It May Be Time to Revisit Your Vision

Multiple priorities.

Duplication of efforts.

False starts.

Wasted energy.

 

Do any of these working conditions sound familiar? If so, it may be time to revisit your three-part vision:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What will the future look like if you are successful?
  • What values will guide you as you work toward your picture of the future?

I learned the importance of vision from my father when I was still an undergraduate at Cornell University. It was 1959, and Dad had decided to retire early from the Navy as a captain, even though he could have stayed on and been promoted to admiral.

I said, “Dad, why did you quit early?”

He answered, “Ken, I hate to say it, but I liked the wartime Navy better than the peacetime Navy. Not that I like to fight, but in wartime we knew what our purpose was and what we were trying to accomplish. The problem with the peacetime Navy is that nobody knows what we are supposed to be doing. As a result, too many leaders think their full-time job is making other people feel unimportant.”

Dad’s comments made me realize that leadership—whether you’re leading yourself or others—is about going somewhere. Without a vision, you lose direction. As the author and seminar leader Werner Erhard used to say, “You wind up driving your car down the highway of life with your hands on the rearview mirror instead of on the steering wheel, and you have a lot of accidents and a whole big explanation about how driving is very tough.”

My father eventually did become an admiral, because Congress passed a law that said if you got the Medal of Honor or the Silver Star during World War II, the government would “bump you up” one rank upon your retirement. Since Dad got two Silver Stars, he became a retired rear admiral.

Admiral or not, he taught me the importance of having a vision and keeping it up-to-date.

How about you? Are you focused on the rearview mirror—or the road ahead?

Happy Families are No Accident

Years ago, Peter Drucker said “Nothing good happens by accident—put some structure around it!” So if you want something good to happen, put some structure around it. This doesn’t just apply to business; it’s also for family life. I can name several traditions that are perfect examples of Drucker’s line of thinking.

 

Like many families, we like to get together on every family member’s birthday. As part of the celebration we all sit at the dinner table and, one by one, tell the birthday person what we like about them. Our kids Scott and Debbie used to protest this tradition, but today they encourage their kids to take part in it, too. It’s an easy thing to do and a great way to make someone feel extra special on their special day.

 

Here’s another Blanchard tradition: every Christmas Day, between dinner and dessert, all our family and friends who are gathered share something special with everyone. They can sing a song, recite a poem, or tell us something important in their lives. This not only delights all those who are gathered, it makes the day more memorable and meaningful.

 

We know several couples who plan a date night at least once every two weeks. They make a rule that they can’t talk about work or the kids—only about their relationship. “How are we doing with each other?” If every couple did that 26 times a year, I guarantee there would be a lot fewer divorces.

 

Structure also helps our family business. You may or may not know this, but The Ken Blanchard Companies is family owned. Margie and I cofounded the company almost forty years ago—and Scott, Debbie, and Margie’s younger brother, Tom, joined the company around twenty years later. Sometimes family businesses work well and sometimes they don’t. We didn’t want to run the risk that our family business would mess up our family, so Scott had the idea that the five of us should meet one day every quarter with an outside consultant/facilitator. And what a great idea it was! We’ve been holding our “Family Council” meetings for a number of years now. More recently, Tom’s wife, Jill, and Scott’s wife, Madeleine, have joined us. We all know it’s due in no small part to these meetings that we still love each other and often vacation together, even though we work together almost every day.

 

So follow Drucker’s advice. If you want good things to happen, put some structure in place—it’s as easy as starting a few simple family traditions. When families find new ways to celebrate their positive relationships, life gets more enjoyable.

 

The Precious Present

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift—that’s why they call it the present.”

You may have heard this quotation, attributed to many different people including Eleanor Roosevelt. It reminds me of when I first met Spencer Johnson. He had just finished a manuscript entitled The Precious Present (Doubleday, 1984).  It’s a wonderful parable about a young boy who lived near an older man who always seemed to be happy. One day the boy asked the old man about it.

The old man told the boy that the secret to lifelong happiness was finding the Precious Present. “It is a present because it is a gift. And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever.”

“Wow!” the little boy exclaimed.  “I hope someone gives me The Precious Present.”

For years as the young boy grew, he searched high and low, trying in vain to find the Precious Present. Finally, as a grown man, he stopped to recall the things the happy old man had told him so many years ago. At that moment, he realized the Precious Present was just that: the present. Not the past, not the future, but the Precious Present.

