Take Time to Build Meaningful Connections

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably heard me say “The best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.” Why do I believe that? Because leaders who invest time in their people are building meaningful connections. Those connections create inspired people and inspired leaders who benefit from those great relationships, and achieve great results, together.

Leadership is not about you. It’s about the people you are trying to influence. The more you understand about your direct reports, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. Taking time to work side by side with a direct report to determine their development level on a task lets them know you are interested in meeting them where they are. And it allows you to use the right leadership style, with the right amount of direction and support, to help that person get to the next level.

Here’s another way you can take time to build a meaningful connection with each of your people: schedule one-on-one meetings where the direct report sets the agenda. These meetings don’t use up a lot of work time—just twenty to thirty minutes every other week. There’s no better way to show someone you care about them as a person than to set aside time to chat about anything they wish. It’s a great opportunity for both manager and direct report to speak openly with one another without interference or judgment. This leads to a trusting relationship that generates respect, loyalty, and accountability on both sides.

And don’t forget to take time to celebrate people’s talents, skills, and successes. Celebration doesn’t have to mean a big, expensive party. It can be as small as taking one person aside and praising them for their input at a meeting. It can be as quiet as sending someone a gift card in appreciation for the role they played on a special team. Or it can be as grand as allowing everyone in the department to stop working two hours early on a Friday afternoon. Celebration lets people know they are doing things right. It builds morale and camaraderie. And—let’s face it—it’s fun!

So take time to let your people know you’re glad they are with you. You see their gifts and also their potential. You want them to win. And you’re there to help them achieve their goals. Take time to build those meaningful connections. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

SLII®: Powering Inspired Leaders

One of the things we’ve learned in recent weeks is that when change disrupts business as usual, effective leadership is more important than ever. Businesses today must be nimble and responsive, able to apply creative solutions to unprecedented problems. But an organization can only be as agile and innovative as the people who lead it. That’s why it’s critical to empower inspired leaders.

Can inspired leaders be developed? Absolutely! SLII®—the most widely used leadership training program in the world—creates caring, skillful managers who build meaningful connections with coworkers to unleash their potential and create exponential impact.

Now, “exponential” is not a word I would normally use, but it perfectly describes the multiplying power of SLII®. When one manager develops these proven leadership skills, their positive impact can affect the entire organization.

People Must Be a Priority

The days of rigid management styles are over. Especially now, when it’s imperative to tap every resource an organization has, “we” leadership rather than “me” leadership is the formula for success. Our research shows that when leaders sincerely care about the people who work in their organizations and see them as a top priority, strong financials follow.

Leaders trained in SLII® know that meaningful relationships are built through authentic conversations. Whether it’s talking with a new hire about getting a job done or serving as a sounding board for a highly experienced employee, SLII® leaders drive performance and unleash talent. Skilled in the art and science of having conversations targeted to people’s development level, SLII® leaders understand what inspires their team members. They care about their growth. They see their promise. They’re there for them, no matter the situation.

The Bottom-Line Benefits of Good Leadership

Inspired leaders trained in SLII® create business environments that encourage diverse ideas, brilliant solutions, and above all, an engaged workforce. When people feel valued, they bring their all to the job. They’re committed, and that makes the difference between an organization that thrives and one that doesn’t.

Sometimes this commitment shows up as cost savings. In 2018 a couple of inspired BMW employees figured out how to increase the efficiency of the central electronic control unit in every vehicle, saving the company about $42 million in the very first year.

Sometimes this commitment shows up as the brainstorming of revenue generating ideas. For example, one of Amazon’s most popular site features—Prime Now—was created by an inspired employee.

You can always tell an organization that powers inspired leaders. These are places where employees shine, putting the whole company in a positive light. I’m thinking about the fabulous employee at a ShopRight supermarket in New Jersey who delighted customers by singing the old Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” This made customers smile but more importantly, reminded them about social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Helping businesses to thrive—not just survive—is why we’re so passionate about what we do at The Ken Blanchard Companies. It’s a joy to watch SLII® leaders throughout an organization build meaningful connections that drive great results and make the world a brighter place.

Make a PACT to Increase Happiness and Reduce Stress

Now that most of us have a few weeks of quarantine under our belts, it might be a good time to take stock of our individual responses to this stressful situation. I’d like to do it in a way that can help you keep that stress from negatively affecting you both now and in the future. Let’s revisit a model my wife, Margie, and I have taught for many years to help people balance their lives and reduce the harmful impact stress can have on their health and well-being.

The model I’m referring to is the PACT model. It was born from Margie’s studies on research about peak periods of happiness in people’s lives, as well as research about the effect extreme stress has on people’s long-term health. Not only were researchers able to identify common elements related to both topics, they found the two sets of elements to be essentially the same. When Margie studied this research, the similarity of the results from the separate studies confirmed that a simple model for life balance and stress reduction would enable many of us to better manage the day-to-day demands of a busy life as well as unexpected stress-inducing situations.

The PACT Model

For convenience, I’ll be using the acronym P.A.C.T. to refer to four elements that can create both happiness and stress resistance in our lives: Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone.

