Ken Blanchard: 3 Enduring Truths about Leading Others

Ken Blanchard hopes a couple of simple truths he has championed over the years will prove enduring:

  • All good performance begins with clear goals.
  • Catch people doings things right.
  • Help people get an A.

Blanchard tells a story of his early days as a college professor, when he often found himself in trouble with faculty members while trying to put these principles to work.

“I was questioned by some of the finest faculty boards in the country,” Blanchard recounts, “and it was always because of my decision to give students the answers to the final exam on the first day of class.”

Ken believed his main job was to teach students the content they needed to learn, as opposed to worrying about evaluating them and sorting them along a normal distribution curve.

The faculty boards never shared his thinking. As soon as they found out what he was doing, they would call Ken in to explain himself. The exchange usually went something like this:

Ken: “I’m confused.”

The Board: “You act like it.”

Ken: “I thought we were supposed to teach these kids.”

The Board: “You are, but don’t give them the exam ahead of time.”

But Blanchard was determined and would spend the entire semester teaching the students the answers to the final exam questions. He has championed this concept—called “Helping People Get an A”—ever since. Applying the concept to work, Blanchard recommends that leaders use the same basic approach. “Give team members the answers ahead of time by setting clear goals. Then provide direction and support, as needed, to help people achieve those goals,” he says.

Catch People Doing Things Right

Once goals are set, Blanchard recommends that managers stay in constant communication with their people so that both parties know how things are going and can stay on top of what’s required to get an A. He points out that by staying in close contact with their direct reports, managers get the added benefit of being able to catch them doing things right.

As Blanchard explains, “I am a big fan of accentuating the positive. That’s the basis for One Minute Praisings, the second secret of Spencer Johnson’s and my book, The One Minute Manager. Once goals are clear, managers should not disappear until an annual performance review. Instead, they should constantly wander around physically or virtually to see if they can catch their people doing something right and praise them for their efforts.”

In drawing on the experience he and his colleagues have had in training hundreds of thousands of managers over the past 35 years, Blanchard also encourages managers to adapt their style according to the development level of the people they are managing.

As Blanchard explains, “This is the core philosophy of the SLII® model. If you’re anything like me, there are parts of your job and life you’re good at, but there are also areas where you’re still learning and need leadership. This is especially true in today’s constantly changing environment. For example, we all know what it’s like to be a beginner at new tasks.”

Understanding a person’s development level and providing the appropriate leadership style can help them reach goals they’ve never achieved before. Blanchard’s advice? “Take an extra minute with your people to diagnose their development level on each of their goal-related tasks and give them the leadership style they need.”

No One Best Leadership Style

There are still people out there who think there is only one best way of leading people. Experienced managers know this is not the case. Take a look in your own organization. Notice what the best managers in your company are doing. Chances are you will see them adjusting their management style to meet the needs of the people they are working with.

In Blanchard’s experience, “The most effective leaders realize that leadership is not about them and that they are only as good as the people they lead. These kinds of leaders seek to be servant leaders. That begins with a philosophy of meeting people where they’re at and providing them with the direction and support they’re not able to provide for themselves.”

Looking ahead, Blanchard is optimistic that the movement toward others-focused partnerships will continue.

“The new generation of workers demands a partnership model where leadership is more about influence, dialogue, and collaboration. Leaders will be challenged with creating engaging work environments where they inspire people to bring their best creativity to work.

“It’s really a side-by-side approach. Leaders will learn how to partner for performance by improving their relationships with the people they work with. It’s about teaching leaders how to value the relationships they have while simultaneously channeling people’s energy in the right direction.”

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