Erika Andersen, Founder of Proteus
In our recent phone conversation, prolific author
and thought leader
, Erika Andersen of the consulting firm Proteus
“I can’t think of any arena in life where being curious has not been a huge asset.”
Erika’s embodiment of Lead Positive, her insatiable curiosity, and immense generosity of spirit were palpable. Whether we were talking about her team of consultants at Proteus (the global leadership consultancy she founded in 1990) or her clients (who number in the hundreds and come from top-tier companies around the world), Erika’s desire to discover what it takes for leaders to move to their next level of competency was front and center.
“Ninety-nine percent of our focus is on what we call Leader Readiness: helping people to be ready to take on positions of leadership and to be ready to lead into the future.” The brand values of her consultancy are to be “illuminating, strengthening and trustworthy,” she said.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to Erika Anderson in this first Lead Positive Leader Profile. Get to know her. Let Erika’s stories inspire you to move to your next level of leadership effectiveness.
What were 3 signature moments in your life that shaped and strengthened your leadership assets?
1. Never punish anyone for doing more or going farther.
The first moment that comes to mind happened when I was in first grade. I had read ahead in our “Dick and Jane” reader because I wanted to find out more of the story.
When the teacher then asked the class a question that could only be answered by someone who had read ahead, I put up my hand and answered, excited to think she was rewarding my initiative. Instead, she said, “I knew you weren’t following instructions!” and made me go and sit in the corner as punishment.
I remember feeling angry and betrayed, and telling myself that when I was a grown-up I would never punish anyone for doing more or going farther than I had asked. I don’t think I ever have.
2. Let them say it themselves.
The second was about 25 years ago. I had just started my consulting business, and my then-partner and I were working with a senior client team on their leadership skills. I was having a great time, feeling very effective and powerful. At a break, my partner pulled me aside and said, very kindly:
“Erika, you’re talking too much. People believe what they say more than they believe what you say, even if it’s the same thing. Let them say it themselves.”
Some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever gotten—I’m still working on implementing it.
3. The power of collaboration.
The third (and one of a dozen instances of this phenomenon I could have chosen) happened just recently: One of our senior consultants, let’s call her Lucy, at Proteus landed a major contract with a global financial services firm to provide leadership training.
My business partner “publicly” congratulated Lucy via email. Lucy thanked my partner and then turned the congratulations back to the team, noting that she could not possibly have achieved it without everyone’s support and collaboration.
It reinforced for me the power of collaboration and the beauty of the culture we consistently work to build at Proteus. It was a very satisfying moment and, at the same time, an inspiration to keep going.
Who had the biggest influence on you—a critic or a coach? Why?
Without a doubt, my dad. He was a wonderful coach—a combination of confident and open, firm and flexible. Above all, he was unquenchably curious. I watched him approach every day of his life with a zeal to find out and understand more about the people and the world around him. He was a marvelous example for me as a person, a leader, a parent, a friend, and a spouse. I can’t think of any arena in life where being curious has not been a huge asset.
What did you say to yourself that could have held you back on your leadership journey? How did you silence that negative voice?
Oddly, I think the self-talk that has been most destructive for me, especially earlier in my career, was “I’m smarter than you.” It arose from my narrow definition of “smart” (mostly centered around quickness, memory, and perception of patterns—all of which I happened to be good at). It caused me to be less open to people with other forms of smartness and to be way too convinced that I was right in most situations.
Reading Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, when it came out almost 20 years ago, was a huge wake-up call for me, and got me thinking about all the “intelligences” I’d been overlooking or dismissing. I’m happy to say that I hardly ever have that self-talk any more, and, as a result, am far more inclusive and permeable as a leader.
What did others say to you that could have held you back? How did you overcome their resistance?
This may sound odd, but there are so many things people say every day that can hold you back, it’s hard to pick out one. My focus has always been to try to cultivate self-talk that allows me to be open to their point of view (see the previous answer!) while still having faith in myself, my capabilities and my vision.
Which great leader, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with and why?
Can I make it a dinner party instead? And can I invite leaders in the broader sense of thought leaders? And finally, can we include translators for the people who don’t speak English?
If so, I’d invite Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Mozart, George Washington Carver, Christine de Pizan (an amazing medieval woman who was, in effect, Europe’s first professional female author), Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci. What a conversation!
Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a coaching, consulting, and training firm that focuses on leader readiness. She is one of the most popular business bloggers at Forbes.com and her latest book is Leading So People Will Follow (Jossey-Bass). For more on Erika and her work visit proteus-international.com.
Dr. Kathy Cramer has written seven best-selling books including Change The Way You See Everything, which started the ABT Global Movement. Her latest book, Lead Positive shows leaders how to increase their effectiveness through her revolutionary yet refreshing simple mindset management process, Asset-Based Thinking. To read more of Kathy’s thought leadership, visit drkathycramer.com/blog