Learn What Makes People Tick

I’m excited to announce that this month our company launched Essential Motivators™, a powerful new learning journey. What makes this offering so special is that it reinforces something I’ve been teaching for decades: Different Strokes for Different Folks! In other words, leadership shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The way you communicate and work with others needs to be tailored to where they are, not where you are.

Back in the 1960s there was a debate about which leadership style was best: autocratic or democratic? It was widely assumed that one of these was the best for managing people. My friend and colleague, Paul Hersey, and I questioned that assumption. Our response was to develop a situational approach to leadership, which The Ken Blanchard Companies later developed into SLII®. What is the best leadership style? The one that matches the developmental needs of the person with whom you’re working.

A Powerful Tool for Working Together

Just as people have different levels of development, they also have different personality types. You may have taken a DiSC assessment or a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to get a better sense of your personality. What’s great about the Essential Motivators™ framework is that the four types are user-friendly and easy to apply in moments of need. By becoming aware of your own and others’ unique personality patterns, you can be far more effective at work and at home. Here are the Essential Motivators™ four basic personality patterns:

FIRE. People of the Fire pattern tend to be improvisers. They focus on the present; they are tactical and seek results. 

EARTH. People of the Earth pattern tend to be stabilizers. To plan for the future, they focus on the past; they are logistical and seek to establish and maintain structure.

AIR. People of the Air pattern tend to be theorists. They seek strategic solutions for complex problems. They want to understand how the world and things in it work.

WATER. People of the Water pattern tend to be catalysts. They look to the future and seek authentic connections to make the world a better place.

All four of these elements are required to create a healthy, balanced organization. When Margie and I started our company, we soon realized that we were both Water people. People like us have a psychological core need for a sense of purpose. We value ethics and empathic relationships. Our talents are diplomacy and advocacy—we like to inspire and praise people.

Those are all great Water characteristics, but they’re not necessarily the kinds of talents and skills that can build a successful business. In fact, when we started the company, we couldn’t even balance our own checkbook! For that, we needed people with the Earth personality pattern. Earth people are dependable and have a core need for responsibility. They value security and stability and have a talent for logistics and creating standards. The Earth people we hired early on were able to manage our finances and office administration, allowing us to focus on our strengths of inspiring and motivating others.

Our company never would have grown without the contributions of our talented Air people! These associates have a core psychological need for knowledge and competence. They value logic and expertise and are great at exploring ideas and designing programs. Anyone who’s taken one of our trainings has the contributions of our Air people to thank.

Finally, had it not been for the initiative of our Fire people, The Ken Blanchard Companies would have gone out of business several times. These are the people who need to act and make an impact. They are great at improvising in a crisis and being tactical, coming up with plans of action to achieve goals. My son, Scott, has a Fire personality pattern, which is evident by the way he has led our company as president.

So, what’s your personality type? Knowing your personality pattern is like discovering your superpower. You understand yourself at a deeper level. When you know the personality patterns of others, you begin to celebrate people for who they are. By knowing what makes others tick, it’s more fun to work together, and the work goes a whole lot better and faster.

Just as leaders need to adapt their leadership style to the development level of the person they’re leading, we all need to adapt our interactions to the different personality types of the people we work with. If you want to learn more about the Essential Motivators™ learning journey, listen to Chad Gordon’s interview with expert Linda Berens on our LeaderChat podcast.

In 2023, Friendships are More Important than Ever

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful New Year’s weekend. Margie and I sure did. We spent New Year’s Eve with three of our favorite couples, enjoying a fun evening with lively conversation. We watched the New Year’s celebration from Times Square in New York City live on TV at 9 PM and then, after hugs and well wishes, everyone headed home. We were happy to be able to bring in the new year with good friends.

On Sunday, our pastor spoke on the topic of friendship. He emphasized that besides our family there is nothing more important than good friends, particularly friends who are there for you in good times as well as bad times. To underscore this point, he talked about the classical film It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart. He plays a character named George Bailey who continually gives up his own plans for the needs of his community of friends. 

So what did Margie and I do Sunday night? We watched It’s a Wonderful Life. What a terrific old black-and-white film, made in 1946. If you haven’t seen it, watch it! Love and friendship are the main themes. George Bailey is always there for others, just like our friends are there for us.

