Michael Anderson is the pioneer of Elevated Leadership, a leadership approach that uses personal growth to develop the natural style of each individual. As outlined in “Soul-Centred Leadership” and “The Experiment”, it has made him a best-selling author and also won him the accolade of Social Entrepreneur of the Year.
While Anderson enjoyed business success having started, grown and sold three international software companies, it was his experiences with depression, lawsuits, hard drugs and divorce that led him towards a life change. His current practice grew out of a Masters in Spiritual Psychology and has brought him clients including Microsoft, PwC and Uber. Ahead of his keynote presentation at this week’s ScotSoft, DataIQ asked him about leadership and how to develop the right culture in business.
DataIQ (DIQ): First of all, can you give us a sense of what you will be covering in your session at ScotSoft?
Michael Anderson (MA): What I teach is essentially the psychology of leadership. When individuals are promoted into a leadership role or run their own organisation and so become leaders, a new set of skills must be learned. Leaders require a vision and purpose. They also need to be emotionally intelligent, a good communicator, motivational and inspirational and often those who have been previously successful in the tech industry will have a very different set of skills.
This training focuses on the mindset to ,firstly, show up with confidence, secondly, to be assertive when appropriate, thirdly, to implement boundaries within the company, fourthly, the ability to motivate and, lastly, how to earn respect and loyalty. Leaders need to do these things, but we are often not taught how and to think, act and speak strategically.
DIQ: You have been a successful business leader and will have encountered many different approaches to creating successful companies - does each business have to find the one that works for its own situation, or can it pick up an appropriate style to match each stage of its development?
MA: Each leader has their own personality and the smaller their organisation is, the quicker this will be reflected due to them being seen more. However, what is important is that no matter how big or small the company is, it will mirror its leader’s personality and that can be positive or negative. For example, if a business’s leader takes risks then their team is more likely to. It is therefore crucial for this behaviour and the effect it has to be acknowledged.
When you are asking about development, there is, of course, a big difference in leadership between an organisation with five members of staff and one with 50,000. A smaller company is much more able to take risks, is agile and easier to grow due its fast-paced atmosphere. When running a larger business, you want to reduce risk, so the focus is more on scaling up, process and procedure. One of the things organisations whoichare scaling up have is usually a great company culture and one of the hardest things a business can do is to grow with this as your team will get more and more dispersed.
DIQ: In the training and career development that senior executives get, is there enough emphasis on the soft skills dimensions that you now advocate? How do you get leaders to think beyond just the numbers?
MA: You get leaders to think beyond the numbers by highlighting to them that to get great profit and to scale their business, it is all about the people. There are many examples of organisations that have successfully grown because they have had an inspirational leader. However, they have then focused purely on the numbers and they level off, either by selling to a private equity group or by brining someone else in. An example of this is Microsoft and Bill Gates, who is an inspirational leader, then Steve Balmer came in who was very sales-orientated and it lost its innovation and levelled off, despite it being a large and successful company.
Many individuals are very smart, but they doubt themselves and that causes them to shrink down and not hold people accountable. One of the most important things I can do is to give them belief in themselves and their team. These are the type of individuals people want to follow -it is not about arrogance, but people who are confident and empower others. They can also see others grow and do well without taking credit for it. This is a key element that I believe is missing from a lot of training and career development currently available.
DIQ: “The Experiment” has a focus on male leaders - in what ways (if any) are the challenges faced by women in business different?
MA: I was raised by a single mother who worked in a leadership role and I have also done work for the National Association of Women Business Owners in America and facilitated a couple of Cheryl Sandberg lean in circles in Europe. So, I have had experience with women in business and they have it very difficult, I believe.
In working with these organisations, I have first-hand experience of what they go through due to them being very open. Often, women must pick up more roles than men. An example I was told, if you had a traditional family where the women and man both work high-power jobs, then the women is often meant to be the predominant parent figure and take care of the house, etc. However, the man may occasionally help and does not take on the brunt of those responsibilities.
In my opinion, implicitly women take on a great deal more responsibility than is realised, which can lead to stress, lack of self-care and causes a lack of focus on their job. What I help women in business with is getting rid of their guilt and ensuring self-care, which goes a long way.
DIQ: You are very open about the problems you have been through. Is experience of the downsides of life and business in some respects essential to becoming both successful and authentic?
MA: I have been very open about my past problems and such experiences of the downsides to life and business are essential to be successful and authentic. What I tell people, having been through a divorce, business lawsuits and substance abuse, is that my goal is to make you an effective leader without having to go through those things and it is achievable.
A leader needs to have a great relationship with themself because when you are constantly doubting and being negative to yourself, that is when you become a poor leader, narcissistic and micro-manage. When you are in a good relationship with yourself you can be authentic and vulnerable which will lead to you being more of a success, trustworthy and respected.
DIQ: Individual leaders can gain a lot from your approach to being natural though personal growth. Do you see acceptance of this among the people they serve, from colleagues through to shareholders? Or do we need a cultural shift towards a more personal leadership, rather than one based in roles and functions?
MA: There are several great leaders out there. Unfortunately, on the news, all you hear about is poor leadership even though I thinkit is better now than it has ever been. We also have more transparency from things like Glass Door where we ask for employee feedback.
Leadership is in a better place with this visibility and flexibility in the job, unlike in previous generations. The younger generation have strong expectations and are hardworking. However, it is up to leaders to empower and give them purpose which will see evolution. When you hear about all the bad leaders, keep in mind that there are also great ones. I encourage leaders to keep evolving themselves.