Three Steps to Becoming the Best Boss Ever

A couple of months ago I sent out a Facebook post with a photo of a briefcase-carrying woman jumping a hurdle, along with the headline, “Hire smart people, train them properly, then get out of their way.” That post went viral, garnering thousands more views than my usual posts.  Something about the message really resonated with people. Why? I think it’s because people know that at its best, leadership is a partnership—one that involves mutual trust and respect between people working together to achieve common goals. Leaders and direct reports influence each other. Both play a role in figuring out how to get things done. In other words, leadership is about we, not me.

So, let’s drill down into the three steps a leader can take to become the kind of boss people want and organizations need.

Hire Smart People

This one is a no-brainer. When you hire, you’re looking for people who resonate with your organization’s values, first and foremost. You also want people who have the required skills for the position or the potential to develop those skills. You’re looking for people with the ability to think and plan. Plus, you want to see initiative, organizational ability, creativity, and an ability to communicate well. In short, you’re looking for winners.

I often ask managers, “How many of you go out and hire losers? Unfortunately, too many organizations still use the normal distribution curve model, where managers are expected to rate only a few people high, a few people low, and the rest as average performers. That’s nonsense. Do you go around saying, “We lost some of our worst losers last year, so let’s hire some new ones to fill those low spots”? Of course you don’t! You hire either winners or potential winners—people who can perform at the highest level.

Train Them Properly

Even if you hire someone who already has the technical skill to do the job, it’s essential to provide ongoing training and support. Too often leaders hire people, give them some haphazard training, and pray that the new hire will become a winner. Great leaders don’t leave people to sink or swim. They support them through all three stages of partnering for performance:

Performance Planning. No matter how busy you are, it’s essential to spend time with your direct reports on planning and goal setting. Assess your direct report’s competence and commitment on each task. It’s up to you to provide the support they need, whether it’s technical training, help getting access to people or information, or just moral support. Even high performers need support and encouragement to be their best.

Performance Coaching. Leaders often assume that their performance planning conversations are so clear that there is no need for follow up. Save yourself time and misery by having regular progress-check meetings with your direct reports. If everything is coming along smoothly, it will be an opportunity to praise progress and celebrate wins together. If things aren’t progressing as planned, it will allow you to redirect efforts before small issues turn into 800-pound gorillas.

Performance Review. I don’t believe in the dreaded annual performance review. I think of performance review as an ongoing process that happens during open, honest discussions leaders have with their direct reports all year long. If you’ve been having regular one-on-one meetings throughout the year, the annual performance review should contain no surprises.

Then Get Out of Their Way

Once you’ve collaborated with your direct reports on goals and given them the coaching and support they need to master the job, you really need to let them run with the ball. People aren’t just hired hands—they have brains, too! A trained individual doesn’t need micromanaging; they need autonomy to grow and thrive.

While it’s completely appropriate to provide a hands-on, directing/coaching leadership style when someone is learning a new task or skill, the goal is to move to a hands-off, supporting/delegating style. This means trusting your direct report to act independently. It means turning over responsibility for day-to-day decision making and problem solving. It means, in other words, to get out of their way!

But don’t disappear altogether. Even the highest, most self-reliant achievers need leaders to praise their progress, celebrate their wins, and provide new challenges to keep them engaged.

Pay the PRICE to Make Good on Your New Year’s Resolution!

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? How are they working for you so far?

Every year I hear people say they are having a hard time motivating themselves to put their New Year’s resolutions into place. My first question is always “How many resolutions do you have?” The answer usually goes something like this: “Well, this year I want to lose weight, exercise more, start reading, spend more time in the garden, watch less TV, travel more, and stop drinking.” Of course those people don’t feel motivated—they are so overwhelmed by their resolutions, they don’t even want to get out of bed! So my first piece of advice is to pick one or two resolutions that you really believe you can accomplish and focus on those.

Several years ago, my friend Bob Lorber and I wrote a book called Putting the One Minute Manager to Work where we talked about the PRICE system. This model works great for New Year’s resolutions. Here’s what the letters in the PRICE acronym stand for:

P is for pinpoint. What is the thing you’d like to do? Is it to lose weight? Exercise more? Get to bed earlier? Identify what you want to work on and be specific.

R is for record. What is your present level of performance in that area? Record your weight or your clothes sizes, write down your present level of exercise, or write down your typical bedtime so you have baseline data. Now you have something to compare with where you want to go, which involves the next step.

