Erika Kleestorfer and Simon Severino discuss in this Strategy Show episode how leaders navigate the digital transformation. This is a full transcript of their dialoge. 

Welcome to this strategy show. We explore with real people how to develop and deploy strategies that work. We discover how they overcome obstacles along the way down to achievement and fulfillment. We dive into the most powerful routine, tactics and strategies and discover how they managed to stay fresh strong and happy. This is your host, Simon Severino.

Simon: Welcome back to the strategy show. We are here today with Erika Kleestorfer, leadership expert, executive coach and management consultant. She is also a part of the global educator network of Duke University and fellow of the Oxford Leadership Academy. Her recent assignments include BSF Telefonica and Akzo Nobel. Erika, thank you for being here.

Erika: Pleasure.

Simon: What are you currently creating and why?

Erika: Well, as you know we're usually creating a couple of things at the same time and I am working on different things; one I think that really excites me it's I work with Oxford leadership as you said and we're currently putting together an international team that is focusing on leadership 4.0 and also the digital possibilities of turning content into other forms of development tools. So, this is something that excites me.

Simon: What is leadership 4.0?

Erika: Well, it means, for me it includes all the technical development, and so, it's not just the content but also how can you use actually the tools now it is available.  20 years ago I used to work at I.B.M. and back then we already talked about blended learning and we did a lot of blended learning management sessions. But this I would say it’s next level. It's really using even more technology to disrupt also in a very positive sense and to support managers on their individual but all organizational journey.

Simon: What was missing in 3.0?

Erika: I think nothing was missing because it didn't exist back then, now technology has [evolve]. So, I think it's just the usage of what's currently available.

Simon: What do you stand for and what do you not stand for?

Erika: When I ask my clients to compare my self-perception and what definitely came back and what is true is I stand for clarity straight talk and also quality. So, for me it's important to really talk about what's beneath the surface, so I'm not good as a polishing the surface I'm really the person who wants to dig deeper who wants to make a difference because it doesn't make sense if we just continue with what is already there if it's not working.

Simon: How would the two people you influenced most describe you and your impact on them?

Erika: I don't know who are the two people; I guess that I've influenced the lot of people in the past, I counted recently and I think I had the pleasure I have to say to work with probably 15,000 people managers throughout the world in the past 20 years. So, I don't know whom I influenced the most, what I see nowadays and this is what I really enjoy about my job as I work I teach for example at the Technical University or of the university for business administration and to work with executives, and for me it's the diversity of the people I can work with and I can maybe inspire and empower. I mean there’re clients they attended sessions or I worked with them 15 years ago and they still send me Christmas cards with content where to tell me what happened throughout the year and also what of the things they learned 10years ago is still influencing their behavior, and this is very touching.

Simon: And how do they described the impact you had?

Erika: Different, probably on one side it's that I really helped them to become clearer about their own strength and the impact and difference they can make but also to encourage them to stay true to themselves. So, it's not about, you know, very often we think we have to act especially managers in a specific way to be part of the successful club, and they're losing their own strength and power. So, my goal is always to bring them back home to who they truly are so to kind of come back or experience once again their own unique strengths and then act out of that unique strength.

Simon: So, when someone decides for your offerings, what do they really buy? what is it that they get that is not the product or the service but?

Erika: I would say they get change and transformation and it's very often an internal change whether if I do an individual coaching if I work with teams or organizations, but it has to do with identifying where we stand where we want to go and then move into that direction. And the only way to move together is that the team works really well with each other. And this is where we’re very often see issues so that people have conflicts and power game starts, and the idea is to make them talk to each other again basic sometimes, but you know, I've worked with C-Level teams and there were guys who didn't talk to each other for 1 year they really tried to fight all the time, I mean this didn't has to have to do with the company it's was more power game because people had the feeling that they’re not appreciated that they’re not seen by what they’re contributing.

Simon: What hinders them to talk to each other?

