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National Leader of the Month for April 2007

Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard

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Ken Blanchard's Story

It is the first day of class, and the semester has just begun. Picture the professor, standing in front of the class, poised to offer the lesson of the day. Before beginning the lesson, the professor hands out the semester exam.

Initially, the sight of the exam is met with trepidation. However, the exam is not handed out to intimidate the students. It is distributed to give the students the key to unlock an A grade on the real semester final that the students will be confronted with in a few short months. The professor believes in giving the final exam to students in advance because he says that life is all about getting A's. He feels his job is to coach the students up to earning an A grade, not to fill their exams full of red ink.

Ken Blanchard is that professor, and he frequently recounts that story from his days in the classroom. He spent ten years teaching students how to get A's (and angering some in the establishment who wished he would grade with the normal distribution curve). After honing his philosophy in the world of education, Ken translated the lessons to the business world. He advocates that business leaders serve and uplift their people, and he has offered these lessons as an author, speaker and consultant for the past three decades. Ken crisscrosses the globe, speaking with a variety of audiences. In the past couple months alone, he has departed North America to offer his anecdotes and sagely wisdom to people in South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Ken recognizes the pivotal role that integrity plays in successful organizations. He describes the importance of character and says that if he has to choose between competence and character, he will always choose character. This belief is grounded in his philosophy that you can teach competence, but you can not train character. When confronted with the need to instruct someone, Ken advocates that managers either catch that person doing something right and praise progress or redirect their efforts if they have gotten off course. If you have to reprimand, you should end it with reaffirmation. After all, people are OK, it's just their behavior that's a problem sometimes.

As the Chief Spiritual Officer for the Ken Blanchard Companies, Ken's leadership focuses on setting the vision for his organization. He does an excellent job instructing people on the importance of values and talks about how to align employee actions with the values of the organization. Ken's healthy perspective on life extends beyond the office. He reminds people that, in his words, "It all goes back in the box at the end of your life. Regardless of how much you have, the only thing you get to save is your soul: that’s who you love and who loves you." For Ken Blanchard's far-reaching leadership, and the millions it has impacted, he is the National Leader of the Month for April 2007.

About Ken Blanchard

Author, Speaker & Business Consultant

Bio: married to Dr. Marjorie Blanchard; resides in San Diego, California; Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies; B.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University; M.A. from Colgate University; co-author of The One Minute Manager® (over 12 million copies in print); recipient of the National Speaker's Association "Council of Peers Award of Excellence"; the College of Business at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix bears his name

Favorite quote: The key to helping people develop and to creating great organizations is to accentuate the positive by catching people doing things right.

Favorite book: I got to write a book with Norman Vincent Peale who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. I think that was one of the great books of all time. I met Norman when he was 86. He was an incredible human being. We wrote a book called The Power of Ethical Management: Integrity Pays: You Don't Have to Cheat to Win. I think that is a pretty powerful book.

Current personal passion: I turned 65 a couple years ago. I was on the phone with Zig Ziglar. [Shortly after I got invited to Zig's 59th anniversary of his 21st birthday last year. So Zig just turned 80]. I said, "Are you going to retire?" He said, "There is no mention of it in the Bible. Except for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, David, and a couple of other people, nobody made an impact under [age] 80. So I am re-firing, not retiring." I buy that. My re-firing passion is to get people to lead at a higher level. I am doing that passion in two ways. One is with our company. Our mission is to help individuals and organizations lead at a higher level. Our purpose is to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations for the greater good. Secondly, I have started a "Lead Like Jesus" ministry that is housed in Augusta, Georgia. Our vision is 6.8 billion souls served by the impact of people leading like Jesus. He is the greatest leadership role model of all time. We think the next great evangelistic movement in religion is going to be demonstration, not proclamation. I was just in India and was told that Gandhi said, "If all Christians would behave like Jesus, then everybody in the world would be interested."

Dream: My dream would be that self-serving leadership would be a thing of the past and that we'd see political leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, and church leaders--anyone trying to influence the thinking, beliefs, and behavior of others--leading at a higher level. [These leaders would have] the traits that Jim Collins talks about in his book From Good to Great (resolve, the determination to follow a mission, [the ability to] live according to a set of values, and humility). Collins never anticipated that humility would be an important trait of great leaders.  And yet these leaders who don't think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less, are really interested in serving rather than being served.