P: Perspective

The first element that can create happiness and stress resistance is perspective. Perspective can be defined as the “big picture” of life. People with good perspective know their life’s purpose and direction and value their past but still have a keen sense of the present moment. Perspective is that broad picture of where you’ve been and where you’re going that sets the context for today.

However, any time there’s a major shift in our lives—divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, or other big change, our perspective is likely to suffer. Of course, an unexpected disruption like the COVID-19 crisis, with its sudden fear and doubts, will cause most people to go through a period of low perspective. Over time, though, many people find that a low period can become an opportunity for growth—even though it doesn’t feel comfortable or familiar. They see a difficult situation for what it is while also believing that better times are ahead, and that we will step into that reality together. After all, none of us is as smart as all of us.

A: Autonomy

The next element that contributes to high life satisfaction and high resistance to stress is autonomy. Autonomy is a feeling of having control over your own life—a clear sense of your identity, the freedom to make your own choices, seeing your daily activities as moving you toward your long- and short-range goals.

Now, before you say “Blanchard, in control is the furthest thing from how I feel right now,” let’s take another look at autonomy.

Although the state of today’s world makes most of us feel that we are anything but in control of our lives, we always have some autonomy. As an example, we can choose how we react to our current situation. A couple of my friends have mentioned it’s easier to get through hard times if you also pay attention to good things that are happening around you. Another friend says “Don’t waste a crisis!” She believes in using times like these to strengthen her positive mental attitude.

We also have the ability to develop our skills—for example, taking a course online or beginning a meditation regimen—to help us control where our thoughts go. Or we can choose how to spend our extra time—watch some TV, open a good book, try a new recipe, and work on a puzzle after dinner. We can be intentional about what messages we pay the most attention to—those that claim things are awful and life will never be the same or those that suggest this is the beginning of a new era of neighbors taking care of one another and people around the globe working together to build a positive future for our children.

C: Connectedness

The third ingredient is connectedness. Connectedness relates to the quality of relationships in our lives. People who report high connectedness have positive relationships with friends, family, self, coworkers, and supervisors. You can have a highly connected experience watching a beautiful sunset or walking into a home that you’ve decorated because it feels good to you. You can feel highly connected having a cup of coffee while Face Timing a friend or sitting in bed at night cuddled up to a loved one.

Low connectedness is when you do not feel you are an integral part of your environment—whether it be at home, at work, or in your community. For example, if you move to a new home and go away for the weekend, then return and find that nobody knows you were gone, it can indicate that you are not very connected to your neighborhood.

Mutually supportive relationships can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and balance. If you suddenly find yourself working from home due to shelter-in-place rules, staying in touch with your colleagues at work may help improve your morale and performance. And while spending more time than ever at home with your partner and/or children may at first seem to be a major work disruption, once you settle into a nice routine you may all discover a stronger feeling of family unity than you have felt before.

T: Tone

The fourth element in the PACT model is tone. This is how you feel about yourself physically, and includes the way you present yourself, your health and energy level, and your sense of fitness. People with high tone generally have a high energy level, average weight, and good nutrition and are comfortable with their physical appearance.

Note: If your perspective, autonomy, and connectedness aren’t as high as you would like these days, focus on your tone. Start simply by scheduling time every day to go for a walk, making better decisions about what you eat, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. You’ll find that while you’re walking, you have time for some perspective—to really reflect on life. And when you’re making good, healthy choices, you’ll start to feel better and that will remind you that you are in control of your health. And  people who feel good about themselves are more likely to reach out to others—and that will help you develop a feeling of connectedness. So you see, starting with tone helps the other three stress-reducing elements in the PACT model tend to fall into place.

Following the PACT model as you move through this season in your life will help you. It will work even better if you personalize the steps and make it your own. When you allow perspective, autonomy, connectedness, and tone into your daily life, stress will naturally lose its grip and you will enjoy life on a higher level.

Take care and stay safe! Have an im-PACT-ful day!

5 Powerful Questions to Reboot Your Work Life

As most of us settle into the COVID-19 working-from-home life, I’m reminded of just how important learning is in our lives. Whether we’re doing it for personal or professional development, learning keeps our minds and skills sharp. It not only staves off boredom, it also keeps us from becoming boring people! Getting older—or getting seniority in our jobs—has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you can finish day-to-day tasks with ease by relying on past experiences, document templates, and standardized steps. But without ongoing learning, your personal satisfaction and effectiveness in the workplace will suffer.

I recently started a fun interaction on my social media channels called the Blanchard Campfire. Each Friday I pose a question and open it up for discussion in the comments section. Last Friday’s question was, “What have you learned during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The answers inspire me and underscore the joy and importance of continuous learning. Here are a few of the things people said about what they’re learning:

“I’m staying current in my job by learning many things I overlooked all these years.”

“I’m learning how important motivation and perseverance are.”

“When life slows down, families grow stronger.”

“I’m rethinking my work role.”

“I’m studying a new language.”

“I’m strengthening my video development skills.”

“I’ve learned that we really do not have control of the future, so we need to love unconditionally.”

“I’m learning to teach an online course.”

