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.

An Empowered Workforce Focuses on the Greater Good

In an earlier blog post on the topic of quiet quitting, I made a case for servant leadership—leaders who serve their people by helping them realize that quiet quitting (disengagement at work) is not the answer. Servant leaders establish a safe, caring environment, let people know how valuable they are as individuals, ask them what they need, listen to their answers, and work side by side with them on a solution.

I want to go one step further today with another goal for organizations run by servant leaders: creating a culture of empowerment.

Empowerment is an organizational climate that unleashes the knowledge, experience, and motivation that reside in people. Creating a culture of empowerment doesn’t happen overnight—but leaders of the best run companies know that empowerment creates satisfied people, positive relationships, and never before seen results. People are excited about the organizational vision, motivated to serve customers at a higher level, and focused on working toward the greater good.

It’s true—empowered employees have more expected of them. But along with those high expectations comes growth, career development, the satisfaction of belonging to a self-directed team and being involved in decisions, and a sense of ownership.

In Empowerment Takes More than a Minute, the book I coauthored with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, we offer three keys leaders must use to guide the transition to a culture of empowerment.

The First Key: Share Information with Everyone

Team members who get the information they need from their leader can make good business decisions. But when leaders keep important information to themselves, people often come up with their own version of the truth—which may be worse than reality. And when people don’t have accurate information, they can’t act responsibly.

Servant leaders trust their people and realize that openly sharing information about themselves and the organization—good or bad—is the right thing to do. It builds trust between managers and their people. And when people have accurate information, they can make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization.

The Second Key: Create Autonomy through Boundaries

Counter to what some people believe, there is structure in an empowered organization. It is there to inform team members of the boundaries that exist within their autonomy. These boundaries take the form of vision statements, goals, decision-making rules, performance management partnerships, etc. Within those ranges, team members can determine what to do and how to do it. As the empowered person grows, the range of structures also grows to allow them a greater degree of control and responsibility.

The Third Key: Replace the Hierarchy with Self-Directed Individuals and Teams

Empowered, self-directed individuals and teams—highly skilled, interactive groups with strong self-managing skills—are more effective in complex situations. They don’t just recommend ideas—they make and implement decisions and are held accountable for results. Today, success depends on empowered, self-directed individuals and teams.

Empowerment means that people have the freedom to act. It also means that they are accountable for results. The journey to empowerment requires everyone to challenge their most basic assumptions about how business should operate. People at all levels of the organization must master new skills and learn to trust self-directed individuals and teams as decision-making entities. An empowered culture is not easily built—but the rewards for the organization, its leaders, and its workers are enduring and plentiful.

Playing Well with Others

Remember the days when we used to get report cards from our teachers? They gave us feedback not only about our class work but also about us as human beings. Perhaps you were one of the kids whose teacher praised you by saying that you “played well with others.” If so, good on you! Playing well with others is an essential life skill, no matter how old we get.

 Who Are Your Truth Tellers and Challengers?

It’s not always easy to work well with others, especially when the other person is very different from us. Often, the people we work with don’t share our opinions or our approach to problem solving. They might even challenge our thinking and insist on doing things their way—or at least insist that we compromise. This is a good thing! Why? Because we need truth tellers and challengers to help us grow and develop.

In her wonderful book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin shows how Lincoln became the greatest American president, in part by surrounding himself with those who had initially opposed him and who continued to challenge him throughout his presidency.

How Working with People Least Like Me Brought Out the Best in Me

Early in my career, I worked with a man who wasn’t like me in many ways. Where I was easygoing, he was a stickler. Where I saw the big picture, he was better at details. Where I had a live-and-let-live philosophy, he had a take-no-prisoners approach. A lot of people found it tough to be around this man, but he was brilliant and working with him led to a wonderful career for me.

I don’t regret a single day I spent working with this man. He got me excited about leadership and pushed me hard to be clear and theoretically sound in my work. I would not have become as good a teacher or presenter if not for him.

I also had a writing partner whose personality could be tough at times. He insisted on getting his way and didn’t always use tact when he communicated his opinions. Yet he had such a brilliant, creative mind that I knew I had to write a book with him. Despite the many confrontations we had, the book we worked on together never would have reached its full potential without him.

Working with these two men showed me how partnering with people who were different than I was could improve my skills and ignite my career.

The Benefits of Working with Others

I believe that playing well with others is my superpower. Over the past 53 years I’ve written more than 65 books, most of them with coauthors. Here are just a few of the upsides to working with others.

Learning. My mother used to ask me why I didn’t write my own books. “I already know what I know,” I would tell her. “When I write with somebody else, I learn a lot.” Writing with others increases my knowledge on multiple topics.

Skill Building. By working with coauthors, I sharpen my writing skills—vocabulary, grammar, organization, and structure. I also get to practice patience and listening skills.

Productivity. Without question, working with others increases my productivity. It is highly doubtful that I could have published more than 65 books on my own.

Networking. On my seventieth birthday, we threw a party and invited all my coauthors to attend. What a joy it was to be with all the wonderful writing partners I’d had over the years! There were around 30 of them at that time, and the number is even larger today. Developing a network of special friends is one of the greatest benefits of working with others.

Ability to Serve Others. I believe that the purpose of work is to make a positive contribution to humanity. Working with others allows me to expand my influence and make a bigger difference in people’s lives.

So, don’t go it alone! Learn to play well with others—especially those who might be different than you. Collaborating with others will bring out the best in you—and it will benefit your organization, as well.

Quiet Quitting and the Servant Leader

Let’s face it—over the past couple of years, life at home and at work has become more difficult for just about everyone. I’ve always been a great advocate of positive thinking, and I still am. But I know it’s not always easy to keep your head up when going through tough times.

We’ve been reading a lot about a trend called “quiet quitting.” It’s when people feel so overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed that they make a conscious decision to do the bare minimum on the job. They stop doing things like working on tasks outside of their job description or volunteering for work teams or committees. They come to work every day, do their job as assigned, and go home. They are hurting—and they hope quiet quitting is a way for them to avoid burnout and still keep their job.

As a servant leader, you are there to serve your people, develop them, and bring out the best in them. It’s important for you to say and do the right things—but if people don’t believe you truly care about them, you won’t earn their trust. When you become aware that someone is troubled, schedule a one-on-one meeting and show them you care by asking them what they need, listening to the answers, and working together on a solution. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, have your HR department send out reminders letting people know how they can take advantage of that benefit. 

Leadership is a matter of the heart. Pay attention to your team members. If you notice anyone exhibiting uncharacteristically negative behavior or seeming unusually tired or withdrawn, let them know you have their best interests at heart by reaching out to help. As a trusted servant leader, when you establish a sincere, caring environment through your words and actions, you can be assured your people will remember the way you made them feel.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou) is Simple Truth #36 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!