In 2013, I shared tips about employee engagement on my Blog. The following quote stood out by Erika Andersen.
“If a company’s focus is ‘How can we give our customers what they want,’ then that company needs great employees. To come up with the ideas, to make the great products, to interact with the customers. Employees aren’t a begrudged necessity in that kind of company – they’re what makes it possible. And if my company feels like that about me, and treats me that way, then I’m most likely to feel that way about my company and treat my company that way. Voilà: engagement. AND productivity, reduced turnover, attracting top talent. AND delighted customers, great products and services, big profits.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Erika Andersen and her work, then this post is for you. Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a coaching, consulting, and training firm that focuses on leader readiness. 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. She and her colleagues at Proteus focus uniquely 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: You appeared on my Blog in 2011 when I shared a review of your book, BEING STRATEGIC. (Link to this post is included at the end of this Q&A.) Can you provide a brief recap of the four parts of strategy for readers who may be unfamiliar with your work?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Of course! Being Strategic offers a model for thinking and acting in a way that will allow you to create your best life, career, or business: to consistently make the core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future.
Here’s how it works:
Define the Challenge: We’ve found this “pre-step” is key: first you need to get clear about the problem you’re trying to solve or the challenge you’re trying to address. This is especially important when you’re using this process with a group of people – otherwise you may find they’re all trying to solve different problems!
Clarify What Is: In this step, you get clear about where you’re starting from relative to your challenge. You note strengths or assets you now have that might help you solve the problem or address the challenge, then any weaknesses you have that might get in the way. You also look at external factors that might support you or get in your way. Getting as clear as possible about where you’re starting from grounds your visioning, in the next step.
Envision What’s the Hope: This is where you envision a future that would address the challenge as you’ve defined it, given your current reality. By creating your vision based on your actual current state and a real challenge, you can create a three-dimensional picture of a successful future that’s both practical and inspiring: a reasonable aspiration.
Face What’s in the Way: At this point, you know where you’re starting from and where you want to go, so now you can look at what’s in the way: the obstacles that might arise between your “what is” and the future you envision. By defining the key obstacles, you’ll be able to factor overcoming them into your plan – the final step.
Determine What’s the Path: In this last part of the process, you decide first on your strategies – those core directional choices or efforts you’ll need to make in order to achieve your hoped-for future. Once you’ve selected those strategies, you’ll craft the specific tactics that will best implement them.
We love the almost infinite adaptability of this approach: it works for envisioning the future of your company and building a plan to achieve it; for planning a family vacation; or for creating a map of the work life you most want.
QUESTION: You appeared on my Blog in 2014 because one of your leadership lessons for a post on Forbes was timeless: Be the manager or leader you’d like to have. (Link to this post is included at the end of this Q&A.) Can you share a few highlights from your Forbes post?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: In the Forbes post you and I discussed in 2014, I noted that one of the most constructive ways to deal with having a really bad boss was to use the person as a model for what not to do.
But let’s talk more broadly about being the boss – the manager and leader – you’d like to have. Most human beings want the same things from leaders (this is the basic premise of my book Leading So People Will Follow). We look for leaders who are far-sighted – who share a compelling and inclusive view of a future that we can achieve together, and who model and move toward the vision daily with us. We want passionate leaders who remain committed to that vision, to us and the enterprise through adversity and challenge – and at the same time, who are open to input and to new ideas. It’s also important to us that our leaders be courageous: that they make difficult decisions with limited information, even when that’s uncomfortable for them – and that they take full responsibility for those decisions.
We also want wise leaders who reflect on and learn from their experience, and then think deeply about how to incorporate their understanding into making good choices. We love having generous leaders who share what they have – knowledge, power, authority, and resources – and perhaps most important, belief in our capability and our good intentions. And finally, we want trustworthy leaders who can be relied upon to keep their word and deliver on their promises – to do what they say they will do.
