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Insights with Ken Blanchard On The Secret-What Great Leaders Know and Do

Featuring Ken Blanchard, Founding Associate/Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies® and Best-selling Author

Posted on 04 Aug 10

In this edition of Insurance Unplugged, we're pleased to feature an interview with Ken Blanchard, best-selling author and co-author of more than 40 books, including the well-known One Minute Manager®, Empowerment Takes More than Minute, Full Steam Ahead!, Whale Done™!, Gung Ho®, Raving Fans®, Managing by Values, and The Mulligan: A Parable of Second Chances. Worldwide, his books have combined sales of more than eighteen million copies in twenty-five languages. Ken is also founding associate and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies®, a global leader in workplace learning, productivity, performance, and leadership development solutions.

Here we discuss the updated and expanded version of The Secret – What Great Leaders Know and Do, co-authored by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller, VP, Training and Development, Chick-fil-A, Inc., one of the largest privately held restaurant chains with nearly 1,500 restaurants in 38 states. In the book, Ken and Mark get at the heart of what makes a leader truly able to inspire and motivate people. They share with us that great leaders are those that SERVE: "S"- See the Future; "E": Engage and Develop Others; "R": Reinvent Continuously; "V": Value Results and Relationships; "E": Embody the Values. This book not only speaks to those who are in leadership positions but also to those who look to them for direction and guidance. As an agency principal or executive, you'll find this book valuable in providing effective leadership.

Annie George (AG): You speak about great leaders being preoccupied with the future, part of "SERVE". This involves vision and also ties into being able to "reinvent continuously", including making structural changes in an organization to meet a desired change. But many company leaders seem stuck in their ways and resistant to change. How does a person change his/her mindset, begin embracing change as a good thing and looking at it as a way of taking the company to the next level as opposed to an obstacle?

Ken Blanchard (KB): Mark Twain once said, "The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper." Like it or not, in the dynamic society surrounding today's organizations, the question of whether change will occur is no longer relevant. Change will occur. That is no longer a probability; it's a certainty.

If leaders don't stay on top of driving change in a direction that's beneficial to their organizations, they risk having their organizations become obsolete, with everyone losing their jobs.

Leaders must listen carefully to what's going on in their organizations, so they can surface and resolve people's concerns about change. People often resent change when they have no involvement in how it's implemented. It's not so much that people resist change - it's that they resist being controlled.

AG: Great leaders, according to The Secret also engage the people in the organizations and help develop them. The first step is to hire the right people for the right position and then to create an environment where dialogue and investment in your work is encouraged. What occurs many times in our industry is that you have producers who are not really well suited to sales, perhaps better at customer service and this results in stagnant growth or the leader taking over the bulk of the sales. What do you recommend in getting the right people in the right positions and then fostering an environment where people have passion in what they are doing?

KB: I wrote a book with Garry Ridge, president of WD-40 Company, called Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called "Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A." In that book we contend that the role of a manager is to provide direction and support rather than judgment and criticism. Ideally, you should help your people get As by teaching them the answers to the final exam ahead of time and coaching them throughout the year to perform at an A level.

If, after a period of time, it becomes clear to both manager and direct report that a person is perpetually underperforming - even with the right coaching and support - the focus should switch to career planning, because that person is probably in the wrong job. If the person is a values-driven employee, a different opportunity in the organization should be explored. So, to use your example, if you have a salesperson who is not making his numbers, this would be the time to talk about finding another position within the company for him. If this isn't a values-driven employee, it might be appropriate to "share him with a competitor" as Garry likes to say.

AG: How important is passion in a company? So many people go to work, view it as a job and are not passionate about what they do. How do great leaders change this, inspire passion?