Erika: Well, I think a lot of people never learned that this is an option to how to handle conflict, you know, very often we say soft factors. But what I learned is that the soft is really the hard stuff and it's easy to talk about numbers and figures and analysis but it's very hard to talk about feelings emotions and not just the friendly emotions you know the ones we, like I'm happy I'm a good mood but actually that I'm aggressive, you know, you irritate me you know there's something I don't appreciate at all. And this is something I think we have to learn that all emotions our friends what I usually say and to get in touch with them and then shared them in an appropriate manner. 

Simon: You work with different cultures globally. Do you see differences in handling emotions?

Erika: Yeah, I think it absolutely has to do with the culture our upbringing what's more natural and not, I mean like I studied in the US and there we think it's easy for them to give feedback, but yes, there may be more open they're much more used to giving feedback but the question is the depth of where we actually touch each other and talk to each other. As I said I've just started working with this Argentinean software company and there especially in the Latin American countries I've the feeling the heart speaks more often than maybe the mind which I laugh because it's a more holistic approach. So of course, it depends, I work a lot in the Nordics, and people, yes we are different and it's good that we're different and that we use the diversity to actually bring more to this world. And I think also that nowadays we really have to ensure that we talk to each other because the complexity is increasing, there are questions nowadays we've never had before so we need actually different minds and hearts to think together to create together and to come to conclusions together.

Simon: The heart speaks more, beautiful. I asked once my parents because they had different languages when they met in Rome for the first time very long ago and I asked them how did you talk to each other when you met for the first time because he was speaking only Italian and she only German. I was a little kid and my mother said, you know Simon, sometimes the heart speaks more than the words.

Erika: Absolutely. Yeah, and we forget it sometimes but this is every human being wants to be seen whether it's in the business context or a private context.

Simon: Do you have a favorite failure, something that went terribly wrong but you learned out of it maybe you got even stronger? 

Erika: Well, failure, sometimes you know we're just not aware of certain things and of course there are a lot of failures but maybe two that come to my mind now. One was I was asked to work with a senior management team in Slovakia and I had a conversation with the general manager, so we talked about what are the current issues what is it that he wants to see differently he’s goals and so on and then I prepared the design and then I went to Slovakia and then we started the session with him and the senior leadership team, and after I think the first 10-minutes I could feel enormous resistance and I thought what's going on? and because you know, this is what he told me. However, I realized that I only got his perspective and actually not the perspective of the rest of his team which was totally different. And so, what I realized is so when you work with the senior management team or with any team and if you have the possibility to talk to everyone before you actually do the design it's much more fruitful. Because I got his impression, obviously, he was not very much in touch or close with his people, and so, there was a big mismatch between his expectation and the expectations and the needs of his immediate senior management team.

So, what happened was that I had nice agenda for 2-days and then realized so this is not going well, so I went to the flipped-top I kind of say OK, this is not going to happen today, what is it you really want to work on? what is it that will help you? because this is also something that's important to me, it has to make sense to the people I'm working with. It's not about me it's not about my ego and not about me showing them how smart I am, it's really about them and it has to make sense and that's important. The other thing I really learned a lot, especially maybe as a woman is that as I said I used to work at IBM I was I guess 28 when I started working there and a male colleague started with me at the same time and I think it was after a year or so I realized that we had conversations I realized that he got a salary increase and we had the same job. So, I went to our boss which was the same and I asked him that I'd like to also have salary increase because I realized that one of my colleague got a salary increase. And he said, Erika, why should I give you a salary increase? and I said well that's not fair, he got a salary increase we're doing exactly the same, how come? And he said to me, well, obviously you didn't sell yourself well enough at the beginning. And I went home in tears like full, you know, I was really upset and I think it was on a Friday and I went home and the whole weekend was destroyed I was furious actually, and I thought this is not fair and fairness is a big value for me.

But I learned a lot because then I think a year later I got an offer and I had this fantastic European role and I agreed with my European manager a certain amount of money and then I came back and he said well I can’t pay that because the difference is too much and I said well we have a  problem, you have to talk to the manager and I finally got the salary increased. But it was really painful at the same time very helpful very helpful to also realize my own worth, and this is actually something I see very often especially with women more than men that it's hard for them to ask for maybe salary increase or to ask for feedback or to ask for support or whatsoever, and especially in the job for me I think it's like I have a job I offer a certain product and this has a certain price take, it's like if I wash washing machine it's not about me personally, if they see no I don't give it a much money, it's not about my worth I'm always worth the same but it's obviously for them this is too expensive and that's also fine to accept but we have to know our own worth.

