Mark Anderson, Alumni Leading Our Community

Mark Anderson

President & CEO, BlackRidge Financial, Inc. | Finance

"We must cultivate our garden, which is everything that is important to us. Leadership is part of that garden. Leaders must be willing to love, care, encourage, nurture, and give people the opportunity to grow. Being a gardener is what leadership is about.""

Describe your perfect employee

There is no such thing as a perfect employee. It probably comes down to desire and attitude more than anything. Former Bear Stearns Chief Alan ‘Ace’ Greenberg wrote a book called “Memos from the Chairman,” and he introduced a concept where he said you can take all of the MBAs and CPAs because he was more interested in hiring people with PSD degrees, which stands for poor, smart and a deep desire to become rich.

How do you encourage creative thinking within your company?

We had a guest speaker who talked about a group that conducted a creativity study that was given to 1,400 Americans aged 44. 95% of them failed that test of creativity, or rather, landed on the borderline of what is creative and what isn’t; only 5% were deemed creative. Then they gave the exact same test to 1,400 five-year-olds. The result was the exact opposite—95% were deemed creative and 5% were not. So why from the time a young person is five until the time they go through everything they go through in life is there a 90% shift in the ability to be deemed creative or exhibit creativity? I'm not sure everybody wants people to be creative. Sometimes they want them to color inside the lines. I don't color well.

What is the most important role of a leader?

The most important role of a leader is to lead. Seems simple, right? But it isn't. You really need to engender belief, support, and confidence in people that you believe in them. A leader needs to develop mutual trust, build that relationship and show them that 1) you care, 2) you believe in them and 3) that they can trust you and believe what you tell them. You really need to build that relationship so that when we go down a path it does become an action – you are actually leading. It's not spending time. It’s an investment of time and building relationships so people know you really care, because at the end of the day, people are people; we all have feelings. Nobody wants to be ignored.

What can leaders do better?

Acknowledging that people are putting in effort and putting their heart and soul into what they are doing. In order to build engagement, it has to be about more than a paycheck. It has to be enjoying the cultural experience, and it’s the culture that says we care about every person on the team. We care holistically about the person, not just their job performance.

What have you learned from your failures?

You should be able to learn more from your failures than your successes. Really look at it honestly and legitimately and ask how that could that have been handled differently; what decision could have been made differently; how would you approach this now knowing what you know? Learn from your failures, look back and ask yourself, ‘how could you have made a better decision?’

Parting thoughts on leadership

I was intrigued with the novella by Voltaire, Candide, ou l'Optimisme, that says we must cultivate our garden. It is so deep and philosophical because it’s a metaphor for our lives. Our garden is everything that is important to us – family, job, friends, health; everything in your life is your garden. I think that’s the same thing for leadership. You need to think about leadership as being part of your garden, and you need to be willing to show love, care, encouragement and nurturing. Leaders must give people the opportunity to grow, to learn, to be challenged, to do things, to be rewarded, to be supported and to be that safety net. Being a gardener is what leadership is about.