KB: Passion is the difference between a world-class organization and just another company. Passion is the natural by-product of an organization whose purpose, picture of the future, values, and culture align with the goals and values of its members. In Gung Ho! Turn on the People in Any Organization, a book I wrote with Sheldon Bowles, we talk about three elements that inspire passion in an organization. The first is worthwhile work - people need to feel they are contributing to something meaningful. The second is being in control of achieving the goal - people need clear goals and the autonomy and support to achieve them. The third is cheering each other on - more than anything, people need encouragement; i.e., managers who "catch them doing something right."

Interestingly, a year-long study done by Scott Blanchard, Drea Zigarmi, and Vicki Essary found that operational leadership - day-to-day coaching and cheering people on - had a greater impact on organizational vitality than strategic leadership - setting initiatives, planning, etc.

AG: So many people, whether they're managers of divisions or the CEO of the company, seem not to value relationships with their employees, another key to becoming a great leader. They see employees as dispensable, especially more and more in these tough economic times. They don't take the time to cultivate relationships. Please expand on the value of this and how it contributes to being a great leader.

KB: Your people are everything. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, says that the great leaders are focused on both people and results - even when the economy falters. Where leaders make mistakes in tough times is that they forget about people. They start to focus solely on the bottom line. They forget the all-important people element.

That's why I think it is so important for leaders to keep communicating with people and not forget who got them where they are today. Remember, at the end of the day when everybody leaves the building, your company just left.

For years I have said to managers, "If you had a choice of a fire taking out all of your equipment and your buildings or all of your people walking out together in one day, which would be worse?" Most managers say losing all of their people would be worse. You can always rebuild your buildings, but you need your people.

During economic downturns, the biggest mistake leaders make is to focus solely on results and forget about their people. When you focus on people, once the economy recovers you are positioned to really take off, because your people are engaged and ready to go. But if you ruin your whole human organization while you are "trying to save your company," then all of a sudden when the economy bounces back and you have opportunities again, you have nobody to help you take advantage of them.

AG: Many companies have mission statements, but you talk about going further, stating your company values, and a great leader embodying those values so that others will also adopt them and then behavior based on those values will follow. Today more and more younger people (Gen Y) are looking to a company's social responsibility, issues of transparency, and the company culture as part of their decision to be employed by a particular company, especially after all we've experienced in the financial services industry in the last few years.

Please talk about how fundamental establishing values is not only essential to being a great leader, but also in having a "successful" company.

KB: One you've established your organization's purpose and created your picture of the future - what the future will look like if you're successful - you need to decide on the values that will guide your decision making. Life is about value conflicts. Without a clear set of rank-ordered values, you're likely to drift away from the good intentions stated in your mission and purpose. For example, if you're a manufacturer with a number one value of safety and a number two value of financial success, you will not make a decision that promises good profits if it means safety measures will be compromised. As we've seen so many times in the recent past, companies that say one thing and do another quickly lose credibility.

AG: I love that you ask leaders to look at whether they are a self-serving leader or a serving leader…that to be a great leader you serve others. Leave your ego at the door. What examples of serving leaders in business can you provide that reflect what you are talking about?

KB: Of course Truett Cathy, the founder of Chic-fil-A, is a great example of a servant leader - a man whose generosity is legendary and who consistently sees his role as serving his people - not vice versa. I just finished writing a book with Colleen Barrett, former president of Southwest Airlines, called Lead with LUV. (The book will be out in January 2011.) Colleen is another great example of a servant leader. In fact, Southwest's values are having a Warrior Spirit, a Fun-LUVing attitude, and a Servant's Heart. No wonder they're the only airline in the industry that consistently turns a profit!

You can order The Secret - What Great Leaders Know and Do at and take a look at Ken's other leading business books and timeless best-sellers at:

About Ken Blanchard

A prominent, sought-after author, speaker, and business consultant, Ken Blanchard is universally characterized by his friends, colleagues, and clients as one of the most insightful, powerful, and compassionate individuals in business today. Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world and is respected for his years of groundbreaking work in the fields of leadership and management.

He is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies®, an international management training and consulting firm that he and his wife, Margie Blanchard, began in 1979 in San Diego, California. 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 emeritus of the Board of Trustees.