What Great Leaders Know and Do: It All Begins with “Seeing the Future”

OneThe Secret Book Cover of our favorite publishers, Berrett-Koehler, just released the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do—the first book I coauthored with Mark Miller.

The message in The Secret is as powerful in today’s increasingly complex world as it was when it was published ten years ago: You can serve without leading, but you can’t lead without serving. I’ll be blogging a few times over the next several weeks about each element of the SERVE model we present in the book.

To begin, the S in SERVE stands for See the Future. As leaders of a group, department, or organization, we must have a compelling vision of the future.  This compelling vision stirs the passion not only within us but also within the people we serve. It tells everyone who we are, where we are going, and what will drive our behaviors.

Sheldon Bowles, a friend and coauthor, provides one of my favorite examples of a man with a clear vision for his company. Sheldon is one of the founders of Canada’s DOMO Gasoline company.

Many years ago when gasoline companies were all shifting to self service gas stations, Sheldon decided that it would be the perfect time to go into the full service business. He loved to venture where there was no competition—and full service would be DOMO’s market differentiator. He knew people didn’t go to gas stations for enjoyment; they went for a specific reason and wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Sheldon decided to create an experience for the customer when they pulled into a DOMO station, and the pit stop of the Indianapolis 500 race served as his inspiration. He hired mothers, retirees, and others who were interested in working part-time and dressed them in red jumpsuits.

When a customer drove in to one of the stations, attendants would race toward the car, pump the gas, look under the hood, clean the windows, and take the payment. The values that drove everyone’s behavior were safety, speed, and fun. As the customer drove away, they were handed a card that said “P.S.—We also sell gas.” As a leader, Sheldon had a clear picture of the future and communicated it effectively to his people.

What’s your vision of the future?  Is it compelling?  Have you shared it with your team?

I look forward to sharing more about the SERVE model in future blogs. If you’d like to learn more, join Mark Miller and me on Monday, September 29 at 11:00 a.m. PDT/2:00 p.m. EDT when we will host a free webinar on the key concepts of The Secret.

Remembering My Friend Warren Bennis

Warren BennisOn July 31 we lost one of the eminent scholars and authors in the field of leadership, Warren Bennis. Some people have said that Peter Drucker was the father of management and Warren Bennis was the father of leadership. To me, he was a trusted mentor and personal friend.

I first came in contact with Warren’s work when I was working on my doctorate degree at Cornell in the 1960s. I got to know him personally in the 1970s when Pat and Drea Zigarmi, two of my doctoral students who later became founding associates of The Ken Blanchard Companies, chose Warren as the subject of their doctoral dissertations. At that time he was the president of the University of Cincinnati. Pat studied Warren as an internal change agent and Drea studied him as an external change agent.

Warren wasn’t just a writer and teacher of leadership—he was also a practitioner. More importantly, he was a fabulous human being. In the last several years I was fortunate enough to be able to have lunch with Warren in Los Angeles every few months. He always pushed the envelope and thought more creatively about leadership than anyone else. At age eighty-nine he was still teaching a course called “The Art and the Adventure of Leadership” at the University of Southern California alongside former USC President Steven B. Sample.

Not only am I going to miss Warren’s inquisitive mind and his challenging thinking, I will miss him as a human being. We’ve lost a great one.

Do You Have the Heart of a Leader?

teach, inspire, motivate  - a collage of isolated words in vintaI’ve worked with thousands of leaders over the years and the most successful ones achieve results while acting with respect, care, and fairness for the well-being of everyone involved. Many companies put pressure on leaders to reach or surpass goals at any cost. But wise companies realize that leaders who can achieve results by creating a motivating work environment are the leaders who will sustain future success.

What’s the secret behind this kind of leader? I think truly effective leadership begins on the inside—with your heart. Leading from your heart is about leadership character and intention, which form the backbone of servant leadership. As a leader, you must ask yourself why you lead. Is it to serve or to be served? Answering this question in a truthful way is so important. You can’t fake being a servant leader. I believe that if leaders don’t get the heart right, they simply won’t ever become servant leaders.

