Author Interview with Elisabeth Swan

What does being a leader mean to you? What is your strategy in creating people-centered and innovative cultures? How do you approach problem solving?

I’m thrilled to host Elisabeth Swan on the latest installment of my author interview series – in video, podcast, and blog – to explore these questions and celebrate the release of her book Picture Yourself a Leader.

Elisabeth and I have known each other since 2018 through an introduction by Karyn Ross (another fabulous author who has been featured in my author interview series for her books). 

Elisabeth and her business partner Tracy O’Rouke featured me as a WonderWoman of Quality

Both Elisabeth and Tracy joined me on my Japan Study Tour in May 2019 where we immediately developed a close professional and personal relationship. As I was writing my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, Elisabeth offered to be part of the book’s editorial board in 2020, and I’ve been a guest for Just-In-Time Café podcasts and webinars.

I have been excited to support Elisabeth in her book writing journey, to participate in her editorial board by giving early feedback on the initial manuscript, and now to help celebrate the release of her immediately bestselling book Picture Yourself a Leader, Illustrated Micro-Lessons in Navigating Change.

And I’m excited to share our recent discussion together about leadership, learning, and book writing with you!

Picture Yourself a Leader Book Giveaway

Our Double Book Giveaway!

Elisabeth and I gave away signed copies of each of our books to TWO lucky winners. This giveaway ended May 3rd, 2023 at 11:45pm Pacific.

If you would like to be notified about my future book giveaways – click here.

About Elisabeth Swan and Picture Yourself a Leader

Elisabeth Swan is the president of Swan Consulting & Associates, Inc. and co-founder of the Just-In-Time Café with Tracy O’Rouke, and with Tracy is the author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit. Through her three decades of leadership and process improvement consulting, Elisabeth has found that most people face similar intangible challenges regardless of their titles and day jobs.

She has personally experienced, and coaches others on, what it takes to be an effective problem-solving leader, finding nuggets of knowledge, impactful lessons, and a roadmap of what works (and what doesn’t) along the way. 

Picture Yourself a Leader: Illustrated Micro-Lessons for Navigating Change is a collection of stories and accompanying illustrations that address the people-centric challenges facing leaders. In the book, Elisabeth surfaces recurrent hurdles and provides leaders — and aspiring leaders — with inspiration and new pathways to success.

Author Interview with Elisabeth Swan and Katie Anderson: Picture Yourself a Leader

Please enjoy my discussion with Elisabeth Swan about her new book Picture Yourself a Leader.  We explore the process of writing and creating books, the impact of having an attitude towards caring and intention, and the importance of learning from failure – plus much more!

Elisabeth has numerous stories and experiences she shares in this interview – all of which impacted her and eventually her book in some way – so be sure to tune in below.

You can watch our interview below on YouTube, or as a podcast on the go, or read through the questions and sample highlights below!

(The podcast episode is also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.)

Interview Questions and Highlights:

Below are some of the questions I asked Elisabeth (with timestamps) and some lightly edited highlights of her answers. 

1. How did you come up with the idea for a book? And then how did you think about the structure of the book? (4:30)

The idea for Picture Yourself a Leader came from people in conversations like, ‘Hey, you should pull these [drawings and LinkedIn posts] together. These would make a great book.’ So that was percolating in my mind.

Then I joined a cohort of the Kata Girl Geeks, an incredibly generous group that offers people to come join their starter kata practice and learn about [Toyota] Kata. After I joined up with one of their cohorts Maria Grzanka became my coach. I got to know her and I made my challenge to get the idea of the book. I was thinking about the future state: ‘What do I imagine this book to be? How would it reach people, be of use, be a resource?’

Every day my challenge was to get a little more information. I did informational interviews with folks to find out, ‘what would you find of use?’ … Those conversations, as well as the Kata process helped me come full circle into a real image of what the book was going to be.

2. What are some things that you learned through the process of creating the book? (6:26)

One of them was that I enjoyed the conversation. That’s what was so interesting about this process of going into LinkedIn, posing a question, and people like you [Katie] and everyone from our community – authors, lean thinkers, and also people in marketing, people from customer service, it was just all across the board.

I realized I really wanted their voices in the book and thought ‘what did that look like?’ I decided on three quotes per chapter from people.

That was a whole process there that I learned from, which was great, but it also expanded my community. I had all these people now who were part of the book with me. 