Simon: Current favorite books?

Erika: I love buying books and reading books, it's not that I read all of it but I quickly go through it and then I see what's inspiring and useful. Well, I read always a couple of books at the same time, one is I have a dog one is for Chaplin one is for how to actually lead and manage a dog which is totally different to people.

Simon: Is it easier?

Erika: No, I think it's much more difficult. But it's a fantastic experience and you can transfer so much also to leadership and management in the human context. So, that's one book. But as I said I've started also working on this software project a tech to an app, so I have a couple of books about design thinking and business model generation, all kinds of creative strategies to turn ideas into concrete results or products. So, this is something that excites me, and "reinventing organizations" is a book I have always next to me. But I think I like to read different books because inspiration is very important to me, to get inspiration from different fields and not just from our kind of background and ecosystem, but more holistic approach. And I love also quotes and they're often I read quotes and that's something that inspires me, and I think this is also something we can do for other people, the neuroscience he said once we can only invite encourage and empower people, but they have to do the rest. And this is I think what I want to do I want to inspire encourage empower, and I can only do that if I also inspire myself over and over again and I get inspiration.

Simon: Invite encourage empower, beautiful. What's your biggest fear of the moment and how do you dance with it? 

Erika: Three things that come to my mind, first is a friend of mine a close friend recently got cancer, so that reminded me again how important life is and to live every moment. And probably it's the fear of dying or even more the feel that I haven’t lived enough. And so, this is something that's on my mind; so what is it what else is out there that I'm interested in? the things we don't do sometimes because maybe the focus is too much and we'll go too much on family or whatsoever. So, that's one. The other is the political situation around the world, I mean you know that we've recently had a new government in Austria and there is a shift in the political arena, let's say so this is something I'm concerned about so how easy it is for politicians to manipulate people and whether we are smart enough to really wake up and to realize what's going on. So, this is something that's on my mind and also what is the individual contribution, where can I make a difference? where can I act maybe differently to bring more consciousness and awareness to the surface? And the 3rd and that's interesting is sometimes I have the feeling there's not enough time left in general, so time is really flying and we have to react quickly before something even more worst happens.

So, it's like an internal impatience and I can tell you where it comes from, it's maybe sensing what's going on locally globally and it's not for the better, however, knowing that we have never had better times than now. Because with everything there was never so much wealth and health on this earth and never so few worst. So, there is a lot positive, but still, where do we spend your energy and focus to? And the media unfortunately still drawing our attention to those areas that actually merry negative knowing that a lot of positive is happening. And this I think is also something I do in my job is I try to bring my clients back to the good things also. So, where is my attention going to? are we resource oriented or deficit oriented? And of course, we have to know what's not going well and deal with it and find solutions, but I think we have to strengthen also to strengthen and unlock our potentials that have not yet been touched or use.

Simon: Who would miss your products or services if they were gone?

Erika: Every one and no one probably; everyone, because I think really my clients and the students I work with they like me they appreciate me, and at the same time we are not that important. So, I actually I've clients I've been working with them since 10 years and I sometimes say I think you should look for other people, you know, I don't want them to get bored of me but yeah we have good relationship.

Simon: What did you recently change your mind about?

Erika: As we said, you know, books are very inspiring to me and I've recently found a book called “How to be everything” and I like her approach saying, you're not either I don't know a very inspiring person or a very rational person but actually you're everything, and to allow all of this different sides to be present. Because very often we want to put people into boxes and this is what we learned at school unfortunately right and wrong or left and right and black and white. And this is really about, actually, she talks a lot about hypersensitive people, and I realized I'm probably more like that, so sensing a lot and finding the right tools and channels to communicate what you sense. Because sometimes people don't know what you mean. So, hypersensitive is one thing where I not changed my mind but I became more of that yeah it's presence and there are a lot of hypersensitive people but also that you can be more than just one specific.

