Margie—The Woman Beside Me

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m going to write about Margie—my brilliant, beautiful wife of nearly 62 years.

The old saying “Behind every successful man is a woman” is untrue in our case. Margie was never behind me—she has always been right beside me as my partner in life. I wouldn’t be anywhere without Margie. She is the love of my life, my teammate, and my best friend. And she has been the spark for many of the great events of our lives.

The Beginning

I fell in love with Margie in the summer of 1961. I had just graduated from Cornell and was hanging around town for the summer. A friend of mine who we called “Looper” had been dating her, but his father had died and Looper needed to go home to run the family dairy. He asked me if I would take Margie out for a drink once in a while as a favor to him. One day my roommate asked me if I wanted to have a drink with him and one of Margie’s sorority sisters who was getting married soon. My roommate was going to be best man in their wedding. I said, “Okay, I’ll invite Margie McKee to join us. She’s almost married, too.”

Margie was working as a speech therapist and counselor at a camp for kids with severe speech problems. I picked her up at the camp and we drove eight miles back to town. I remember asking, “Why would you want to spend the summer with all of those special needs kids?” She spent the rest of the ride describing her feelings about the children—she was so filled with compassion. She had a real heart for those kids as well as a need to help people. I think I fell in love with Margie on that eight-mile ride.

The Genesis of SLII®

In the fall of 1966, Margie (pregnant with Debbie), Scott, and I arrived at Ohio University. I had landed a job as an assistant to Harry Evarts, dean of the School of Business Administration. Paul Hersey had just arrived on campus as the chairman of the management department, where I began teaching a course at the request of the dean. I found that I loved teaching.

I heard Hersey taught a tremendous course on leadership, so in December I came to see him and said, “Paul, I understand you teach a great leadership course. Could I sit in next semester?”

“Nobody audits my course,” said Hersey. “If you want to take it for credit, you’re welcome.” And he walked away.

I was stunned. I went home and told Margie about the conversation.

“Can you imagine? He won’t let me audit his course. I have a Ph.D. and he doesn’t, and he wants me to take his course for credit?”

Margie said, “That’s all well and good, but is he any good?”

“He’s supposed to be fabulous.”

“Then why don’t you get your ego out of the way and take his course?”

I had to convince the registrar to let me take Hersey’s undergrad course because I already had a Ph.D. So I took the course, wrote all the papers, and found it to be a great experience.

After the course ended, Hersey took me aside and asked me to write a textbook with him, which would become Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources. It is still in print, now in its 10th edition.

If it weren’t for Margie’s suggestion, Paul Hersey and I would not have coauthored that book, which popularized the Situational Leadership®* model we created together. Its concepts were later revised by Margie, me, and the other Founding Associates of our company to become SLII®, our flagship product.  

The Birth of The One Minute Manager

In 1980, Margie and I went to a cocktail party for San Diego authors. Also at the party was Spencer Johnson, who had coauthored a series of children’s books called Value Tales with his wife, Ann Donegan. He was in the process of coauthoring a book titled The One Minute Scolding. Margie hand-carried Spencer over to me and told us she thought we should meet.

Then Margie said something that would change all of our lives: “You two need to write a children’s book for managers. They won’t read anything else.”

The following week, Spencer came to see me speak at a seminar I was giving in town. He sat in the back, laughing, apparently enjoying my presentation. At the end, he came to me and said, “The hell with parenting—let’s write The One Minute Manager®!” And we did.

To date, the book has sold more than fifteen million copies. It wouldn’t have happened without Margie.

The Ken Blanchard Companies® and Beyond

During the ten years Margie spent as president of our company, I was sometimes asked why she was president, not me. I thought it was obvious that she was the one who should be president. That held true: when Margie started her term, we were a five million dollar company. When she left that position, we were a thirty million dollar company. (Margie is the first to say that partnering with her brother, Tom McKee, who joined the company as general manager of operations, was what made the difference.) I was happy to work beside Margie and Tom and cheer them on because I’ve always been a cheerleader!

Margie was always interested in keeping an eye on business trends. She also believed leaders should keep managing the present separate from planning the future. So when she ended her term as company president, she and Blanchard cofounder Eunice Parisi-Carew created a unique, innovative think tank they named Office of the Future (OOF). With help from Margie’s assistant, Lily Guthrie, OOF studied and reported on emerging trends in leadership, technology, and other workplace issues. Margie saw their work and research as both a challenge to Blanchard’s status quo and a stimulus for change that would ensure our company’s continued vitality and success. OOF’s findings and reports were available to clients and other organizations to assist with planning for the future, and to the media for use in advising the public of trends in the workplace.

Today, Margie is as active and interesting as ever. Because she is a lifelong teacher, she now teaches courses on career planning to young people in our company. And because she is a lifelong learner, when the pandemic began she took up a new hobby of watercolor painting. She’s really good!

Thanks, Margie, for being such a great partner. You’re the best!

*Situational Leadership® is a registered trademark of Leadership Studies, Inc., dba The Center for Leadership Studies.  

3 Lessons I Learned from a Worldwide Pandemic

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since the COVID-19 virus upended all our lives. So much has changed since March 2020. My wife, Margie, often says, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Meaning that when things go wrong, she looks for the opportunity in the crisis by asking, “What’s good about this?”

For me personally, COVID drove home three important lessons.

Lesson #1: Change is inevitable—and that can be a good thing.

The pandemic fundamentally changed the way our company—and millions of other organizations—do business. Zoom came alive and permitted us all to communicate more frequently with people near and far. Our company has associates from all around the world. With Zoom, our global people can now participate in our virtual, all-company meetings on a level playing field, without feeling like outsiders.