Place in the world you most like to visit: We have a little cottage on Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York near Syracuse. We go there every summer. We leave home in San Diego at the end of June and come back at the beginning of September. We've been doing that for over 40 years. It is my favorite place to be and to go and visit. We are always looking forward to our time on the lake. We have a cottage there, where we have no television. We think people ought to talk to each other. We don't get a newspaper either, so we just kind of stop the world and set off during the summer. Our kids have been going there since they were wee ones, and now they are excited about bringing our grandkids up there. We have a great time.

Experiences vital to your development as a leader: I had great parents. I had a father who retired as an admiral in the Navy and was kind of a Mr. Roberts leader, so he was continually bombarding me with different ways to look at the world. For example, when I was in seventh grade, I came home all excited that I had won the president of the seventh grade. My father said, "That's great, Ken, but now that you have been elected president, don't ever use your position because great leaders are great because people respect and trust them, not because they have power." That is some message for a young kid to hear. My mom almost invented positive thinking. She said I danced before I walked, I smiled before I cried, and I laughed before I frowned. She was a really positive thinker and had a great impact on me.

Were there any times in which your leadership was challenged or tested and how did you respond to that? We have 300+ people working for us with offices in Toronto, London, and partners in about 30 nations. My title is Chief Spiritual Officer of our company. People don't generally report to me. I'm more about the vision and values part of leadership. I'm like a third-grade teacher. I say our vision and values over and over and over again until people get it right, right, right. I leave a message for everybody in the company every morning on voice mail to pump them up so they can remember what we stand for. Your leadership is periodically challenged. What's really interesting is if people don't like a decision, then they cry that the process is no good. If they like a decision, they don't care that they weren't involved in [the decision-making process]. Are some of the problems that other companies have to deal with--like disgruntled employees--just not an issue with your company? No, I think there is conflict [anywhere]. Any time you get two or more people together, you've got to have issues. My father said, "If you didn't hear [complaining] from your men, watch your [butt], you are going over the side."...One of the reasons we started our company is that there are a lot of people out there doing leadership training and consulting who have never had to meet a payroll: They have never had any people that they had to lead. With 300 people, we have all the problems and issues that every company has. For example, how do you recruit and hire the right people? How do you retain your good people? Those are always concerns for us.

Ken reveals his people-first philosophy by describing his company's response to 9/11: We shut our company down for two-and-a-half days once a year. We have what we call our Week of Excellence, when we bring in everybody from around the world to share and celebrate. I'm a big believer in celebrations and things like that to keep your folks all pumped up. An interesting aspect of that is during the month of 9/11, we lost a million and a half dollars. We had [between] 45 and 50 trainers on the road. Everything got cancelled, but we felt we had to pay them and get them back home. The economy was already down, so we realized we had to cut [between] 350 and 400 thousand dollars per month for October, November, and December in order to limp into the black. Everybody, of course, says you have to get rid of people. We didn't think that was the right thing to do in tough times in a tough economy with our country getting attacked. [Rather than lay people off, we asked our people to be part of a solution.] We always open our books--everybody knows how to read our balance sheet. [In this case], we said, "Here's the deal. This is what we've got to do. Let's break into task forces and look for ways to cut costs and increase sales. Let's see how we can pull all together." With everybody's help, [we achieved the goal]. Everybody agreed to cut their salaries and we should stop paying the 401k. If anybody quit, we wouldn't replace them. We just did all kinds of things [to sacrifice]. I told everybody "When we pull through this--which I know we are going to do--we'll go to Hawaii to celebrate." So two Februaries ago, we took 350 people to Hawaii for a party. You know, without your people, you are nothing. That is the biggest leadership mistake most people make. They think people and results [are] an either/or [proposition] rather than a both/and [proposition]. At the end of the day, when everybody heads home, your business just left. So leadership is about your people. If you turn around and nobody is following you, you are probably not leading.

Asked to share a story, Ken offers the following: My favorite story is that our kids, their spouses, and Margie's brother are playing active roles in our company. So we have a legacy building. [This is important to me] because you hope that you have a business that is having a positive impact on people. It's rewarding when your kids and family think it is worth it. We have a family council [that includes] Margie and I, our two kids, and Margie's brother, and we have an extended family council that includes the spouses. The family council meets once a quarter for a day and a half. We meet with an outside consultant who facilitates our meetings because we think family is important. [Therefore], we don't want to have any issues that don't get dealt with. In relation to what I think, I was on a program one time with Tom Landry, the great [former coach of the] Dallas Cowboys. Somebody said to him, "How do you stay so calm, coach, in the midst of this crazy game of football?" He said, "It's easy. I have my priorities in order. First comes the Lord. Second comes my wife. Third comes my kids, and fourth comes my job. So if I lose on Sunday, I've got a lot left over." He said, "A lot of people, if they lose on Sunday, that's it. What else is there besides winning?" So I try to keep those priorities in order. Do you find that you are able to do that successfully most of the time? Is there ever a challenge for you to do that? Do you ever get caught up in your work? I think every day your ego is waiting for you to try to get you off focus....When we lost all that money around 9/11, it was hard not to "Let's just think about ourselves and get rid of all these people." [You are tempted to react wrongly] rather than saying, "OK. How are we going to work this out together?" You constantly have to remind yourself about who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.