Good friends make tough times bearable and good times better. Life is more meaningful because of the people we share it with, day in and day out. In fact, friendships are known to have a positive impact on our general health and wellbeing.

This got me thinking about how much the pandemic has interfered with travel, togetherness, and personal connection over the past three years. I’m sure many friendships have faded into the background during this stressful time. So let’s start the new year on a great note. Make a list of what you want to accomplish by the end of 2023 and include a commitment to getting back in touch with some of your old friends. I encourage you to celebrate these important relationships in whatever way works for you.

When I think of friendships, I think about my college days at Cornell. We have a group of couples—there are 12 or 14 of us—that we have kept in contact with since we first met in college. That’s more than six decades! We have a wonderful time staying in touch. We’ve been Zooming together since Covid started. I met one of the guys, Bob Lurcott, in fifth grade and he was best man at our wedding in 1962!

Here’s another way we connect with friends. When Margie and I get ready to send out Christmas cards each December, she creates a letter that summarizes the highs and lows of our year. We send our Christmas card and letter to over 300 family members and friends, and I write a personal note on each letter to let people know I’m thinking about them. As I’m working my way through our cards, I often run across names of friends I haven’t been in contact with for a while and I give them a call right then and there. It’s always fun to surprise them and catch up.

You say reaching out to people doesn’t come naturally to you? I say jump out of your comfort zone and call that friend you are thinking about. I do this a lot—and most of the time, people seem happy to hear from me. I’ll bet your old friends will be happy to hear from you, too.

Of course our families are precious. But the icing on the cake of life is friendships—old and new. Our friends make us who we are. Don’t forget to stay in touch with them. Continue to reach out and invite your friends to be part of your life in 2023. You’ll never regret it!

The Magic of Being Together

After nearly three years of not physically meeting together, our whole company recently gathered at the Mission Bay Resort in San Diego.  What a wonderful time we had! Although our entire company meets regularly on Zoom, the leadership team felt it was important for all our associates from around the world to come together in person. We have a warm, inclusive culture at Blanchard, and we wanted to give people—especially our newly hired associates—a taste of that special culture with hugs, face-to-face conversations, and a dance party with an eighties band!

During a Zoom meeting last week, people wrote in the chat box, describing their experience of our Mission Bay gathering. Here are some of the words people used: Energizing, inspiring, uplifting, fantastic, ecstatic, unforgettable, exhilarating, epic, fun, fabulous, and awesome.

“What a huge morale booster,” one person commented. “Even as a wallflower non-dancer I had a blast!” Another person said, “How many companies have meetings like this, where we are all involved with growth, strategy, and transparency? We are all treated as owners here.”

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

I’m amazed when I think about the fact that we’ve been in business for 43 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 5 percent of businesses last for 40 years. From a financial standpoint, we have had one of the strongest years in the history of our company. This is remarkable, especially after the financial losses we suffered when the pandemic hit in 2020.

On a personal level, 2022 was a special year, as well. In October, Margie and I became great grandparents to Nora Hickok Budnick, the daughter of our granddaughter, Hannah, and her wife, Beth. Another fun highlight for me was playing a cameo role as a priest in “The Mulligan,” a movie based on my book with Wally Armstrong. Finally, my book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, was released in 2022 and became the #1 bestseller for its publisher, Berrett-Koehler.

What were the highlights of your year? What did you learn? What brought you joy? These are questions that can help guide your plans for the coming year.

As 2022 comes to a close, I hope you’re enjoying the spirit of the season. No matter what holiday you celebrate, take time to reach out with love to the important people in your life. The more time goes on, the more important it is to keep your I-love-you’s up to date. So, pick up the phone and give those special people in your life a call. You’ll be glad you did—and so will they!

The Best Leaders Practice and Model Self-Care

Since the pandemic era began in 2020, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot more about the importance of self-care. We all need to continue to keep ourselves safe and healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally during these strange times in whatever ways work for us.

For leaders, it is similar to the safety message at the beginning of a flight: Put on your own mask before helping someone else. Leaders must be healthy themselves in these areas before they can be effective at showing empathy or otherwise helping others.