Another upside to the pandemic was discovering that we didn’t have to travel to be productive. I’m able to give keynotes and consult with clients right from my office—either at company headquarters or at home. We can get together in person when it makes sense to do so, but we no longer have to spend so much time on the road or on airplanes.

We’ve discovered that with today’s technology, people can be just as productive—if not more so—from their home offices. Most people still go into the office at least a couple of days a week, but it’s easier on the planet and people’s stress levels to not have to commute every single day.

Lesson #2: It’s important to plan for the future.

It’s the responsibility of leaders to prepare for the future. But most people find that it’s difficult to manage day-to-day operations and plan for the future at the same time. That’s why my wife, Margie, created the Office of the Future when she was the president of our company.

The Office of the Future looked at trends five, ten, and twenty years out. Because our company had already anticipated online learning and invested in digital technologies, we weren’t caught completely flat-footed when the pandemic hit. All the energy we had put into planning for the digital future really helped us survive when classroom training was shut down by the virus.

What about your organization? What steps can you be taking now to make sure that you’ll be ready when the next disruption occurs?

Lesson #3: Keep your I-love-you’s up to date.

Sadly, the pandemic took many lives. It’s hard to find an upside to losing people you love. However, those losses drive home how important it is to communicate our love to those we hold dear. Don’t wait for the perfect moment; do it as soon as you think about that person. Remember:

Nice thoughts not communicated mean squat.

It’s just as important to express our love on a regular basis to the people we live with, so that those relationships stay healthy. If you’re not feeling loving, figure out why and deal with it. Small resentments can turn into big problems over time. When the pandemic hit, the lockdowns tested a lot of marriages—and some didn’t pass that test. Don’t let that happen to you. Catch your partner doing things right on a regular basis.

What about you? In what way is your life different now than before the pandemic? What lessons have you learned from it? Take a few minutes to stop, think, and answer these questions. As Margie would put it, don’t let the COVID-19 crisis go to waste. Reflecting on your experiences is one of the most powerful ways to learn from them.

Time to Revisit Your Resolution?

I just learned there is a day every year called National Quitters Day. It’s the second Friday in January (we just missed it). On that day, 80% of people who have made a New Year’s resolution have given it up. Think about that—it’s such a sure thing, there’s actually a day to commemorate it!

I have a theory about why this interesting behavior—making a New Year’s resolution only to break it—keeps happening year after year. And I believe the answer to the problem is in our company’s flagship leadership training program, SLII®. SLII® teaches leaders how to empower their people to succeed by offering the right amount of direction and support needed on specific tasks or goals. (More about SLII®, and my theory, as we go along.)

So let’s say you made a resolution that this year you would eat healthy and exercise every day. You were excited about getting healthier, you felt sure you could make it happen, but you really didn’t know much about what you were getting yourself into. (NOTE: In SLII® terminology, when it came to your goal of leading a healthy lifestyle, at this point you were at a stage of development known as Enthusiastic Beginner.)

On January 1 you got up and walked around your neighborhood. As you walked, you thought about all the healthy food you had stocked in your kitchen. When you got home, you made yourself a tasty egg white omelet. You walked more and ate healthy the rest of the week. Feeling triumphant, you gave yourself a one-minute praising. Good on me! I won’t have any problem sticking to this program—I’ll just keep doing this every day. This is fabulous!

A few days later, the weather was cold and cloudy. You decided to skip your walk. What if it snows? And I can’t find my gloves. I’ll just stay inside. At lunch you didn’t feel like eating another salad, so you grabbed the peanut butter and made a sandwich. No biggie, peanut butter has protein and the jam is made with fruit. In the middle of running errands the next day, you had some hunger pangs so you drove through a fast food place for a quick burger and fries. I deserve a treat—and it’s still good because I got a diet soda when I really wanted a milkshake!

But later you felt guilty. The next day you fell a bit further behind. You were worried that reaching your goal was not going to be as easy as you thought. And it was clear you were no longer enjoying the journey. You decided it might be best to just quit. (NOTE: These thoughts and feelings regarding your goal of leading a healthy lifestyle signaled that you had now entered the SLII® developmental stage known as Disillusioned Learner.)

So here’s where my theory comes in. My guess is that National Quitters Day would have happened right around this point in the story. Why? Because everyone who made a resolution on January 1 had been attempting to move toward achieving that goal and was going through the same thing. This is the discouraging, but predictable, stage when people begin to question their commitment to their goal. And with a vague goal, no way of knowing what’s ahead in their journey, and no one to give them direction or support, it makes sense that most people would choose to walk away now if it were their choice to make.

You may be going through these feelings about your resolution right now. It is true that getting through this phase of any goal or task isn’t easy—but it is achievable. These three tips will make the difference:  

  1. Rewrite your resolution/goal to make it SMART: Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. SMART goals give you a clear target to aim for.
  2. Understand the predictable development level curve we all go through when learning a new task or embarking on a new goal: from Enthusiastic Beginner (needs specific direction) to Disillusioned Learner (needs direction and some support) to Capable, but Cautious, Contributor (needs support)to Self-Reliant Achiever (needs little direction or support). Follow the curve and don’t give up!
  3. Most important: Don’t go it alone. Ask for help from knowledgeable friends. Everyone working on a goal or task needs accountability partners and cheerleaders to connect with on a regular basis. Ask them to check in with you to ensure you are making progress on your goal. Let them know what you need in terms of direction and support on the way to goal achievement.

The end of the story? After rewriting your resolution to make it a SMART goal, learning what to expect along the development curve on the way to achieving your goal, and enlisting friends to encourage, support, and cheer you on, you are well on your way to the healthy lifestyle you designed for yourself!  Congratulations and Happy 2023!

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!