The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self-interest that looks at the world as a “give a little, take a lot” proposition. Leaders with hearts motivated by self-interest put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those who are affected by their thoughts and actions. Leaders with a servant heart believe their role is to bring out the best in others. They thrive on developing people and helping them achieve their goals. They constantly try to find out what their people need to perform well. Being a servant leader is not just another management technique. It is a way of life for those with servant hearts.

Are You a Leader? Here’s How to Tell

Ripple effect of dew drop fallingSometimes when I’m leading a session for a big group of managers, I’ll ask, “How many of you think of yourself as a leader?” Usually only about one-third of them raise their hands. Somehow they think the word leader is reserved for high-level positions like President or CEO.

But each of us has the ability to influence someone else, whether it be a coworker, a child at home, a spouse, or a friend. Anytime you are trying to influence the thinking, beliefs, or development of another person, you are engaging in leadership. Of course there are traditional organizational leadership responsibilities that involve goals and objectives, but if you think beyond those confines, you’ll realize that everyone is a leader—you are a leader—unless you’re stranded on an island by yourself!

I’m always reminded of this when I ask people to tell me about someone who has influenced them and had a positive impact on their life. They very seldom mention traditional leaders at work. They usually talk about parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, coaches, or teachers.  The one characteristic common among all of these influencers?  Their interest in helping another person develop.

The truth is that we are all trying to influence people, whether it is in the office, at home, or with friends.  But we need to pay attention to how we do it. Are we there to serve or to be served? The most effective leaders know that true leadership is about serving and impacting people in a positive way. It’s about letting people know that you want to help them be the best they can be and that you truly care about them.

Even if you don’t have a traditional leadership role right now, chances are you are playing a significant role in the life of another person.  Identify it, claim it, and recognize the impact you can have in someone else’s life.

Rekindle, Reinvigorate, and Recharge—It Works at Any Age

Ken BlanchardOn May 6, I turned 75 years old. In today’s society, most people would be retired at 75—or at least thinking about it.

But did you know that the very practice of retirement was designed for the industrial world? During that era, people were physically tired by the time they reached 65 and needed to rest.

Things are different now—we have more options. My goal in life is to be a loving teacher of simple truths. I’ve always searched for methods to improve the skills of leaders and to communicate those methods in a way that makes it easy for people to understand and practice. That doesn’t make me tired—it refuels me. So, I’m adopting a different approach. I’m focusing on an attitude of refirement instead of retirement.

I first heard this word from Zig Ziglar, the great American author and motivator. When he would run into friends who hadn’t seen him for a while, they would ask if he had retired. He always answered this question the same way.  “There’s no mention of retirement in the Bible. Except for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, David, and a few others, nobody under 80 made an impact. I’m not retiring, I’m refiring! I’m not gonna ease up, let up, shut up or give up until I’m taken up. As a matter of fact, I’m just getting warmed up!” Zig lived his life that way until his death in the fall of 2012.

Norman Vincent Peale was another of my mentors who helped shape this idea. When I first met Norman, he was eighty-six years old. What most amazed me about him was that he was excited about every single day. Why? He couldn’t wait to find out what he might learn. He often said, “When I stop learning, I might as well lie down because I will be dead.” He was learning right up until he passed away at age ninety-five.

Learning is more important today than it’s ever been. In the past, if people were loyal to their company and worked hard, their job was secure. Today, the skills you bring to the party constitute the only available form of job security. People who are continually learning and upgrading their skills increase their value—not only in their organization, but also in the overall job market.

So don’t count the days until you retire. Start refiring now and look for new ways to rekindle, reinvigorate, and recharge your relationship with others. I guarantee you’ll have plenty to celebrate each and every day.