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James Anderson walks the walk

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — It’s 6:30 a.m. James Anderson is already in his office checking e-mail and getting in some quiet time before meeting with his staff. In between traveling, conducting leadership workshops and marketing his business, Anderson makes the time to run. This year, he is training to run in his second Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in St. Paul.

“I’m going to keep doing these because they’re tough, they’re challenging,” said Anderson, a fitness enthusiast and advocate of lifelong learning and personal development. “It’s an opportunity to use what I teach.”

Anderson (Ojibwe/Chocktaw) is co-founder of the LifeSkills Center for Business Leadership in Minneapolis and the LifeSkills Center for Leadership (LSCL) in St. Paul, a non-profit organization that teaches leadership skills to college students through its core values of character, ownership, growth, service and results. In 2002, the Center was recognized by Oprah Winfrey with an Angel’s Network Award and a $25,000 grant.

Anderson, 31, was recently named a Native American 40 Under 40 honoree by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). His professional goal in life: to help people reach their ultimate potential. “I want to be the Indian Tony Robbins.”

“I truly believe that everyone can be outstanding.”

-James Anderson

Despite his accomplishments, Anderson has said his first 22 years were spent just being “there,” going through the motions. “By nature, I’m an introvert.”

The son of Dave Anderson, founder of the Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurants, James was born in Chicago and raised in Minneapolis. In school, he struggled with a stuttering problem and was an average to below average student. He was a shy kid who played it small – so small, he once took himself out of a high school basketball game because he was scared of how well he was doing. “I didn’t believe in myself,” he said. “I was always afraid. I never gave myself a chance.”

Anderson earned a degree in Business and Communications from Luther College in Iowa but says his real education didn’t begin until after college. That’s when he attended his first workshop under famed life strategist and personal development coach Tony Robbins. That weekend, Anderson became aware of the inner, self-sabotaging voice that kept him playing it small. “All of us have this little voice.”

Robbins’ workshop, “Unleash the Power Within,” gave Anderson the opportunity to literally walk across fire to confront and conquer the fear that had paralyzed his life.

Over the past two decades, the ancient ritual of firewalking has become popular in the U.S. among athletes, corporate executives and employees and those seeking the mind-body connection to personal growth and empowerment. Anderson firewalked for the first time at Robbins’ seminar, walking 40 feet across red hot coals without getting burned.

It was a liberating, life-changing experience. If this can work for me, Anderson thought, it can work for others. “I danced all night afterwards.”

Anderson has since firewalked 38 times and earned his firewalk instructor certification from the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education.

He continued to immerse himself in the field of personal development, taking every workshop he could and studying the titans in the field: Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie and Og Mandino. Self-esteem, he learned, is a skill that needs to be worked on and developed.

By the time he was 24, Anderson had his own real estate business and owned more than $1 million in real estate.

In 2007, he co-founded the LifeSkills Center for Business Leadership, the for-profit, sister organization of LSCL. Some of Anderson’s clients include corporations and small businesses, tribal governments, non-profits, hotels and restaurants. His business is dedicated to providing world-class leadership training to businesses, teams and individuals. “I truly believe that everyone can be outstanding.”

Anderson says most people don’t take time to educate themselves about finance, health and relationship issues, which most studies show, are the leading causes of stress in the U.S.

Margo Gray-Proctor, President of Horizon Engineering Services and Board Chairman of NCAIED, first met Anderson while attending his Leadership from the Heart workshop.

“What a phenomenal young man,” said Proctor (Osage), who nominated Anderson for the 40 Under 40 distinction. “I was captivated by the message of Leadership from the Heart from the get-go.”

Proctor says she remembers how Anderson’s face would light up when he spoke of working with youth in the community. Since 2001, LSCL has worked with hundreds of American Indian people of all ages throughout reservations and Native communities. “The success in Indian country will mean absolutely nothing if we don’t pay it back,” Proctor said.

“I’m really living my goals right now,” said Anderson. “It’s a challenge, but I know that I can do it.”

Anderson lives outside of Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.

Lorraine Jessepe can be reached at