It’s okay to learn from the past, but don’t live there. And it’s okay to plan for the future, but don’t live there, either. If you really want to be happy as you go through life, don’t lose what is precious to you. Live in the present.

What a powerful message. I always remember it when I’m feeling bad about something that’s already happened or when I start worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Living every day to the fullest is really the best way I know to be happy for the rest of your life. Thanks, Spencer.

Vulnerability in Leadership: a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Every day, one of my friends sends me a quote from a little book called Live and Learn and Pass It On, edited by H. Jackson Brown. Here is one I particularly enjoy:

“I’ve learned that everything I truly value has been gained by vulnerability on my part. It is the secret to life.”  (Anonymous, age 21)

The reason I love this quote is because it reminds me of the work of Brené Brown, who describes herself as a researcher and storyteller. Brené spoke at our client conference last fall and was one of the first people to study and write about the power of vulnerability.

As a leader, you might think that if you admit to your people you don’t know how to solve every problem, they will see you as weak. Quite the contrary. When you show your vulnerabilities, rather than thinking less of you, people will think more of you. Why? Because they already know you don’t know everything!

Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines and my coauthor on the book Lead with LUV*, has been known to say, “People admire your skills, but they love your vulnerability.” When you are willing to acknowledge that you don’t have it all together, your people—including customers and family members—know they might have a chance to play a part and make a contribution.

Brené Brown says being vulnerable requires courage as well as humility. Most people who aren’t willing to show their vulnerability don’t want to admit they are scared little kids inside. Being humble is not the same as lacking confidence. I have always said “People with humility don’t think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less.”

So, have a vulnerable, courageous, and humble day. Isn’t it great to know you don’t need to have all the answers to be admired by others?

 

*LUV is the stock symbol for Southwest Airlines.

You Don’t Need a Fancy Title To Be a Servant Leader

One of my favorite stories in our recent book, Servant Leadership in Action, comes from James Ferrell of the Arbinger Institute. The leader James writes about doesn’t have a fancy title, but he’s a living example of Robert Greenleaf’s definition of a servant leader as someone who “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.”

Who is this servant leader? It’s the man who collects the trash in James’s neighborhood each week.

“Our trash is collected on Friday mornings,” James writes. “One Friday morning, as I heard the garbage truck pull into our cul-de-sac, I realized that I had forgotten to take the bins out.”

Perhaps you can relate to the panic James felt as he threw on some clothes and hustled down the stairs—not to mention the sinking feeling he had when he heard the truck pull away. “A week with no room in our garbage bins!” James thought with a grimace.

But when James looked out the front window, he saw his two bins—and they were empty! He was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for his amazing neighbors.

A few weeks later James bumped into two of those very neighbors: David, who lived across the street, and Randy, who lived around the corner. David was telling a story about how he’d seen the garbage truck driver walking around and picking up trash strewn all over the street. David said he felt badly, because he’d overpacked his bin and it was likely the spilled trash was his.

“So,” David said, “I decided that the next week I’d go out and thank that driver and give him a gift.”

But the next week the truck was early. By the time David rushed out the door, it had already rounded the corner. “The truck was parked in front of Randy’s house,” David continued. “Then I saw the driver wheeling Randy’s two garbage bins down from the side of his house!”

“Wait!” Randy interjected. “The garbage man did that? I thought the neighbors had helped us out.”

As he listened to this story, James had the same reaction. He realized that the driver must have helped with his bins, as well.

“Now,” James writes, “you might think that David, Randy, and I had it made at this point. After all, we wouldn’t even have to take our trash out to the street anymore; the garbage man would do it for us!”

But that’s not how they responded. Instead, the garbage truck driver’s selfless actions motivated James and his neighbors to remember to take out their bins, because they didn’t want to make things harder for the driver. Plus, they took care to leave ample room between the bins, something they’d heard they were supposed to do, but hadn’t bothered with before.

“In a way,” James continues, “our garbage man trained the entire neighborhood to make his life easier. How did he do this? By making our lives easier, which is the essence of what servant leaders do.”

In Leading at a Higher Level, my Blanchard colleagues and I define leadership as the capacity to influence others by unleashing their power and potential to impact the greater good. James Ferrell’s story underscores the point that you don’t need a fancy title to be an effective servant leader.