Katie Anderson is an internationally recognized leadership and learning coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for inspiring individuals and organizations to lead with intention and increase their personal and professional impact. Katie is passionate about helping people around the world learn to lead and lead to learn by connecting purpose, process, and practice to achieve higher levels of performance.
Her book “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning” is an international #1 Amazon bestseller. Katie holds a B.A. with honors from Stanford University and a Master’s degree from Sydney University. She is a Fulbright Scholar who has lived in seven countries and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
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We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Katie Anderson: July 23, 2013, was the day I became an entrepreneur and began on a path toward greater impact than I ever could have before. Making the choice to leave the career path I’d been on was challenging. It required me to redefine how I measured career success and to clarify the impact that I wanted to make in this world. Yet, I knew that I needed to take the leap into the unknown and chart a new course — and establish Katie Anderson Consulting.
My journey hasn’t been linear or always easy — and I’ve had to live the Japanese proverb “Fall down seven times, get up eight” — but it’s been an incredibly rewarding one. My business has flourished and I’ve had the privilege of impacting and inspiring tens of thousands of people globally to lead with intention & become better learners and leaders. I work with amazing people from big-name multinational corporations to small-family owned companies, across various industries, all around the world.
I’ve keynoted the main stage of events across the US & Europe — and been invited to speak with leadership teams around the globe to inspire & provide tangible skills. I partner with organizations and their leaders to help them create intentional people-centered learning cultures. My mission is to expand my reach and impact — to make the world a better place through more people-centered leadership.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Katie Anderson: One of the things I talk a lot about in my work is the difference between “intentions” and “goals.” I’m going to make that distinction in answering this question. Both are important for us to clarify. Intentions are connected with what is important inside of us. Our hearts, our passion, our purpose. Conversely, goals are more tangible. They have a more clearly defined endpoint or target. Goals are usually determined through reasoning, logic, and analysis using our minds. They are measurable. My intention in starting my business was twofold:
- First, I wanted to develop a community and connect with people around the world.
- And, second, I wanted to learn and share. Learning is part of how I approach the world every day. I accomplish sharing in part through my blog, social media, podcasts, and in person.
Ultimately, my process is all about creating a culture of learning, so that entire teams are empowered to lead, and leaders can focus on things like quality, service, and growth (and maybe even having some time for themselves). Above being a leadership coach, I’m human. And so are my clients. That’s our starting point. Being human. Being curious. Genuinely caring. That’s what organizations are often missing. Their humanity. And a focus on everyone learning.
I want to help people rediscover this, and grow them into the most empowered, intentional, positive problem-solving high-performing leaders and team members they can be. This is how we amplify our impact and create a meaningful difference in this world.
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Katie Anderson: Leadership and people development transcend industry, location, and sector. I’ll answer this question focused on people development and organizational excellence as the “industry”. Two things that I appreciate by those in this industry that “get it” are:
- A focus on experimentation and learning as the foundation of continuous improvement, and
- A focus on engaging everyone in the organization — not just identified “experts” — in problem-solving, and improvement.
However, there are several challenges I see in how organizational excellence has often been approached.
- First, too often I see organizations, leaders, and external consultants focusing on the tools and visible “artifacts” of continuous improvement. This results in an attempt to copy a tool or focus on “filling out a template”, rather than understanding what the tool was created to do or the structure of thinking the template was designed to facilitate.
- Second, leaders and consultants see themselves as experts who come in to solve a problem, rather than their expertise as creating the conditions for others to learn and solve problems that they have ownership for.
I’m on a mission to restore a connection to humanity and a focus on learning as the real secret to success. When we can focus on developing people while working towards achieving business results, when we tap into their creativity and create capabilities and confidence in problem-solving, we accelerate learning and accelerate our progress towards needed outcomes.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Katie Anderson: Focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion is important for leaders in any company or industry. My company is a boutique consulting practice with me as the primary consultant and a small team of contractors hired to support me and my clients. My team is a diverse group of individuals from five continents, of different ethnicities, and of different backgrounds. I regularly ask them for their input into shaping not only our internal work processes but also ways that we can engage with and support my clients. By soliciting their ideas and creating an environment where they can grow and contribute, I also benefit by seeing options that I might not have thought of myself. I like to say, when it comes to people, that 1+1=much more than 2. And this is exponential when we welcome the different ideas and experiences that people bring.
As a consultant and leadership coach, I help leaders of other organizations see the opportunities to include a wider range of perspectives in their workforce. This year I was on two panels for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence conferences in Australia and the United States focused on diversity and inclusion. I talked about the importance of leaders and organizations embracing the concept of “respect for people” as a broader “respect for humanity” — embracing the different perspectives, backgrounds, and ideas — as a critical organizational cultural characteristic for organizations to thrive now….and into the future.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Katie Anderson: As a business owner, you might think that to be a great leader or coach you have to be the expert in the room with all the answers. Maybe you feel like you have to be the one putting out all the fires and completing urgent tasks instead of using your problem-solving skills and your time to address the most impactful challenges to develop people.