3. What is one of your favorite stories or lessons in the book? (12:23)

The story that sticks with me – is a story about one of my first times working with my mentor. We were with a big marine insurance company at a leadership retreat for three days. I was with my mentor on the first night. We got everyone together – there’s like 50 people. We’re standing in a big circle, we’ve all got our little name tags that snap on, and he goes around the room and has everyone introduce themselves and say a little bit about themselves. We go all the way around the room and then he goes, ‘Okay, everyone take your name tags off and throw them in the middle of the room.’ 

So everyone takes their name tags off and throws them in the little pile. Then he went around the room and he named every single person, all 50 people. He knew exactly who they were, he knew who they all were.

Then the rest of the weekend, they never wore their name tags because they knew each other and now he knew them. But I didn’t know anyone and I was sitting with him at the dinner table that night, and I was like, ‘How did you do that?’ 

And so he gave me just some advice about the main thing and then he said you have to have intent, it has to be your intent to know a person’s name. It’s honoring someone. It’s respect for people. It’s saying ‘I respect you enough to learn your name.’

4. What was a story that got a lot of responses that surprised you? (19:35)

We had a debut of a simulation I’d written for [a client in the hotel industry]. We’d run it in the States with all the leadership. It was hugely successful. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal by the CEO at the time saying how effective it was and how everyone’s buying in.

And then we go to Europe and we’re going to run it with all the area managers and all the leadership in Europe. We’re staying at this incredible resort. But the guy they set me up with to co-run it didn’t know his part, and I hadn’t slept since landing and I was running on fumes. The leadership was not happy about the Stateside group deciding that they were going to do this Lean Six Sigma [training]. So there was a little pushback.

…And it just didn’t work. 

I used to say, ‘Oh, you can never break that simulation. Whatever happens, it’s real and you can use it and you can teach pieces from it.’

But – and I think I wrote in the book – that day it broke. I had to go tell the client and say, ‘I’m sorry, this is bad.’ The other groups did well, the simulations went according to plan. 

And two things happened…

One, the client really took it on themselves for how they hadn’t helped me, and hadn’t prepared the group well. 

The other thing that happened is one of the other consultants could see on my face the next morning that I was miserable. And he said, ‘So have you never bombed before?’ 

And he just started laughing and he goes, ‘Oh my God, let me tell you a few stories.’ And I think that kindness made such a huge difference to me. 

So that [LinkedIn post] got like 10,000 views, and people were all just talking about failing, how they got treated when they failed, and helping other people when they failed. Just failure is a lightning rod, you know? That one was huge.

5. What has been one of the most helpful practices that you have personally discovered and incorporated into your leadership approach? (26:35)

That’s a great question because something happened as I was drawing and I realized I would do a face, and a lot of times I was drawing me because I was in the story. But then I thought, well, I should include other people. I was vaguely drawing Tracy [O’Rouke], my co host at the Just-in-Time Café. Then I became part of a BIPOC committee, which is black indigenous people of color allies and accomplices. And I started thinking about representation. 

So I started thinking about what representation would look like. I had to think about gender and I had to think about race. And so I would look at people’s hair. It could be non-binary. It became a very conscious process and that really informed me on many levels, right? [I realized] I’ve got to have that as part of my process that I have unconscious bias, so I’m going to have to put some thought into this.

6. What is a question that you haven’t, or are not usually asked about the book? What is that question? And what’s your answer? (28:45)

I think the question would be ‘How did you include Lean Six Sigma in the book?’

One of the residual effects of working with the KGG, the Kata Girl Geeks, was this process of constantly asking, ‘what do you envision as a future state?’ And then ‘What’s an experiment you could try that would get you there? And what do you think might happen if you try that?’ 

What I did was in the last section of each chapter, I have basically questions for the reader, and they follow that format: imagine a future state, consider an experiment, and then what do you expect to happen? 

So in each part of the book, I have people experimenting, and that is something that it became really enjoyable for me to think about at the end of each chapter.

Check out the full interview and connect with Elisabeth

Like the summary of what you read above? To learn more about Elisabeth, you can connect with her on her website or LinkedIn.

Picture Yourself a Leader Book Giveaway - Watch author interview with Elisabeth Swan

Chance to Win a Double Book Giveaway!

We gave two lucky participants from the United States a signed copy of each of our books: Picture Yourself a Leader and Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn. This giveaway ended May 3rd, 2023 at 11:45pm Pacific time.

If you would like to be notified about my future book giveaways, click here.

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