What is it that you are most proud about with the work that you have done? Well, I'm proud that we seem to be having an impact around the world. I just was in India, and then I was in China. I've been back and forth to Europe and Latin America. Wherever you go, The One Minute Manager is still alive and well. Situational leadership is alive and well. People really seem to be getting something out of our work. My mission in life is to be a loving teacher and example of simple truths that help myself and others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives. The reason I mention God is that I think the biggest addiction in the world is the human ego, which spells Edging God Out and putting yourself, somehow, in the center. Speaking of [China and India], can you offer any insights on their cultures, and what you see them bringing to the table, in terms of how they will be impacting the Western world? You have two very interesting setups there. You have India: That is basically a democracy and the only country in the world that gained independence without shooting a shot through Gandhi's nonviolent approach. Then, you have China: That is basically an autocracy, which has caught the entrepreneurial bug. I think that the key element around the world to solve our biggest problem--the gap between the have-nots and the haves--is the free enterprise system. If I had anything to do with Iraq, I wouldn't have had an election the first year. I would have backed a benevolent autocrat, and built the economy. China is not a democracy, and nobody is worried about that because they've got the entrepreneurial bug. So I'm a great believer in the free enterprise system and what it can do. [I support] having less government control, so we can take advantage of the possibilities that the free enterprise [creates].

What is next for you, Ken? Do you have any plans to ever slow down? I don't think so. I'm having too much fun. We have two books coming out this year, one called The One Minute Entrepreneur and another one called Know Can Do: Putting your know-how into action. I am really excited about that. Then I'm starting work on a book with the president of WD-40....His name is Garry Ridge. He is from Australia and is on our board....His headquarters are in San Diego. We're going to work on a book called, Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A....A lot of people don't agree with [my teaching and management philosophy, described at the beginning of this feature]. They think that as a leader you ought to be judging and evaluating. Jack Welch says get rid of 10% every year. I don't believe in that. Garry got excited about my philosophy. Now, if somebody comes in to him and says, "I'm having trouble with an employee. [He] is not performing, and I'm going to have to fire [him]." Then [Garry] says, "Don't fire him until I have found out what you have done to help him get an A." If [the boss] can't give Garry [a satisfactory response], then he fires the manager, not the [employee who initially was going to be fired].

Garry Ridge, the president and CEO of WD-40 who was in the first class of the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego (a joint program put together by USD and the Blanchard Companies), shares the following thoughts about Ken Blanchard:

"I have sent fourteen of our employees through the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego. I really like the emphasis it has on people and profits. Like Ken [Blanchard] always says, 'It isn't an either/or. It is a both/and.' Ken truly believes that and it shows through his behavior, in his actions, and through his words. [Ken believes] that the power of the result is in the heart of the people. His leadership style is one of 'how do you bring out the magnificence of people through acknowledgement of what they are doing in a positive way?' [Ken] often says that people know they are doing well in an organization because someone has not yelled at them today. His philosophy is the reverse of that, which is basically, 'how do you bring out and recognize great achievements and reward and applaud that publicly so people can move to the next stage of accomplishment and to do even greater things?'

My mantra is 'I'm not here to mark your paper, I'm here to help you get an A.' That [mantra is] really taking away some of the learning that I had through interaction with Ken. I also created a website called thelearningmoment.net. I talk about how we don't make mistakes in organizations, we have learning moments. A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation. We should create a culture and an environment where people are comfortable in sharing that positive or negative learning moment. In fact, it should be rewarded or applauded, so you can learn from that. A lot of organizations suppress the sharing of what would be commonly thought of as failure. I don't think there is failure, I just think there are different levels of learning."