So, what if that belief isn’t true? What if you don’t have to be the expert in the room? What if you don’t have to have all the answers? I run my business the way I coach people to run theirs. I put into practice what I call “intentional leadership”.
When you lead with intention, you begin to successfully navigate the leadership and coaching continuums of:
- When to ask and when to tell
- How to provide both challenges and support as people are learning
- How to achieve business results while developing people at the same time
Leading with intention guides you to better fulfill your purpose as a leader and coach, while helping others to be their best selves. My role is to facilitate growth in my organization. How do I do this?
- I set the direction (providing a clear challenge or target)
- I provide support (helping others develop competence & confidence in solving problems & achieving goals)
- I develop myself (to be a more intentional and effective leader)
When it comes to mistakes and failure, these are major learning experiences. I welcome them. They make us better and help us improve.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Katie Anderson: In our interactions with people, we may assume that they need us to provide more explicit direction, when in fact they only needed us to listen and ask questions so they could think out loud through the situation in front of them. When we make assumptions, we limit our ability to genuinely connect with people and understand what is actually happening.
So, I ask questions and listen to what my team is telling me to understand what is happening now — for them and with their work. I maintain my connections with my team by checking my assumptions before jumping to conclusions.
Sometimes, especially under real business pressures and uncertainty, it can be easy to focus singularly on the business targets or goals you need to achieve. It can feel easier to tell people what to do or to give your ideas to get to “the answer” (or what you think is the answer) more quickly. Yet when you default to being the sole idea generator, you limit the richness that comes from collaboration and the generation of many ideas from others, and you end up owning responsibility for solving all of those problems!
When you shift your leadership approach from being directive to being focused on asking others to bring forth their ideas, you leverage creativity and develop problem-solving capabilities across your team. When you ask intentional and open-ended questions, you give your team the opportunity to be forward-thinking and come up with ideas that you might not even have thought of.
By giving your team more autonomy and time for thinking as it aligns with the direction of the organization, you’ll likely find that it allows them the creative space to make the connections of their ideas and, in addition, you will find that you create a greater connection with them as people as well.
Some additional ideas to incorporate into your practice to move forward with more kindness, love, and caring:
- Ask questions that come from a place of genuine curiosity and caring
- Listen to what others have to say with open eyes, open ears, open mind, and an open heart
- Value and try out ideas to see what happens even if you don’t necessarily think they will work
- Place greater importance on the process to get to an outcome or goal, not just the outcome itself
- Focus on helping first and on “competition” and dollars second.
Never forget the power of asking good, caring questions. When you ask the right questions, you give your team members the opportunity to be a part of the solutions. And when your questions come from a place of genuine curiosity and caring, your team is given the opportunity to flourish.
Listen with open ears, open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart. Active listening facilitates mutual respect and builds upon the foundation of trust. When you take time to listen to the concerns of your team or the innovative ideas that they may have, you are investing in them. Your investment in them is an investment that cannot be measured but can be game-changing.
Lead with intention but allow for innovation. Provide your team the guidance they need to align with your organization’s goals but allow them to take risks and try ideas they have, even if you are unsure of their potential. You may be surprised by the outcomes and accomplishments. And, no matter what, you are guaranteed to have some learning along the way.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Katie Anderson: My entire team works remotely. We have project management tools and a Digital Business Manager who makes sure everything runs smoothly. I am at the top of the business, so I have to be clear about setting direction, but I give them a lot of autonomy to run with projects, planning, and tasks.
I think in the very act of doing this, I create the message that I trust them. I trust that if they need a break, or space, or to take time for themselves, they will tell me and we will ensure that that happens. We plan in advance so that we’re never behind on deadlines, and that means that there is always leeway for the team to work their own hours.
With a team spread across the globe, time zones are a reality, so very often some of my team are working while I’m asleep, and I’m working while they’re asleep. We communicate often, we check in daily, we don’t work weekends, I don’t dictate their hours, and I don’t dictate when they can take a holiday.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Katie Anderson: Collaborative – we worked really hard recently updating my website. Everyone brought their own strengths and talents to the table. Suggestions flowed, ideas were acted on, and we all worked very well as a team in putting that together.
Ask better questions – we’re always aware of the words we use and how they could be received. We ask open questions from a place of curiosity to learn what the other person is thinking, not to lead them to an answer. And when we ask questions, we listen. Listening goes beyond the ears: listen with the heart and an open mind. We really try to each others’ worries and embrace each others’ ideas. We check assumptions. We care about the impact of our responses. We strive to be intentional in the very moment, with that individual person. It makes all the difference.