Simon: How did you find out that you are hypersensitive?

Erika: Well, it's interesting. Usually, you only sense it if you see a difference or if you realize that other people don't get what you sense. And I think for me it was 20years ago I worked with a colleague and we had this international team, and usually, when I work with team have the feeling that and this is my job to create an atmosphere where people feel well and then give their best and where they open up their honest, where really change and transformation can happen and growth can happen. And so, I work with my colleague and afterwards he said, wow, you know, I've never ever had a group that is or that was that open, and I thought my groups are always open. And then another colleague said exactly the same so I thought obviously there is something that I can add to a team of people or to a group. And whenever I work with teams I sense immediately what's going on the dynamics, and people often say to me, can you look into my brain? you know, how can that you sensed it? And I think we all have different gift we all have those gifts and sometimes we use it more consciously and sometimes unconsciously.

Simon: Are there many hypersensitive people in the world and do you think they know about it.

Erika: I think with everything, yes they are probably many and maybe no they don't know. It's like if you have a very intelligent [a kid] only if and very often we think something is wrong with this kid. But then only if he or she then maybe has the opportunity to work with kids who are similarly talented then they realize that they're OK and that everything's fine.

Simon: Which advice would you give to somebody who is listening now or watching and say oh that's me, maybe they're young and you have some advice for them?

Erika: Well, I would say trust yourself, everything is fine with yourself and if you have to feeling you sense more than other people I think it's good also to talk about it to talk to people when you feel comfortable or appreciated, whether they have similar experience it's more about maybe sharing do you sense the same? do you see or feel the same? So, they get maybe confirmation that everything is fine. And the other thing is also don't overtake yourself maybe emotional, because hypersensitive people are hypersensitive so they need also a lot of time for themselves. And this is something I had to learn actually to really step out of all these busy environments and actually take time for myself, be alone be out in nature walk the talk and walk my dog.

Simon: Which skills are you constantly refining?

Erika: I would say all, because I always want to be one step ahead of my clients. So, for me it's important that I know what's going on out there weather its content wise in our context but also technology wise. So, what is it that can be beneficial for my clients? But I think two things that come to mind is also one is listening skills, so curiosity I think is important and the other thing is and this is not always easy, is to be not judgmental, to stay an interested observer with no judgement.

Simon: That’s so hard. Did you find out how to do?

Erika: Well, the moment I realize that I am being judgmental that I just bring it back to me and say Erika just observe observe, and you know, it’s who are you to actually judge?

Simon: What are your current favorite problems? 

Erika: I really like the idea of favorite problem, because I recently read where you really have to fall in love with your problem more than with the solution, because if you love your problem you might come up with more creative solutions than just going straight to a solution. For me it's really how to use technology to touch even more people, and I would love to taps millions of people and to inspire and encourage and support millions of people, and the inspiration I got was from [a singularity university], 2years ago I attended a global conference from Singularity University and they're working with artificial intelligent with technology that is disrupting in a very positive way, and their goal is actually to create startups that influence up to 1 billion people in 10years positively. And when I heard it my heart started beating and I thought wow that’s great and actually this is something I want to think big, actually something I learned at I.B.M think big. Because back then I.B.M. had 320,000 employees and when we worked on issues we thought of reading it in a big way. And I'm back to that actually and I would love to support as many people as possible by using technology and being a positive disrupter.

Simon: What were the best investments you did being it energy attention time whatever?