Ken Blanchard and Leadership

Advice to aspiring leaders: I think what we tried to do in [our book] Leading at a Higher Level is say [aspiring leaders] ought to keep their eye on four things if they want to be great leaders. One is "do they have the right target?" [They need to ask themselves], "What [am I] aiming at?" That is what people are going to want to know. I think that profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people. The triple bottom line is a good target. Then the second key is that, [as leaders], you have got to take care of your customers. Without your customers, you are nothing. [Your customers] pay for your bills. So we've done a lot of work on "how do you create raving fan customers," customers that become so excited about the way you treat them that they want to brag about you and almost become part of your sales force. Third, [aspiring leaders] have to take care of their people; in fact, [your] people probably come before your customers because you can't beat up your people and expect them to take care of your customers. Finally, [aspiring leaders] have to have the right kind of leadership. They have to answer the questions, "Am I here as a leader to serve or be served? What are my intentions?" [Those] questions, when they are answered honestly, go at the root of leadership to me. As Robert Greenleaf said years ago, "Great servant leaders serve first and lead second." If you walk into the average organization and ask the leadership, how many [people] are there to serve first? Well, I think if you gave most people choices, they would probably want to say that they did [serve others first]. Then you would have to look at their behavior. One of the ways you can tell if you are dealing with self-serving leaders is give them some feedback. If you give them anything negative [for feedback], that is their worst nightmare because they think that you don't want them to lead. Since they think they are their position, if you give them any negative feedback, they have to discount you and put you down. [Conversely], if you give feedback to servant leaders, you can always tell because they say, "Thank you. This is really helpful. I didn't mean that. Is there anybody else I should talk to?" The reason that [servant leaders] love feedback is they think their position is on loan and therefore the only reason they are there to lead is to serve. I think that there are more people that are getting [the importance of servant leadership], but more people act like and try to say they are [servant leaders], but when push comes to shove, the spotlight focuses on them. In his best-selling book, From Good to Great, Jim Collins had a great description. He said [about great] leaders: "When things go well, they look out the window and give everybody else the credit. When things go poorly, they look in the mirror, and say, 'What could I have done differently that would have permitted these great people to be just as great as they could be?'" When things go well, ordinary, self-serving leaders look in the mirror and pat themselves on the chest and tell themselves how great they are; when things go wrong, they look out the window to see who they can blame.

Talk a little more about the triple-bottom line: The triple bottom line is that you want to be the provider of choice: You want to have "raving fan" customers. You want to be the employer of choice: You want to have people working for you that really enjoy working there. You want to be the investment of choice, whether you are profit or non-profit: Somebody is putting money up. That is why I say profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people.

Most admired leaders: I love servant leaders, and so I have a great admiration for Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines who has now turned over the reins to Colleen Barrett. Both of them are great servant leaders. I have a lot of admiration for Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A and his father, Truitt, who founded it. I think they are great servant leaders. [I admire] Jim Blanchard and Bill Turner who ran Synovus out of Columbus, Georgia, a financial-services company, the #1 company to work for in the United States for years. Wegmans, run by Bob Wegman and now his daughter, this past year [was] chosen the #1 company to work for. They are all great servant leaders. Marilyn Nelson, who heads up The Carlson Companies (probably the largest privately-owned company in the United States), got chosen by U.S. News as one of the great leaders in the country. She's a beautiful servant leader and turn[ed] a company around for [her] dad who was a traditional, old-line leader. I also admire servant leaders like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Jesus.

Traits most important in a leader: There are two parts of servant leadership. The lead part is the vision and direction: where are we going and what do we stand for. The traditional hierarchy is good for that. [It is] not that you don't involve people [in the vision and direction], but people look to their boss or people up the hierarchy to set the vision and direction. Then the second part of servant leadership is implementation. [For that], you turn the pyramid upside down, and now you are there to serve. This is the servant part of servant leadership. I think great leaders are good listeners. They are willing to listen to contrary views. They take great joy in the development of their people. They just love to see people rise up and become leaders. I think they have a servant's heart. The only reason they are leading is to serve, not to be served.

What can organizations do to encourage leaders, or conversely, to stifle leaders? I think that the biggest thing is, "Do they empower people?" The key thing is, "Do they permit people to bring their brains to work, and can they use their minds to solve problems, or do they always have to suck up the hierarchy and talk to their boss who talks to their boss who talks to their boss?" I think that is a big limitation where people think that leadership is about the hierarchy rather than influencing and motivating others.

