Leadership Lessons Part II: Becoming a Highly Effective Leader - Interview with Author Erika Andersen

Erika Andersen, Founding Partner and CEO of Proteus International

Erika Andersen knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a highly effective leader. As a consultant to companies worldwide, she’s helped a host of businesses ranging from tiny start ups to Fortune 50 corporations lead more effectively.

In this interview with TheWire, the founding partner and CEO of Proteus International shares insights she’s gained through decades of consulting and coaching. Whether you have an established business or are just starting out, her advice can help you navigate leadership skillfully and effectively.

What’s different about leading a small business than, say, a large corporation?

Erika Andersen:
When you run a small business, you have to toggle between being a big-picture visionary and a hands-on employee, which isn’t always easy. The small things can eat up the hours in a day, which leaves little time to think about long-term strategic plans.

Build at least an hour or two into your day where you can step back far enough to consider what’s working, what’s not, and whether it fits into your overall business plan. If you can do this, you’re on the right track.

How can a small business differentiate in today’s crowded market?

Erika Andersen:
You have to really know yourself, your business and where it fits in the competitive landscape. Take time to consider your true differentiator, and once you’ve decided, make it clear to your consumers what you can offer them that they won’t get anywhere else. That’s your competitive advantage. And then – even more important – make sure that you can deliver on that promise.

What’s the key to leading and growing without diluting the vision you have for your business?

Erika Andersen:
The key is to hire employees who have similar values to yours. If your company is built on a promise of excellent customer service, for instance, ask a prospective hire how they would handle a situation where the client wasn’t satisfied.

Does his or her response resonate for you, and align with how you would treat the customer? If not, this candidate won’t be able to represent your brand and create the business you envision. Someone more like-minded would be a better fit.

Is there any one skill that great leaders share?

Erika Andersen:
The ability to listen to your employees—and do so genuinely—is one trait that separates average leaders from great ones. And it isn’t as time-consuming or difficult as some make it out to be. In fact, the better listener you are, the fewer problems you’ll have down the road, and the more time you’ll save.

Listening shows you respect and value your employees, and they’ll return this respect by telling you what they’re thinking and what’s really going on in the company. They’ll also feel valued and more committed to the success of your business.

What advice do you have for family-owned businesses?

Erika Andersen:
Family businesses can be very complex. While the assumption is that communication should be easy—after all, it’s family—it often isn’t. My advice in this situation is to be extremely clear and explicit to avoid misunderstandings.

I especially advise family members to have an open and honest conversation up front about how they’ll work together; to get clear about roles and decision-making, and about how they’ll resolve contentious business issues. Without these kinds of conversations, family members can just default to unhelpful habits that make it harder for the business to succeed.

For more insights on leadership from Erika Andersen, check out her booksLeading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic: Plan for Success; Out-think Your Competitors; Stay Ahead of Change, Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers, and Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future.

For more on leadership effectiveness, take a look at Leadership Lessons Part I: First-Time Employers.

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