Erika: I think all the additional education and training sessions I did where all these great investments. So, knowing yourself better is I think the greatest gift you can give to yourself to find that inner Peace and to really be aware of your strengths and weaknesses because the moment I'm in contact with my clients I bring myself. So, as you know we have full body intervention, and so, it's good that I know myself really well. That's one thing. The other thing, 2years ago I took 8-months off, so I thought I'd like to take just time for myself have no plans in my calendar, I had only 1-week, the 1st week in Arizona and the U.S. I was planned and the rest was no plans at all and I really wanted to step into that space with no ideas what's next and allow life to happen actually, which is a great experience and it means also you have to kind of leave your fear somewhere and explore what's there. And it was a very inspirational journey not just that I got my doc but also I met fantastic people, I went to the states to Africa which I deeply love and I looked at social projects where I could maybe also support and contribution, I went to I stayed in Europe I went back to the U.S to attend conferences. So, it was a very interesting journey, and yeah, changed something in my life and I found also new apartment which was the best investment, fantastic place.

Simon: Last week we met at Funchal and we talked about splendid isolation and say no. Are you good in saying no?

Erika: Yes, I think so.

Simon: How do you do it?

Erika: I say no.

Simon: And that's it?

Erika: Yeah.

Simon: And you feel good with it?

Erika: Maybe I would say 80% of the time, yes. Sometimes, there is still maybe I feel guilty that I don't do this but I have sometimes a feeling it's more of the upbringing, so if you don't do this you will be punished and I don't want to punish myself anymore. So, if I have to feeling something is not good for myself, why should I do it?

Simon: How did you come to this clarity of mind? 

Erika: Well, it is a step by step approach, so it was not that I woke up one day and said no but it's really something where you have to make one step after the other or at a time, and when we want to do something that's important to us life is challenging us with a real serious about it. Let me give you an example. When working at I.B.M. I travelled the world every week I was working somewhere around the globe which was fun for a certain period of time but after a while I was really tired I missed my family I missed home I missed doing things on a regular basis, so I decided that I want to stop travelling or at least reduced it. And what happened was that I had it in my mind I thought this is what I need to tell my boss and my colleagues, and before I actually talk to them they said to me Erika you know we have this new big role and project, are you interested would you like to do it? of course, it involves traveling. And you know now I was at that point I thought I had decided that I want to reduce traveling and here they gave me this big nice carrot. And the question now is, do you say to no or will you take the carrot? And this is something I experience quite often, when we decide to do something life is testing whether you're serious about it or not, and I said no to this offer because I knew that if I continue eating the big carrots nothing's going to change.

Simon: And the analogy of the carrot implies that there is a stick and it's always in front of you and it’s moving.

Erika: No, but I think that sometimes life is testing weather we’re serious. Yeah, it's like if I say, and this is I hear quite often in organizations we should be more open and everyone says yeah let's be more open. OK, so 2 days later that becomes a big crisis, OK, so what is it what am I telling now the people?

Simon: You are also the boss of employees. Is it easy to say no to them? 

Erika: I think if you're clear inside, yes, it easy, it's easy but it's not always easy of course, especially if there is something they need urgently, and this is also something I hear quite often from the managers and executives I work with that you know people are standing in their room they want so much every single day. And the question is also how clear am I about setting boundaries? It happens to me quite often that people give me a call and they want to tell me every reaction, and I can't and I don't want to, so I just say I know it's urgent can I call you back? I’m just passing can I call you back? I may be gain myself half an hour an hour or the same is true if you're working on a big project and they need more details, and I know that I'd like to spend a bit more time on the details or the essence or the content that I call them and say, is it OK if I have one additional days? So, I'm trying to gain more time for myself. And I think the same is true if people are stepping into your office and they said, do we have a minute? No, but can I call you back? And this is something we have to learn also to be clear about our boundaries and otherwise emotions are kind of growing and then people explode, which is not necessary, you know, if I'm clear about my boundaries I don't have to be aggressive to say, No.

Simon: So, if you are clear with your boundaries that's even ever happened that you get overwhelmed overboard or does it happen and if it happens, how do you handle it then?

Erika: Of course, happens. So, of course it happens and there are days you’ve to feel leave me alone all of you it's just too much. But it's actually me who didn't take good care of myself, and I really believe that 80% of the stress we have is made up by ourselves. And how do I deal with it? yeah, good question. Different method; sometimes, I just breathe I remind myself to breathe I take maybe 1 2 3 deep breaths and just calm down or maybe I walk around for 5-minutes go outside and make sure I gain breathe or maybe I do a morning meditation, something that calms me down something that kind of brings me back to my [scent], and I'm responsible for that it's not the environment I’m responsible for that. And this is something the more you do it the easier it is to fight back or just say something I laugh actually telling myself is, you know I can do more than my best and everything will be fine again, relax trust your unfolding plan trust what is going to happen you have everything in sight. So, it's like a very kind and loving relationship with myself.