If you’ve ever worked on a computer that hasn’t been tuned up in a while, you might have noticed that it can get sluggish. The same thing happens to us as individuals. We need rebooting and updated software from time to time, and this pandemic is a great opportunity to refresh and reset our professional lives.

To help you reboot, I’ve created a short quiz, adapted from the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life. Read each question and give an honest yes or no answer.

  1. Do I have up-to-date knowledge about my industry?
  2. Do I share my knowledge with others?
  3. Do I know my strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Do I have a mentor in my field?
  5. Do I have a personal development plan?

If you answered no to any of the questions above, that’s a great place to start. For example, if you’re new to an industry or have fallen behind on the latest developments in it, take the following steps:

  • Set a goal to become knowledgeable in a specific area of your industry.
  • Set a deadline to complete your learning. As my wife, Margie, often says, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.”
  • Take action to achieve your goal: read relevant books and articles, take online classes and tutorials, or participate in webinars that will fill in your knowledge gaps. Take advantage of any educational opportunities your employer may offer. And don’t overlook the value of finding a mentor in your field.
  • Reward your progress. When you’ve finished a book, tutorial, or class, give yourself a pat on the back or treat yourself in a way that makes you feel good.

Go through this process with items 1 through 5 in the quiz above and turn your no answers into yes answers. When you’ve done them all, start over and do them again. The point is to continue to grow along your learning journey.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting your expectations too high. Remember, perfection is the enemy of excellence. That’s why I suggested that you reward yourself as you make progress, not just when you complete the goal.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it perfectly. Suppose you wanted to teach a child to say, “Please give me a glass of water.” If you waited until the child said the whole sentence before you gave them any water, they’d die of thirst. So, you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” Suddenly, one day the child says “waller.” You burst into a smile, hug and kiss the child, and get grandma on the phone so the child can say “waller, waller.” It isn’t “water,” but it’s close. Be as compassionate with yourself as you’d be with that child, and praise yourself for progress, not perfection, as you work toward your goals.

Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”  So, choose learning today—you’ll never regret it!

We Can Get Through this Tough Time Together

Like most people, my wife, Margie, and I have lived through our share of tough times. Whether they were personal challenges (losing our home to wildfire, passing of loved ones) or crises affecting millions (9/11, the recession of 2008-09), the thing that always helped us through those times was the kindness of others. The COVID-19 pandemic that most people in the world are experiencing right now is an extreme example of a tough time. Most of us have never been in a situation like this. Our lives have changed and nobody really knows how long it will be before things get back to normal—or what our “new normal” will look like.

My late friend and coauthor Norman Vincent Peale taught me a lot about how to get through life’s challenges. In fact, decades ago he wrote a book—The Power of Positive Thinking—that has changed millions of people’s lives for the better. One of my favorite quotes from Norman is “Positive thinkers get positive results.” I’ve taken that advice to heart and it has helped me.

I know for some of you, thinking positive may be a tall order right now. Many people I talk to say their emotional ups and downs come and go in waves. I think it helps to recognize that we have come through hard times before, and we need to be confident we can do it again. We are all in this together—literally. When we encourage one another and reach out in caring, loving ways, we can turn a difficult struggle into a shared experience that can be worked through together.

There are actually a lot of positive things that can come out of this weird time in our lives. For example, today’s technology allows us to not only talk, email, and text with each other, but also see each other in real time. Some working teams are having “happy hours” every Friday where they catch up on the week and toast each other with their beverages of choice. Grandparents and grandkids are getting together on video chats to keep up with what the others are doing.

Most people in our company are working from home, so we have started holding regular all-hands meetings online. This week we had more than 350 people in attendance, watching and listening to our leaders and leaving questions and comments in a rolling chat box on the side of the screen. A lot of folks had their cameras turned on so we could see them. I was amazed how connected I felt to everyone, even though I was sitting in my home office. I’m so thankful we have this incredible technology that can keep us in touch with each other.

Another unique thing about this time is how families are sheltering in their homes together. This can present a different kind of a challenge when a parent is out of work or working from home and the kids are bored. I read a note from one couple who said being hunkered down 24/7 with their five kids was like running a diner full of disgruntled customers!

Try to look at this as an opportunity to spend time together as a family and depend on each other. Get creative! Put together a big puzzle or play board games together. Find thinking games online like “Words With Friends” that you can play with each other on your phones. Talk to your kids about what’s going on and tell them stories about when you were young and your family made it through a tough time. Write questions (e.g., “If you were an animal, what would you be and why?” “What’s your best birthday memory?”) on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, and pull one out at every meal for an icebreaker. You never know what you’ll learn about each other! And don’t forget—at some point in the near future, everyone will be going back to work and school and get busy again doing activities and sports. You may look back on this as a special time.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping up with the news, but right now there aren’t a lot of fun headlines. Try not to get bogged down with negative stories about things you can’t control. Remember how after 9/11, Mr. Rogers said “Look for the helpers”? Look for the good news—believe it or not, it’s out there! Here are a few links to recent stories and also a few websites where you can find good news:

When you feel low about what’s going on, think about this: You’ve come through difficult times before. What helped you get through those times? Reach out to others with love, and accept kindnesses that are offered to you. This too shall pass—and we can get through it together.