Books recommended for aspiring leaders: They ought to take a look at Michael Gerber's books The E-Myth and The E-Myth Revisited. Both of his books are about being an entrepreneur. I think Jim Collins's book From Good to Great is a wonderful book. Patrick Lencioni wrote a great book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I have written over 40 [books] now, so I am starting a "Book of the Month" club. I could keep people busy for quite a while. I like Laurie Beth Jones's book, Jesus CEO. Is one of your books more special to you than the others, or are all your books like children to you and you love them all equally? I usually get most excited about my latest one, and the most recent one is called Leading at a Higher Level. It is different than anything I have written in recent years because it is not a parable. I have thirteen co-authors, including my wife, Margie, and my son, Scott, and the founding consulting partners in our organization. [The book] pulls together everything that we have been doing as a company for 25 years together. It is focused around, "How do you get leaders to lead at a higher level?" [We define that as] "achieving worthwhile goals while showing concern, respect, and care for the interests of all involved." We think that the real problem is that there are too many self-serving leaders who think that leadership is all about them, and their main interest is that all of the power, recognition, and money move up the hierarchy, away from the people and away from the customers. Leading at a Higher Level says that you ought to have a more transcendent goal then just trying to make money because if people think your only goal is to make money, then they will treat you as a transaction....Your people--if they get a better offer somewhere else--will go, and if your customers get a better offer somewhere else, they will go. Loyalty is a thing of the past. Everybody thinks it is all about themselves. I think if you have a transcendent purpose, one that has meaning beyond any self-serving interest, that people will really get excited about what you are doing. Why is it that people are more self-serving nowadays than they were a generation ago? I think there is more pressure today from Wall Street and other financial institutions around performance. I did a program a few years ago at Euro-Disney. The head of Euro-Disney was also on the program and he said, "I've worked for Disney for 22 years. I probably ought to say I've worked for Disney for 88 quarters. Pretty soon I'm going to have to say I've worked for Disney for 52 [weeks] times 22 [years] because people are going to be checking on performance every week." I think there is too much emphasis on the short term. Years ago, [when] my father and mother invested in a stock, they invested in it for the long run because they thought that they could grow their money with the company. Now, people buy one day, and they want to sell the next day. And they want a profit! So it is not just the leaders: We have a self-serving attitude. A lot of that is a function of the distorted salaries that athletes, entertainers, business leaders and everybody get. Sometimes that drives a "me" orientation. But I also see a lot of good things happening. I think the best companies to work for are family-owned, values-driven companies that have a vision with a clear purpose and values that are beyond making money. [For example, there are] companies like Chick-fil-A. It's got 1300 stores, and it is not open on Sunday. There is 2% turnover in their restaurant managers and less turnover hourly than anybody in the business. They have a real inspirational purpose for people.

What and where are the best training programs out there for leaders? We are involved in two of them. One of them is the Master of Science in Executive Leadership at the University of San Diego. We [also] have an Executive MBA at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. The business school has been named after me. At both of those programs, there is tremendous focus on leadership. [At] the one at Grand Canyon, people take most of their basic courses online, but they come for three, four-day visits to campus: the first one at the beginning of the program, the second one in the middle, and the third [visit] at the end [of the program]. At the beginning, they learn about self leadership--about themselves and about what drives them. [They learn] what [their strengths, weaknesses, and values are.] The second four weeks, they learn about one-on-one leadership and team leadership because they are very different. Then, finally the last four weeks, they learn about organizational leadership. At the University of San Diego, it is a face-to-face program, and students come once a month for two years--and one week each summer--and we work them all the way through from self-leadership, to one-on-one, to team, to organizational leadership. As I looked at all the programs around the country, I discovered they weren't teaching leadership. At most, they usually have a course in organizational behavior, where they tuck leadership into it. So [leadership] doesn't even get a full course of its own. Plus, business schools tend to be training financial analysts and consultants: not leaders. Why do you think that is? Well, I think we get tied up with results and the "hard" stuff and begin to think that leadership is "soft," and you can't teach it. We can teach marketing and we can teach finance and accounting and all [those kinds] of subjects. I think it is a distorted set of values that somehow [suggests] that people and results are either/or rather than both/and. Do you think that more places will begin to [follow] the lead that you have started there in San Diego and Phoenix and implement some of those strategies? Yes, I think more and more are starting to realize that leadership is important because what is the big issue around the world? We need good leaders. If all we are training is financial analysts and consultants, that is not doing us very much good. There is a scarcity of effective leaders everywhere.

Metaphor, story, or analogy for leadership: We had a graduate student of ours that had a wonderful story. He said that as a leader he was like a stagecoach driver. If they hit a rock, and he fell out of the stagecoach, the horses could still run. But if something happened to the horses, he could go nowhere. I wrote a book entitled Everyone's A Coach with Don Shula, the [former] Miami Dolphins coach, and he said he finally became a great coach when he realized that he couldn't tackle anybody, he couldn't kick the ball, he couldn't throw a pass, he couldn't do anything; his only job was to get other people to do [those things] to the best of their ability.

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