Ken Blanchard on How Great Leaders Grow
I recently caught up with Ken Blanchard, who is the Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is the author or coauthor of 50 books that have sold more than 20 million copies, including the iconic One Minute Manager®. His latest book is called Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life. In addition to being a renowned speaker and consultant, Ken also spends time as a visiting lecturer at his alma mater, Cornell University, where he is a trustee. In this interview, Ken talks about obstacles that slow a leaders growth, what some of his biggest challenges used to be, some tips for young leaders and more.
When it comes to leaders, what obstacles stall their growth?
The biggest obstacle that stalls leaders’ growth is the human ego. When leaders start to think they know it all, they stop growing. Growing for leaders is like oxygen to a deep sea diver. Without learning and growing, leaders die in terms of their effectiveness.
Over your career in the management field, what were some of your greatest challenges and how did you overcome them?
In the late 1970s my wife Margie and I were on sabbatical leave from the University of Massachusetts, where I was teaching and Margie had finished her PhD. We were encouraged to start our own company by a group of presidents who were members of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO). We were flattered by their encouragement, but talk about challenges we couldn’t even balance our own checkbook! We were fortunate that five of those presidents offered to help us and became our advisory board. Our biggest challenge was our ignorance about how to set up or run a business.
In the book I just wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders Grow, we suggest a way to overcome challenges like these. We call it Walking toward Wisdom. That means being willing to receive feedback, seek counsel, and grow as leaders. It’s been an interesting journey. Today Margie and I have more than 300 people working with us, with offices in Toronto, London, and Singapore, and partners in 30 nations. We never would have gotten here if we hadn’t been open to learning and seeking counsel.
What are your top 3 tips for maturing as a young leader?
First, you need to Gain Knowledge. That means learning about your strengths and weakness and the strengths and weaknesses of the people you work with. You need to continue to learn about your industry and constantly read and study about leadership.
Second, you need to Reach Out to Others. That means looking for mentoring relationships and sharing what you’re learning with others. Leadership is not about you; it’s about investing in the growth of others.
Third, you need to Open Your World. That means seeking new experiences outside the workplace to broaden your understanding of reality. Within the workplace, it means venturing outside your own department and understanding the company as a whole. Look for opportunities to lead work groups, fund-raising teams, social event committees. You’ll learn more by hands-on leading than anything else.
How do you differentiate between managers and leaders? Can you be both?
I don’t get involved in trying to differentiate between managers and leaders, because when people talk about the difference between the two, managers always get second fiddle. Warren Bennis, one of the great thought leaders in our field, said that “leaders do the right thing and managers do things right.” I think both doing the right thing and doing things right are part of leadership.
There are two primary aspects of leadership. The first aspect is vision/direction, because leadership is about going somewhere. If people don’t know where you’re going, your chances of getting there are very slim. The vision/direction part of leadership is the leadership part of servant leadership.
When I talk about servant leadership, people think I’m talking about the inmates running prison and trying to please everybody. They just don’t understand these two aspects of leadership.
The next part of servant leadership is implementation how do you live according to the vision and direction and attain the established goals? When you’re implementing the vision/direction, you turn the hierarchical pyramid upside-down and work for your people, doing everything you can to help them implement the vision. This is the servant part of servant leadership. So to me, leadership is about both setting a vision/direction—the traditional leader role and implementation the traditional manager role.
Can people do both roles? Some people can. Some people are really good at the visionary role. They’re like third grade teachers who tell people the vision and values over and over and over until they get it right, right, right. But they’re not implementer s. If they’re good leaders, they gather people around them who can take the implementation role and move it forward. Some people are good implementer s. These people to make sure they have someone who can play the visionary role role. Both roles have to be applied if you’re going to be an effective leader.
Can you name a few people who have grown their leadership ability over time?
Two people come to mind: Garry Ridge, President/CEO of WD-40 Company, and Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to write books with both of them.
I got to know Garry after he enrolled in our Master of Science in Executive Leadership program at University of San Diego. I shared with Garry that back when I was a college professor, I was always in trouble because I gave the final exam out the first day of class. When the faculty questioned me about that, I told them that not only would I share the final exam at the beginning of the semester, but I would also teach them the answers, so that when my students got to the final exam, they’d get As. Life is all about getting As, not some normal distribution curve! Garry was fascinated by my story and said, “Why don’t we do that in industry?” He took off on a journey to change the culture at WD-40 Company and to implement a business philosophy called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.” In 2010 WD-40 Company had the greatest financial year in the history of the company. At the same time, they handed out an internal employee satisfaction survey, which 98 percent of their people filled out and they’re in over 60 nations! The results were overwhelmingly positive. One survey statement said: “At WD-40 Company, I am treated with respect and dignity.” Over 98.7 percent said “true” to that statement. What a great learner Garry is!
Colleen Barrett took over the presidency of Southwest Airlines from co-founder Herb Kelleher. Her main experience before taking that job was being Herb’s executive secretary for over 20 years. Herb understood the two aspects of leadership. He felt the vision and direction of Southwest Airlines was clear and he didn’t want a Jack Welch lookalike to come in and turn the company in a different direction. He wanted somebody who knew the implementation or servant aspect of leadership; someone who could cheer lead and keep everybody going in the direction they had set. Colleen was the perfect choice. It’s amazing how she grew as a leader. I got so excited about her leadership that I wrote a book with her called Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success. In her 18-year tenure as president, Colleen played a major leadership role in the airline industry and was the first woman ever to achieve some groundbreaking goals.
Source: Dan Schawbel, Forbes
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