- I have a personal leadership credo, which I’d love to share:
Connect with your heart and hold precious what it means to be human. Show kindness first. Assume positive intent. Challenge all other assumptions by asking questions, going to see, and listening with an open mind and heart. Be purposeful and intentional in your actions. Be explicit about what you are doing and thinking — make the invisible visible. Establish a clear direction and learn your way towards clarity.
Celebrate learning and the process, not just the result. Be willing to hear and share “bad news”, always with positive intent. Offer challenges and provide support. Let others always know that you are there to help based on what they need, not what you want to share. Pursue excellence, and embrace mistakes, failures, and setbacks as a source for learning.
Choose a positive mindset. Find the good, even in challenging situations. Start with yourself and model the behaviors you want to develop in others. Always keep learning. Reflect, study, learn. Study – adjust – plan – do. Seek and share wisdom. Live and lead with intention by connecting with your purpose and aligning your actions, each and every day.
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Katie Anderson: My values — and those that I have established for my business and support my clients to develop — are grounded in respect, learning, human connection, collaboration, and trust.
In the previous question, I shared my leadership credo, which I’m sharing again here. These principles and actions embody the values of the culture I strive to create in my company. As one of my clients described it, developing a leadership credo is like creating the blueprint for the company culture you want to create. I endeavor to live up to my credo each and every day:
- Connect with your heart and hold precious what it means to be human. Show kindness first.
- Assume positive intent. Challenge all other assumptions by asking questions, going to see, and listening with an open mind and heart.
- Be purposeful and intentional in your actions. Be explicit about what you are doing and thinking — make the invisible visible.
- Establish a clear direction and learn your way towards clarity.
- Celebrate learning and the process, not just the result. Be willing to hear and share “bad news”, always with positive intent.
- Offer challenges and provide support. Let others always know that you are there to help based on what they need, not what you want to share.
- Pursue excellence, and embrace mistakes, failures, and setbacks as a source for learning.
- Choose a positive mindset. Find the good, even in challenging situations.
- Start with yourself and model the behaviors you want to develop in others. Always keep learning. Reflect, study learn. Study – adjust – plan – do. Seek and share wisdom.
- Live and lead with intention by connecting with your purpose and aligning your actions, each and every day.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Katie Anderson: My management style reflects the leadership practices I coach global leaders on:
- Set Direction:
Set a clear direction for my team. This means identifying the priorities and defining what success looks like.
- Provide Support:
Enable my team to do their best each and every day by giving them autonomy and responsibility, while also checking in that they have the knowledge, capabilities, and tools they need to do their work. I ask them questions to solicit their input and I help them as needed. Importantly, I focus on not blaming individuals when there is a mistake or something doesn’t go as planned — but rather focus on the process so that we all can learn from it and improve it for the next time.
- Develop myself:
Lead with an attitude that we all have opportunities for improvement. I am transparent with the habits I’m trying to develop and ask my team regularly for feedback so that I can continuously improve too. If we lead from the heart, with curiosity and caring, and show that we are willing to start with ourselves, it will work! And it has for me and my team.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Katie Anderson: If we can start from a place of assuming positive intent, it can help tremendously with conflict resolution. Assume that the other person does not mean to harm or hurt, and then ask questions from a place of curiosity to understand their perspective.
At some point, a leader may need to make a decision on which direction to take even if it is in conflict with someone else’s perspective. Yet if they feel heard and cared about, it is less likely to result in an ongoing conflict. We don’t have to agree on all decisions, but agreeing to hear and listen is paramount.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Katie Anderson: My whole team is made up of a group of international multi-racial women who live around the globe! We all work different hours due to our timezone and personal commitments and we manage this through communication platforms and clear expectations on timelines and deliverables.
What role do your company’s culture and values play in the recruitment process and how do you ensure that it is free from bias?
Katie Anderson: Being transparent about culture, values, and expectations in a job description can help set expectations in the hiring process. We are explicit that we welcome all backgrounds — what is more important is a match for skills and culture.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Katie Anderson: One thing that I continue to place emphasis on as we develop our new team’s culture is the motto “no problem is a problem”. I want to hear about challenges, mistakes, and problems people are having — not to have them buried or hidden. We have a good culture around this, but most people’s experiences from past organizations are not always from this perspective. It’s a constant reminder that it is okay to make mistakes — as long as we learn from them and correct them for the future.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Katie Anderson: I’d rather fly! I am a global citizen and I miss traveling the world right now. I’d love to be able to easily fly to visit friends and family around the world.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Katie Anderson for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Katie Anderson or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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