Erica Auslander, director of learning and development at The Dannon Company in White Plains, says she looks at every employee as a leader “regardless of level, regardless of whether they have direct reports.” Charged with running personal and professional development for some 3,000 US employees, she aims to instill this leadership-minded ethos into every waking Dannoner.
And occasionally some non-Dannoners. One supposedly harmless conversation had this writer psychoanalyzing to uncover self-imposed limitations, the kind Auslander spends her days ridding from the minds of employees. “We all assign ourselves a limitation, what’s holding us in that limitation is our past experiences and what other people have told us about their experiences, and that becomes our comfort zone,” she says. “When we’re stuck in that comfort zone, we’re not able to challenge ourselves, so my goal is to get people to ‘the breakout zone,’” where they’re poised to realize their full potential. So if Auslander lit a fire under us in 30 minutes, you can imagine the impact on her daily reports.
Alexia Finely, learning and development manager, reports to Auslander and is thus a living laboratory for her breakout philosophy. That might sound frightening, but Finely is thankful for it. She says that Auslander has given her “confidence, determination, and the willingness to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” Her boss, she continues, “makes my development a priority and takes time to coach, mentor, and trust me to tackle things I would have never imagined possible.”
Says Auslander: “I would hope that they would describe my leadership style as one that comes from the possibility I see in them.”