Simon: Trust the unfolding plan, beautiful. Is there something on your bucket list something you would like to explore to learn to visit?

Erika: I'm a very curious mind so I want to explore a lot. But the first thing actually because I love beach volleyball and it's on my bucket list since years I would love to play beach volleyball for 4weeks or 6weeks in a row being on the beach every day, beach volleyball, I love it. But also traveling the world with my partner, this is something maybe again taking half a year or a year off and travelling the world meeting different cultures getting inspiration doing different stuff, so expanding on different levels mentally emotionally spiritually. And I mean I think a lot of people say I always wanted to write my own pocket, but of course, that’s something may be creating more products that are useful and beneficial for other People so to also have something you can sell and give away.

Simon: Is there something I forgot to ask?

Erika: Maybe about my passion or is anything else.

Simon: What’s your current passion?

Erika: What I didn't tell you about actually my background school is I went to school for arts and crafts, and so, my passion is definitely creativity - combining creativity and leadership and everything I do whether it's in my private or personal life it has to be a, in German it's called [unclear] it has to be something it's a whole holistic design. So, this is important to me and whenever I work also with teams and organizations it's not just that you work on a content level but for me it's all of these at the same time touching the content level the relationship level the structural level. So, it is a holistic approach and for me it's important to add also great not just technology but different methods to have nice presentation, so that different senses are stimulated and inspired, this I think really excites me.

Simon: Do you have an example of how it unfolds itself?

Erika: Well, I just started a project with a colleague I appreciate a lot, it's called [code unclear vibe work] because where our office is said by book us in the first district, and it's a space where we want creative people and leaders meet and learn from each other and yes that's not new. However, what we really want to add here is this not just intellectual stimuli or inspiration but also a creative way of looking at things and getting ideas of how other people approach maybe that exact same issues and to what other conclusions or ideas to they come. And this is what I always love is actually connecting people connecting hierarchies’ industries culture. So, this excites me also a lot.

Simon: What is your favorite question to your clients at the moment?

Erika: Who are you really? Weather as an organization or as an individual, but who are you really if behind all these masks and forensics and everything we think sometimes we have to show? Yeah, that's also interesting I would say, it's more who are you really all of you? It's sometimes we bring, I had once a client and I was very emotionally attached but also smart attached, because she said you know I've been in thiss company for the past 20years but for the past 15years whenever I came to the office in the morning I left my brain at the reception and took it home when I left because no one was seriously interested in what I think and feel. And I thought Oh my goodness, and she was excellent.

Simon: How does that happen?

Erika: It happens if you have a very hierarchical system where people tell others what to do, so development stops at their level, because if I just tell them what to do, of course, why should people think? why should they stop thinking if they are told what to do? which is a very old approach I would say and I mean as you know a lot happened within the past 15 20 years, so people are getting much more smart, you can't tell them what to do, they ask you a lot of questions they need to know why we're doing this? what's the purpose? what's the meaning behind? They challenge managers much more, which I like because I challenge also manager, I think they have a lot of responsibilities and so they have to live up to that. 

Simon: How would you describe the impact this interview had on your right now?

Erika: Whenever you are asked questions which I think are the most least used resources, you know, we don't use them often enough managers not managers, but you make me think and that's good you make me dig a bit deeper that's good. So, you make me exploring mine in the space again, which is good because it's inspiring and it gives also again more clarity to me who I am really. 

Simon: Thank you so much, Erika, for being on the show.

Erika: Thank you.

Simon: And to you our dear listeners you will find the things we mention as always in the Show Notes and also on strategysprints.com If you want to help others find this show feel free to leave a comment on iTunes or to share in your social networks. Keep rocking! happy day.