March 2012
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TD Magazine

Ken Blanchard

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ken Blanchard is the co-founder 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. Blanchard’s books, including the bestselling The One Minute Manager, co-authored with Spencer Johnson, have combined sales of more than 18 million copies in more than 25 languages. He is in Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 bestselling authors of all time.


Blanchard has received numerous speaking and leadership honors and is a popular speaker at ASTD’s annual International Conference & Exposition. He currently teaches in the executive leadership master’s degree program at the University of San Diego.

Q| How did you first become interested in the leadership and management field?

After learning from a high school aptitude test that I had a talent for sales, my original goal was to go to an Ivy League school and then work in sales for Procter and Gamble, Pillsbury, General Motors, or someone else. But after an unsuccessful attempt to get into a prestigious corporate sales training program during my junior year at Cornell, I decided to forget about going into business. Friends suggested that I could be a dean of students since I had been a good counselor in the freshman dormitory.

A couple of friends of mine had gone to grad school at Colgate, which had a small master’s degree program in education. I started the program, but I had majored in policy/government studies as an undergrad, and I found those education courses so boring! The second week, I’m sitting at the bar at the Colgate Inn next to a young assistant professor of sociology—a guy by the name of Warren Ramshaw. I complained to him, and he said, "Why don’t you major in sociology? We study groups and leadership." And I said, "Well, that really kind of sounds like fun." I switched into sociology and got a master’s at Colgate, and eventually got a doctorate in educational leadership and organizational behavior from Cornell.

Q| What inspired the approach in The One Minute Manager, and why you think it remains so popular, even right now?

I met Spencer Johnson at a cocktail party in 1980, and he was a children’s book writer. Margie introduced us and said, "You guys ought to write a children’s book for managers. They won’t read anything else." We ended up writing a parable. We self-published and sold 20,000 copies—with no advertising—to our clients. Everybody loved it. We went to New York in December 1981 and got a contract with William Morrow. The book came out in 1982.

Spencer has this wonderful philosophy of having your readers review your books. We gave our manuscript out to the first group that was close to us and used a little questionnaire. What made The One Minute Manager a great book was that we kept on getting feedback until we knew people loved it. We were on the Today show on Labor Day in 1982. One week later the book hit the New York Times bestseller list—and it didn’t go off the list for two or three years.

The reason The One Minute Manager is powerful is because it is simple. The book teaches three simple secrets: set goals, praise progress, and reprimand or redirect as necessary. I think too many books are too complicated.

Q| How has the study of management and leadership changed since you first began your work in the field?

When I first began work in the field, leadership was considered a hierarchical kind of thing. People worked for their bosses and sent things up the hierarchy. Leadership has now become much more of a partnership relationship. In fact, we call it a side-by-side relationship. And a lot of that has been driven by the Y generation. Employees want a partnership relationship.

Think of the old terms we used to use: superior, subordinates, head of the department, and hired hands. We didn’t even give employees a head! And then, we talked about supervision. What does that mean? That you see things more clearly than most of the idiots who work for you?

Today we talk in more collaborative terms, such as partnering for performance.

Q| What is one change you would like to see in the field of leadership and management in the years ahead?

I think the world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. I would love to see servant leadership as the primary training model; that is, the overall leadership framework that other aspects of leadership fit into. People would understand that great leaders are here to serve, not to be served. Ideally, leaders are genuinely interested in the development of their people and want them to grow as leaders so that they can take the leader’s position and the leader can do something else.

I would hope in the future that leaders would not get promoted unless they had ready replacements who could take their jobs immediately. For the next two years, that manager who was promoted would have at least 25 percent of her performance review dependent on the performance of the person she left in charge. That way people would be thinking about legacy management and leaving behind a healthy department. In the past, I think some managers really loved it when they left a position and the place went down the tubes, because then they could take credit for how good they had been in the position.

Q| What are some of the new projects that you are currently working on?

I will be doing a presentation at ICE [ASTD’s International Conference & Exposition] about a book that I just finished with Mark Miller, who is the head of training and development for Chick-fil-A, one of the great restaurant companies in the country. They have less than 2 percent turnover out of 1,600 restaurant managers and 100 percent less turnover at the hourly level than anybody in the quick-service industry. I published a book with Mark in 2004 called The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. Our new book is called Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life. I’m really excited about that.

Another project I’m finishing up is a book called Trust Works. One of our former colleagues has found that when you talk to most people about trust, they all have different definitions. We’ve written a wonderful parable about a family with a cat and dog who have trust issues. The book is due out in 2013 and we’re having a lot of fun with it.

Q| What made you decide to choose the title of chief spiritual officer, and what does it mean to your employees?


After 9/11 a lot of companies in our field really got hurt and some went out of business because they could not survive when people stopped traveling to conferences. During that time Margie studied what creates meaning and satisfaction in the workplace and she learned three things:

First, when an organization has a compelling vision, people get excited about working there. For instance, Southwest’s vision is that every American should be able to be with a loved one in a good time and a sad time.

Second, when organizations operate by a set of values, people get motivated. Southwest has four values. Safety is their number one value, followed by servant’s heart, warrior spirit, and fun-LUVing attitude. Third, when there is spirit in the workplace—a mission that goes beyond oneself—people are more energetic and creative.

So I decided I would become chief spiritual officer. And right about that time, one of our people got married. When she got back from her honeymoon, she learned that her husband had melanoma. She called me on the phone and asked if I would pray for them, and I said, "Sure." And then I thought, why don’t I let everybody in the company know?

Our company has a phone system that allows you to send out voicemails globally. I sent one out and said, "Here’s the situation. Kathy and Ray are in trouble; couldn't we send our love and our prayers to them?" The outreach from the company was amazing. People said, "Why don’t you send voicemails all the time?" So, my main job as the chief spiritual officer is to leave a morning message on voicemail every day for our 300-plus people. Then it gets typed and posted on our intranet site. In my messages I do three things: I tell people who to pray for if there’s anybody really hurting. Next, I praise people. Of all the things I’ve ever taught, I think catching people doing things right is the most powerful. Finally, I leave an inspirational message about something that I’ve read or experienced.

I’ve been doing that now for 12 years or more. I think it’s a morale booster for our company. It’s a way people can start their day, and it’s a way for me to keep in touch with them, because nobody in the organization really reports to me; I’m just the head cheerleader, a position I chose to call chief spiritual officer. We have every faith in our organization, so I’m not trying to convert anybody. I’m a follower of Jesus, but I have great love and admiration for all faiths.

People ask, "How do you think of something to say every day?" Well, every day is a learning opportunity, so the voicemails keep me sharp. I just celebrated the 51st anniversary of my 21st birthday, so I’m not retiring—I’m refiring!

Q| Many already know that you're an avid golfer. What else do you like to do when you’re not working?

I decided that I wanted to last a long time, so I figured I’d better do something about my health. This last year I’ve been on a health kick. I have a trainer that I work with three times a week with weight training and flexibility. I’m doing aerobic exercise, and I’ve lost 30 pounds. A lot of my spare time now is working on my health, exercising, walking, bike riding, swimming, yoga, and doing whatever else I can do. And that’s really become kind of fun.

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