Think about it – you’d like to have this kind of a leader, right? So, would everyone who works for you. If you’re a leader, I would encourage you to reflect carefully and honestly on whether and to what extent you demonstrate these attributes – and if you’re not sure, ask someone who you believe sees you clearly, wants the best for you, and is willing to tell you the truth. And then do everything you can to become this kind of leader.
QUESTION: How do you explain the following statement: Your culture is your brand?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Let me start by offering a definition of company culture: A pattern of accepted behavior and the beliefs and values that underlie and reinforce it. A pattern of accepted behavior means “how it’s OK to act” in your company – and that is most often based on the values and beliefs of the CEO and his or her team.
For instance, if leaders in Company A value profit by any means, that will drive behaviors that could create a culture that’s cut-throat, doesn’t invest much in people, maybe even crosses the line of integrity in the service of making money. If Company B’s leaders value creating benefit for all their stakeholders – customers, employees and investors – that will drive behaviors that would likely yield a culture that supports employees to reach their potential, focuses on excellent customer service, and targets profitable growth without sacrificing those things.
If you define brand as the promise of an experience, it’s pretty clear in the examples above that those two very different cultures would create two very different brand experiences. And it wouldn’t matter what Company A says its brand is – their customers would have an experience very much determined by the profit-at-all-costs values and behaviors accepted within that company. So, in my mind, the statement ‘Your culture is your brand’ is perfectly true…even if leaders don’t realize it’s true!
QUESTION: How can a President/CEO become an organization’s number one brand ambassador?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: By getting really clear about what the brand is and making sure it arises from and is aligned with his or her values. Then by clearly defining the behaviors that embody that brand. And then – and this is the single most important thing – by living the brand daily. We practice this at Proteus. Our brand attributes (and our core values) are Illuminating, Strengthening and Trustworthy. That’s the experience we want our clients to have when they deal with us, and it’s how we want to interact with each other. My business partners and I take our responsibility to live these values very seriously, and we invite anyone in the company to tell us (in an illuminating and strengthening way!) if we’re not delivering on that commitment.
QUESTION: You say that “being able to learn new skills well and quickly is the key to success in the 21st century. Can you explain why?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Absolutely! Unless you’re living somewhere deep in the equatorial rain forest, or on top of a mountain, you know that we’re living in an era of unprecedented change, driven largely by the enormous, daily proliferation of new knowledge. But what does that mean for us, day-to-day? This explosion of knowledge, and the technological, scientific and cultural advances that have resulted, have dramatically changed how we learn and how we work – and what it takes to succeed at work and in our lives.
For someone growing up a hundred years ago, in the early part of the 20th century, the expectations around learning were fairly clear: you would go to school to learn the basics, then land a job and learn what you needed in order to do that job reasonably well. You would go on to work in some version of that job until you retired. This was true whether you were a doctor or a pipe-fitter: the vast majority of people learned a trade or profession and practiced it throughout their entire working life.
Fast forward to today, when most people entering the workforce expect that they will have a variety of jobs and work at a number of companies – perhaps with a stint or two of working free-lance mixed in, or even spending part of their career creating and working in their own company. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone working today will have the same job for their entire career: even for someone who is part of the ever-smaller minority of workers who stay at one company or in one field for their entire work life, that company and that field will certainly change dramatically over the course of that person’s career.
Given all this, it seems clear that those who succeed in today’s world will be those who can acquire and apply new knowledge, new skills, and new ways of operating quickly and continuously. That’s really the premise of my book, Be Bad First: that at this point in history, where knowledge is increasing exponentially, where work is changing daily, where advancements in every area of discipline nearly outpace our ability to communicate them, the ability to learn well and quickly is the most important skill we can have.
My gratitude and appreciation to Erika for once again appearing on my Blog and for sharing her amazing insights about leadership.
Are You the Type of Manager or Leader YOU Would Follow? – from 2014
Want to be Nicknamed Strategy Guru – from 2011