Remembering a Friend

Spencer Johnson, M.D., author of Who Moved My Cheese? and my coauthor on The One Minute Manager® and The New One Minute Manager®, died last week from pancreatic cancer.

Together, Spencer and I created the business parable movement. But more important, Spencer was my teacher and friend. He taught me that in writing books, feedback is truly the “breakfast of champions.” As an author or coauthor, you write the first draft. Then you share it with potential readers to get their feedback, rework the manuscript, share it again, rework the manuscript again, etc., until your readers are so excited they start asking  to buy a Xerox copy of the draft. That’s when you know you’ve got a winner.

Spencer impacted millions of lives. I’m going to miss him—and so will everyone else who knew him or read his books.

The San Diego Union-Tribune published a nice article about Spencer after he passed. Read it here.

Apologize Already!

Time and again, I’ve noticed that many of us have a lot of trouble apologizing. I’ve observed this in myself, as well. One reason it’s hard to take responsibility for our bad behavior is because doing wrong is inconsistent with our view of ourselves as ethical people. As a result, many of us avoid apologies like the plague.

What I’ve realized is that difficulties apologizing are tied to pride and ego. When we sincerely apologize, we are taking our egos out of the equation and being honest. We are practicing integrity when we apologize, because we are acknowledging that what we did or failed to do is inconsistent with who we want to be.

Despite the challenges they pose to our egos, sincere apologies are one of the most powerful tools we have. In fact, the act of apologizing is so powerful that Margret McBride and I wrote a book about it called The Fourth Secret of the One Minute Manager.

I try to practice One Minute Apologies whenever I feel I’ve done wrong by someone. In a One Minute Apology, you:

  • Admit your mistake and apologize.
  • Take full responsibility for any harm you did.
  • Make amends by committing to change your behavior.

You might wonder why I don’t say that you should ask for forgiveness at the end of a One Minute Apology. It’s because I don’t think you should. Asking for forgiveness puts the person you’ve hurt or wronged under pressure to decide whether or not to forgive you. With a One Minute Apology, you keep the responsibility in your court. That’s why you end the apology with a commitment to change your behavior instead.

One of the greatest advantages of apologizing is that it gives you an opportunity for completion with that relationship. When you’ve done something wrong and haven’t dealt with it, it hangs over you and drains your energy. When you deal with it, you get closure.

An example from my own life involves Annie, a woman who was Margie’s sorority sister and a classmate of mine from Cornell. Her daughter, who also attended Cornell, was just fabulous. A number of years ago, Annie’s daughter was killed while jogging; they found her body up in the hills.

After that happened, I meant to reach out to Annie and her husband, but I just never did. Even though I was really taken aback by their daughter’s death, I didn’t send them any flowers or a note. I was too busy and never got around to doing or saying anything—and that always bugged me.

A few years later, I saw Annie out walking, so I crossed the street, went up to her, and gave her a big hug. Then I said, “Annie, I just want to apologize to you. When your daughter died, I meant to reach out to you. That was such an awful thing and she was such a great kid. But I didn’t and I feel really badly that I didn’t.” She got teary-eyed and said that she so appreciated my apology. She had often wondered why she hadn’t heard from me. I think we both felt completed.

So the next time something you’ve done wrong is hanging over you, don’t let it eat at you. Challenge yourself to take ownership and see firsthand how powerful a One Minute Apology can be.

What’s Your Midyear’s Resolution?

Can you believe that 2017 is almost half over already? Wow! Where did the time go?

I’ve been thinking about how every year we set New Year’s resolutions—and by June, those goals are just distant memories. So maybe it would be a good idea for us all to set a Midyear’s resolution every year in June. There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal for how to make the next six months better, or for what you want to be doing six months from now. Margie loves the saying “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” So think about the next six months coming up and go ahead and dream about the person you want to be or the thing you want to do. When you start to send energy out as a dream, you never know who may show up in your life to help you accomplish it.

That’s what happened when Spencer Johnson and I wrote The One Minute Manager. The book was due to go on sale in May 1982. So in September 1981, Spencer and I met at the La Jolla Cove. We had The New York Times book review section and a bottle of champagne, and we talked about our goals and dreams for our little book. We set a goal to sell 500,000 copies—no business book had ever sold that many—and we dreamed that it would be on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. Then we celebrated, clinking our glasses as we sat there with the bestseller list, and it was really a fun time. That was on a Sunday.

On Monday I was on a plane bound for Chicago. I introduced myself to the guy sitting next to me in first class and asked him what business he was in. He said, “I’m a regional sales manager for B. Dalton.” (At the time, B. Dalton was the largest bookstore in the US.) I said, “You’re kidding me. You sell books?” and he said, “Sure, we have 750 stores.” So I started talking to him. By the time we got to Chicago, I had come up with a whole strategy to reach the business buyers of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks and all the other bookstores.

Before we got off the plane I said to the guy, “I’ll bet you weren’t supposed to be sitting here, were you?” He said, “How did you know that? They goofed up my ticket and at the last minute I was upgraded to first class.” I laughed and said, “You had no choice. I sucked you into this seat with the energy from my dream and vision about this book.” Ha! And you know what? That little book did all right.

