Erika Andersen on performance and leadership


She took the time to answer a few questions for Tap My Back regarding leadership and performance that we are very glad to share them with all of you.

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Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus

Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a consulting and training firm that focuses on leader readiness. She serves as coach and advisor to the senior executives of such companies as GE, Time Warner Cable, TJX, NBC Universal and Union Square Hospitality Group. Andersen is the best-selling author of Leading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic, Growing Great Employees, and Be Bad First (coming in March) and the author and host of Being Strategic with Erika Andersen on Public Television. She is also one of the most-read leadership bloggers at She took the time to answer a few questions for Tap My Back regarding leadership and performance that we are very glad to share them with all of you.

TMB: Do you remember when you started to get passionate about employee engagement and leadership? Was there a defining moment?

Erika: It was in 1980. I had just started working for a small consulting company that was focused on helping people learn better at work. I was young and idealistic, and I kind of assumed that most people liked their jobs. Then we started working with a big telephone company, and I had a rude awakening. I saw how badly many people were treated at work, and how distrustful and disengaged they were as a result. It started me down a life-long path of wanting to help build better leaders, who would be better able to make work a more satisfying and productive experience for people.

TMB: A study says that 64% of all employees who quit their jobs didn’t feel recognized for their work. Should we worry?

Erika: Of course! We should worry — and be irritated at ourselves! How difficult is it to acknowledge people when they do good work? It’s easy. Think about the last time you said something kind to your kid or your spouse; “thanks for taking out the trash” or “I really appreciated you picking up the kids when I got stuck in that meeting.” Employees need exactly the same thing, and it’s that simple. Companies just need to help managers understand the impact it can have on the business (per your statistic), teach them how to do it consistently and honestly, and hold them accountable for doing it – make it part of what it means to be a successful manager.

TMB: Can you give me five simple ideas any leader of any company can use to motivate his/her staff?

Erika: People tend to think “perks” are motivating – parties, food in the break room, free tickets to concerts, etc. Those things are nice, but if you really want to inspire loyalty and results – to truly motivate people to do and be their best, it has to start with you as the leader. Who you are, how you show up every day. I’ve written and spoken about this a lot (in fact, I wrote a whole book about it called Leading So People Will Follow). What we’ve found is this: if you’re consistently Farsighted, Passionate, Courageous, Wise, Generous and Trustworthy in dealing with your people, that will be enormously motivating to them. It will elicit their respect and admiration…and they’ll do great things and follow you through whatever changes come.

TMB: Traditional annual performance reviews vs continuous feedback? Who wins your heart?

Erika: Both. I think continuous feedback is essential – especially today, when we all read online reviews to decide whether to buy things, and watch reality TV shows where people get on-the-spot feedback about themselves or their performance. It’s also incredibly useful. At my company, Proteus, we’ve created a very feedback-rich environment, and once people get used to it, they really thrive on having real-time information about what’s working and what’s not. There’s no better medium for growth. At the same time, I think it’s very valuable to have a structured yearly conversation where you and your boss can look back and look ahead, take the long view and get a sense of how your career is trending overall – and where you need to focus your attention to keep growing.

TMB: Is public recognition really so much better than money when it comes to staff motivation? And in the long run?

Erika: There’s a lot of good data that shows that money is a good motivator only up to a certain point. After that point (which is whatever that individuals sees as a comfortable living wage), more money doesn’t motivate better performance. What does encourage higher performance? Opportunities at work for mastery, purpose and autonomy – that is, to be given the freedom and support to get good at things that are meaningful to you. These three things have been shown to be far more motivating for the vast majority of people. Dan Pink’s great book Drive gives the best explanation of and research around this of any popular book I know.

TMB: In your opinion, what are the three big trends in employee engagement for the next 5 years?

Erika: To build on the previous question: mastery, purpose and autonomy. I think we can build huge engagement by showing employees how the work they do is meaningful. Like, what they contribute to others or to the world through their actions. And also by involving them in conversations about how to make it more meaningful. We can also support their deep will to mastery by helping them to become great learners - masters of mastery, if you will. That’s a capability that’s deeply satisfying to people – and essential to building successful businesses. (It’s also the topic of my latest book, Be Bad First). And finally, I think we’ll need to satisfy people’s need for autonomy by figuring out how to make work increasingly flexible for as many people as possible: to start thinking in new ways about where, how and with whom our employees work. If we can focus on how to provide these three core elements in people’s work lives, I think we’ll be able to change today’s truly dreadful engagement statistics and build and stronger and happier workforce.

Our many thanks to Erika for her time and awesome insights. If you want to know more about her, here are some links: @erikaandersen

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