December 2023. How did she embody effective leadership to you?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Justice O’Connor was so thoughtful. Even though she was considered primarily a conservative, she ended up being a swing vote because, often, based on her research into a case and its issues, would vote with the more liberal judges.  

As the first woman on the Supreme Court, she focused on demonstrating that a woman could be as effective as a man in that role, and although she didn’t draw attention to herself as a woman on a regular basis, she quietly and firmly stood up for herself when necessary. For example, two years after she joined the Court, The New York Times wrote an editorial that mentioned the "nine men" of the SCOTUS. She wrote a letter to the editor, reminding the newspaper that the Court was no longer composed only of men.

My gratitude to Erika for sharing her leadership insights to make us ALL better leaders!

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey's design showcasing Erika Andersen's vision.

Connect with Erika at these links:
Website: https://erikaandersen.com
Website: https://www.proteus-international.com
Books: https://erikaandersen.com/books

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

FALL BACK TO READING SERIES – Featuring Erika Andersen (October 2023)

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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