So dream big—and be sure to let other people know what your vision is. Someone you meet might be able to help it come true. June is almost over! What’s your Midyear’s resolution?

Sharing Information: A Counterintuitive Key to Success

I’ve always been a big believer in sharing information. As a college professor, I used to give out the final exam on the first day of class—and spend the rest of the semester teaching students the answers so they could master the material and get an A.

The same principle works in business. If leaders want to build a culture of trust, responsibility, and mastery, they need to share information with people. Giving team members the information they need enables them to make good business decisions.

Sharing information sometimes means disclosing information that is considered privileged, including sensitive and important topics such as future business plans and strategies, financial data, and industry issues or problem areas. Providing people with more complete information communicates trust and a sense of “we’re in this together.” It helps people think more broadly about the organization and the interrelationships of various groups, resources, and goals.

By having access to information that helps them understand the big picture, people can better appreciate how their contribution fits in and how their behavior impacts other aspects of the organization. All of this leads to responsible, goal-related use of people’s knowledge, experience, and motivation. While this runs counter to the thinking of a lot of top-down managers, the philosophy is based on the following premise:

 

People without accurate information cannot act responsibly;

people with accurate information feel compelled to act responsibly.

 

In an example close to home, The Ken Blanchard Companies, like many businesses, was negatively impacted by the events of September 11, 2001. In fact, the company lost $1.5 million in sales that month. To have any chance of ending the fiscal year in the black, the company would have to cut about $350,000 a month in expenses.

The leadership team had some tough decisions to make. One of the leaders suggested that the staffing level be cut by at least 10 percent to stem the losses and help get the company back in the black—a typical response in most companies.

As with any major decision, members of the leadership team checked the decision to cut staff against the rank-ordered organizational values of ethical behavior, relationships, success, and learning. Was the decision to let people go at such a difficult time ethical? To many, the answer was no. There was a general feeling that because the staff had made the company what it was, putting people out on the street at a time like this just was not the right thing to do. Did the decision to let people go honor the high value that the organization placed on relationships? No, it did not. But what could be done? The company could not go on bleeding money and be successful.

Knowing that “no one of us is as smart as all of us,” the leadership team decided to draw on the knowledge and talents of the entire staff. At an all-company meeting, the books were opened to show everyone how much the company was bleeding, and from where. This open-book policy unleashed a torrent of ideas and commitment. Small task forces were organized to look for ways to increase revenues and cut costs. This participation resulted in departments throughout the company finding all kinds of ways to minimize spending and maximize income. As the company’s Chief Spiritual Officer, I cheered people on by announcing we would all go to Hawaii together when the company got through the crisis. People smiled politely, although many had their doubts.

Over the next two years, the finances gradually turned around. By 2004, the company produced the highest sales in its history, exceeding its annual goal. In March 2005, our entire company—350 people strong—flew to Maui for a four-day celebration.

So the next time you’re stuck, consider sharing information. You might be surprised by the positive results.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Mentoring

Last time, I introduced you to a few of the concepts covered in One Minute Mentoring, my new book coauthored by Claire Diaz-Ortiz. The reason we call our book One Minute Mentoring is simple: sometimes the best advice you’ll ever give or receive can be communicated in less than a minute. Here’s a little story about one minute mentoring that happened to me by accident.

A few days ago, I was chatting with a young woman named Rachel who works at our company when she mentioned she is preparing to go back to college this fall. I asked her how she felt about going back to school.

“I guess I’m excited,” she said.

“You’re excited! That’s good. Any other feelings going on?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “to be honest, I’m also a little scared.”

“You know, those two emotions—excitement and fear—are triggered in the same place in your brain,” I said. “So if you feel fear, try to think of how you can take that emotion and reframe it in a more positive direction. For example, instead of thinking of college coursework as something to dread, I think it’s possible that you’ll find it a lot more interesting now that you’re a little older. Think of all the things you’ll learn that you don’t know yet.”

“That’s really true,” Rachel said with a smile. “So if I reframe my own thoughts I can actually turn that fear into excitement. I like that idea,” Rachel said.

“Your brain will believe anything you tell it,” I continued. “So if you keep thinking about how daunting it is to go back to school, fear will continue to be your main focus.”

“But if I keep thinking about it in a positive way, I’ll start feeling the excitement more than the fear.”

“You’ve got it,” I said.

Rachel told me later that conversation was like a light bulb turning on in her mind. In one simple conversation that took less than a minute, her perspective on going back to college changed. Rachel and I don’t have any kind of a formal mentoring relationship, but in that minute I was her mentor and she was my mentee. I didn’t even think about what I did as mentoring until a few days later.

The best part about this story is what happened afterward. Rachel said the concept of reframing a negative emotion into a positive one was so important to her that she told several people at work about our conversation—and most of them were as intrigued with the idea as Rachel was. She took that small bit of information and shared it with others. Now who is the mentor? Rachel. And the mentees are all the people she talked to about reframing negative thinking.

See how mentoring can happen in just a minute? And you might not even be aware you’re doing it. Never underestimate the power of mentoring!

Learn more about One Minute Mentoring or order your copy at Amazon.com.