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Leading So People Will Follow: An Interview with @erikaandersen

Note from Phil: What follows is an interview from one of my favorite authors who has become a dear friend, Erika Andersen. I love each and every one of Erika’s books, and as I’ve transitioned away from being a manager to being a business owner who works with other contractors, her words have become even more relevant to me. Her new book Leading So People Will Follow is her best book yet. The book launches today, so I encourage you to pick up a copy – after you finish reading our interview of course. Enjoy!

Erika AndersenPhil Gerbyshak: Erika, what was the motivation behind writing your new book Leading So People Will Follow?”

Erika Andersen: Really, the same motivation as for my first two books: I wanted to offer the ideas and practices to a wider audience.  I love knowing that thousands of folks I’ll never meet will benefit from the work we’ve done over the years and the understanding we’ve developed.

PG: You share something I’ve known for years, and that is passionate leaders are leaders people will follow. But you talk about it in a very new way. Can you share your definition of a passionate leader, and one story of how passion has been displayed in the organizations you work with?

EA: People generally associate passion with ‘charisma’ – in other words, an engaging gregarious personality; someone with a ‘big’ presence.  However, what we’ve found is that true passion isn’t loud, it’s deep.  Very passionate leaders can be quiet, even introverted. The passion that followers respond to in leaders is a combination of depth of commitment and permeability.  In other words, followers know what’s important to a passionate leader, and that he or she will honor commitments to those things.  At the same time, passionate leaders aren’t dogmatic or inflexible; even in the areas where they feel most strongly, they say open to dialogue.

One recent example of passion: a leader I’m working with felt it was essential for the field and headquarters members of her team to work together as a single senior group (this had not been the case in the past – her predecessor had allowed an “A team, B team” hierarchy to evolve). As I’ve worked with her and this newly formed team over the past few months, I’ve observed how her quiet passion, her commitment to collaboration, are dissolving cynicism and promoting a new way of working together.

PG: In Growing Great Employees (which I interviewed you for previously) you dedicated a whole chapter to delegation. You covered it again in this book. Why do you feel delegation is so important that you’d cover it twice, and why don’t more leaders DO delegation more effectively (other than because they didn’t read your book)?

EA: Delegation is at the heart of the difference between being an individual contributor and being a manager or leader:  individual contributors get results primarily through their own efforts; leaders and managers get results primarily with and through others.

The main thing that gets in the way is that most managers and leaders have a “one size fits all” approach to delegation.  That is, they ‘delegate’ in a way that feels most comfortable to them, whether or not it works for the situation or the employee.  For example, some managers stay way too involved: they never fully delegate, keeping tabs on all activities and reserving final decision-making for themselves in all key areas.  Others do just the opposite – I call it ‘delegation by abdication’ – they just throw the responsibility at the person and walk away.  The delegation model we teach, as you know, offers a way to think about the responsibility you’re delegating and the person to whom you’re delegating it (and their strengths and weaknesses) and to pass it to them carefully in a way that’s most likely to result in their success and yours.

PG: I love that you talk about generosity for leaders. That’s likely a new concept for many leaders, at least in the workplace. What do you mean by generosity, and how can we learn to be more generous in the workplace, regardless of our formal roles?

EA: True leader generosity starts at the level of belief, and then flows out into every aspect of work life.  Here’s what I mean: followable leaders believe in their folks and want to help them succeed, and they assume positive intent. That is, they assume that most people are well-intended and want to do good work. Those beliefs form a core generosity of spirit. Then, from there, generous leaders share information, knowledge, power, authority, credit, feedback, influence and resources.  Money (which is what we think about first when someone says the word ‘generous’) is not a necessary aspect of generosity. Of course, people appreciate extra money or material goods, but it’s important to know that it’s not essential…especially in tough times.

PG: Please tell me what, briefly, gets in the way of leading so people will follow?

EA: Becoming a worthy leader is like developing any other capability: it requires honest self-reflection, real openness to learning (which includes an openness to being wrong and to not knowing), and a willingness to change your behavior. These things sound simple – but require discipline, consistency and humility. In other words, people get in their own way.  The good news is, though, we can use the three approaches I’ve mentioned to get out of our own way – and there are very few other real impediments.

PG: In the book, a lot of bigger business are profiled and used as examples. How, if at all, can small businesses implement these suggestions?

EA: The attributes of a worthy, followable leader are the same whether you’re leading 3 people or 3 thousand.  When I write books, I imagine that I’m writing to a small group of people – this helps me to make it more personal. In writing Leading So People Will Follow, my imaginary group consisted of a young woman in her first leader job in a large company; a 30-something male entrepreneur (I assumed his company was small); a middle-management guy in his forties; a female store owner; and a fiftyish male CEO.

PG: What is the most actionable thing a leader can do RIGHT NOW to be a leader that people will follow?

EA: Listen.  Really, really listen.

PG: What else would you like to share with my readers?

EA: You can do this.  One of the things we’ve discovered over the years is that most people who genuinely want to be good leaders — and who are willing to be honestly self-reflective and open to learning, as I’ve said above — can do so. I’ve written this book to provide both a practical and conceptual framework to support you in becoming the leader you want to become.

Leading So People Will FollowPG: Where can we find more of you (and where can we buy this great book)?

EA: Thank you!  You can read my Forbes blog or my own blog, or you can find out more about my company, Proteus, and how we focus on leader readiness.

And I’m excited to share that you can buy Leading So People Will Follow in print or ebook online , and in bookstores everywhere, starting TODAY!

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