Why is it important for you as a leader to practice self-care? Because consciously or unconsciously, you’re always setting an example for people on your team. If they perceive you as struggling with your own issues, they may not feel right asking you for help or advice. But if you exhibit a healthy, positive, caring attitude, they will feel safe turning to you when they’re in need. And people who feel psychologically safe in their work environment tend to be more committed and productive on the job because they’re less distracted and more secure.

Here are a few suggestions, based on how I practice self-care to be the best boss I can be.

Begin your day slowly. I have often written about the benefits of entering your day slowly. Some people exercise or write in a journal. I keep a few reading materials on my nightstand including a booklet of my favorite inspirational quotes that I read each morning. It only takes a few minutes and helps me start the day off with a positive perspective. Then, after breakfast, I can focus on the important things with energy to face whatever comes my way.

Get plenty of sleep. I never have a problem with this—ask anyone who has been in a day-long meeting with me! I learned about the importance of sleep from the man himself, sleep expert Dr. James B. Maas. He literally wrote the book on sleep, Sleep for Success!, a few years ago. Dr. Maas says most adults are sleep deprived, which causes lowered immunity to disease, reduced concentration and productivity, and poor quality of work. He suggests avoiding caffeine after 2:00 pm, avoiding alcohol within three hours of bedtime, and avoiding computer and phone screens within one hour of turning in. And he endorses a 15-minute power nap at midday if you can get away with it!

Take occasional wellness days—and use all your vacation time. Our company recently added a few wellness days to our holiday calendar. Now there is at least one three-day weekend in every month, including April, August, and October. We also have implemented an unlimited PTO (paid time off) policy so that people can take time away from work when they feel the need. We know everyone benefits from time off—leaders included—but people in leadership positions often don’t use all of their allotted vacation time. It is critical for leaders to set the example that taking time away from the job isn’t bad, it isn’t just okay, it’s absolutely necessary for healthy work/life balance. So take those days—you’ve earned them!

Work with a coach or other wellness expert. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of working with a coach, counselor, trainer, or other expert advisor to get the help you need. I’ve benefited from several different kinds of coaching and counseling throughout my life. My first basketball coach, Paul Ryan, taught me how to focus on my strengths. Later in my life, my fitness coach (and coauthor on Fit at Last), Tim Kearin, knew how to give me the right kind of direction and support I needed to get healthy. I’ve had various intellectual coaches over the years, including my sister, Sandy, Warren Ranshaw, and Don McCarty, who helped me with my undergrad, grad school and doctoral programs, respectively. My wife, Margie, and I started our business with encouragement from folks in the Young Presidents Organization and have kept things afloat due to other advisors who are experts on family businesses. Margie and I have also worked with several relationship coaches over the years, which greatly improved our communication—one of the biggest hurdles in a successful marriage. We celebrated our 60th anniversary in June! Get an advisor you can be honest with, meet regularly, and you’ll never regret it.

Now I hope you create a new list for yourself on ways you are going to start (or continue) practicing and modeling self-care. You owe it to your people—and to yourself—to be the best leader you can be.

The Power of Gratitude

This week the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that’s set aside to count our blessings. There’s usually a big meal, visits from family, and special shows on television. But with COVID still floating around, inflation, financial stress, and political discord, it might be hard for some people to feel grateful this year.

I encourage you to feel grateful anyway. Why? Because oddly enough, the less grateful we feel, the more we’ll benefit from practicing gratitude.

A study conducted by the University of Southern California found a connection between gratitude and areas of the brain associated with stress reduction. Other studies have found a direct link between the practice of gratitude and increased optimism and better mental health.

If you’re new to practicing gratitude, start by giving thanks for the things you’ve been taking for granted, like air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Next, take a moment to express gratitude for the strengths you’ve been given.

Finally, think about the people who make a difference in your life. Express your gratitude for them—maybe even by picking up the phone and giving them a call.

My old friend, Zig Ziglar, used to say that “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for!”

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all my readers for your interest in my work. I’m grateful for you! I wish every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving. No matter how you decide to spend the holiday this year, remember to take a few moments to practice gratitude. You’ll be grateful you did!