I is for involve. Gather key people in your life who can help you set a One Minute Goal for each resolution based on the difference between where you are now (what you’ve recorded) and where you’d like to go. We need to ask for support from people who care about us because it’s very hard to stick to resolutions on our own. Perhaps you could agree to help someone with their resolutions while they help you with yours! Almost everyone needs support from others. What will they do to cheer you on? How can they help hold you accountable? Plan it out and get agreement on your goal or goals. And remember, the best goals are SMART: Specific and measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable/time-bound.

C is for coach. Now your plans are in place and you are starting to make good on your resolutions. You are getting the coaching you need—the cheerleading, the support, and the redirection. Let other people help to keep you in line. As I say, if you could do it by yourself, you would.

is for evaluate. When you have made some headway on your goal, look back and evaluate how you are doing. First, catch yourself doing something right and give yourself a One Minute Praising—any forward progression toward your resolution is worth celebrating! Now think about whether you may be off track in any way. Is there anything that needs to be “tweaked” to enable you to continue your progress? A One Minute Re-Direct may be in order. Don’t stop now! Keep tracking so you can see how you are continuously improving, and plan your future strategies. What will you pinpoint next?

It’s exciting to look ahead at a new year, especially when you have plans for self-improvement in place and friends to support you and help you accomplish your goals. What are you going to be smiling about in December? Take care and have a terrific 2020!

Every Ending Is a Brand-New Beginning

As 2019 comes to a close, I’m taking some time to reflect on the significant events of the past year and to anticipate the exciting things yet to come.

This is a long-standing tradition of mine and perhaps of yours, too. At the end of each year, Margie and I write a letter to all our friends, wishing them a happy holiday and catching them up on what’s been going on in our lives over the past 12 months. We’ve been doing this since shortly after we got married in 1962, the year Margie graduated from Cornell. That’s more than 57 years!

Together, all of these letters tell the story of our lives over the past half-century. What’s amazing is that by looking back, we can see how problems that once seemed insurmountable were the necessary conditions for wonderful new developments. A few choice examples spring to mind:

1967

This was the year I earned my PhD in education from Cornell. I had anticipated finding a position as a dean of students. Even though I had great interviews with several universities, none of them hired me. This was a blow to my ego and sure looked like an unhappy ending. But I ended up taking a position as the assistant to the dean at Ohio University, which was an important new beginning. At Ohio University I met Paul Hersey. Paul liked my writing and asked me to coauthor a book with him. That led to our development of Situational Leadership® and my career as an author and leadership expert.

 

2007

Fast-forward 40 years to the year a raging wildfire burned our house to the ground. What had every appearance of being a tragic ending was in fact an inspiring new beginning. Margie and I moved up the street into an even better house, this one with a view of the hills to the west. Now we never get tired of watching breathtaking sunsets from our back patio.

 

2019

This year one of our company’s superstars, Howard Farfel, is ending his 18-year career with Blanchard, seven of those years as president. I have real mixed feelings about Howard stepping down. I don’t know a nicer human being or finer gentleman than Howard. He’s had a powerfully positive impact on our company, and his smile and sense of humor will be sorely missed. But this ending marks a thrilling new beginning: My son, Scott Blanchard, will be taking leadership as Blanchard’s new president. As anyone who’s heard Scott speak knows, his love and passion for our company and the work we do is second to nobody’s.

I’m excited about 2020 and I hope you are, too. Before the new year, take a few moments to reflect on the things you’re leaving behind in 2019. Even if some of those things make you sad, remember that what looks like a finality isn’t really the end—it’s the beginning of something brand new.

 

Make a Difference by Giving to Others this Holiday Season

I often talk about how important it is to reach out to others in love and service on a regular basis. But during the holidays, we need to be especially focused on giving, serving, and caring for people. I want to offer up a few ideas on how simple it can be to make a real difference in someone’s life this holiday season.

At our company’s headquarters, our “Giving Tree” is set up in the main lobby. We choose a couple of families in our local community each year who could really use a lift over the holidays. On the tree are gift tags for the family members—kids, teens, and adults—with requests for specific things they need or would like: slippers, a sweater or jacket, a certain toy or book, etc. Lots of our associates take one or two tags off the tree and return with gifts to be distributed to these folks who otherwise may not have expected much in the way of gifts this year.

Making a difference doesn’t have to involve money, though. Think of ways you can offer your time or talent. Bake cookies for people in a group home or halfway house. Get a group together to sing holiday songs at a retirement center. Spend a few hours serving meals at a shelter or working at a food bank—places that are extra busy this time of year.

Writing a personal note to someone you care about is another no-cost way to make a difference in someone’s life—especially if it’s someone on your list who “has everything.” A heartfelt note written to a parent, a sibling, or a long-distance relative or friend may be the most important gift they receive this year.

My good friend Colleen Barrett, former president of Southwest Airlines and my coauthor on Lead with LUV, is remarkable in many ways—and something she is known for are her thoughtful, handwritten notes. When Colleen was at Southwest, she sent out more than 1000 handwritten notes every year to staff and managers. She had spies everywhere! Colleen wrote notes for every reason—to celebrate work anniversaries, weddings, new babies, graduations—to sympathize when someone had been in an accident or lost a loved one—or to praise a worker who had gone above and beyond for a customer. Even though she is retired, Colleen’s handwritten notes of kindness to others continue to flow.

Remember: real joy happens when you get in the act of forgetfulness about yourself. Giving is not about you. Don’t give a gift because of how good someone was this year, or what they did to help you. Just give because they deserve it. And don’t serve because you expect something in return. Do it because you care, and because it’s the right thing to do. Your reward is simply joy—the joy that comes from giving.

So this holiday season, find a way to make a difference in somebody else’s life. Reach out to a family member. Reach out to a friend. Reach out to a neighbor. Reach out to a stranger. Because that’s what it’s all about. And when you do it, you’ll get into the moment. You’ll feel the joy. And you’ll realize that life really is a special occasion.

Three Best Practices to Help People Learn

One of the hallmarks of great organizations is their commitment to constantly retraining and educating people so they have cutting-edge knowledge in their work.

But how do you assure that your investment in learning pays off and produces measurable results? You can’t just send people to a seminar or give them an online course and hope for the best. Our research at Blanchard reveals three best practices that turbocharge learning.

 

Best Practice #1 – Use Spaced Repetition to Make Learning Stick

Spaced repetition is a learning technique where you don’t learn something in just one sitting. You’re exposed to the information periodically over time, so that the learning sinks in.

My friend John Haggai calls spaced repetition “the mother of all skills” because it’s so effective. Advertisers use this technique all the time; they call these repetitions “impressions.”

To be learned, information almost always requires repetition over time. But why? It’s sort of like putting something away in your garage—it’s not very useful unless you’re able to retrieve it! After your brain stores information into memory, you need to revisit that information a few times, so that you can recall it when you need it. This is how short-term memory becomes long-term memory.

To make your learning stick, take notes and review them within the first 24 hours of taking them. Be sure to think about what you’re reviewing. Don’t just re-read your notes; try to recall the main points without looking at them. Then—within a week—teach what you learned to someone else. This will force you to recall what you’ve learned.

 

Best Practice #2: Tap Learning Power with Cohort Groups

Learning flourishes in a social environment where conversation between learners can take place. Several studies examining group learning have shown that people learning in a collaborative environment acquire more knowledge, retain that knowledge longer, and have better problem-solving and reasoning abilities than people working alone.

At Blanchard, we’ve seen hundreds of instances of the power of group learning in our Master’s in Executive Leadership (MSEL) program at the University of San Diego. Every year our students are amazed by how effectively their cohort groups help them learn to become great leaders through role-playing, assessments, presentations, and collaborative projects.

By learning in groups, people develop teamwork, communication, and decision-making skills faster and more effectively than they would learning alone. The social aspect of group study helps people keep their commitment to learning. Accountability to the group keeps procrastinators on track. People learn faster by drawing on one another’s knowledge of the subject.

Group interaction is a key strategy for learning that works. As I always like to say, “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”

 

Best Practice #3: Design Learning Journeys to Drive Results

The best learning experience isn’t a one-time thing—or even a one-methodology thing. Our research shows that optimal learning is more of a process than an event. Such processes are called learning journeys.

We define a learning journey as “a training and development experience that unfolds over time.” These learning journeys can be customized to the needs of a business, department, or person.

For example, a person might begin their learning journey in a classroom or with a webinar. Their next step might be to engage with a discussion group. Next, the learner might go back to their workplace, apply the new concepts, and see how they work. The journey might continue with a return to the group, where the learner would share their real-world findings. From there, they could continue with follow-up classroom or e-learning, then take their new knowledge and skills back to the workplace for more real-world application.

By blending theory with real world experience, learning journeys are highly effective in driving sustainable business results.

 

An Organization That Learns, Thrives

In the long run, only smart organizations survive. Leaders in high performing organizations understand that knowledge exists in knowledgeable people; they know that unless its employees continue to learn, even the smartest organization will not say smart.

So, be smart and apply these learning practices. I guarantee you’ll be making a wise investment in your organization’s knowledge capital.