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.

You Get from People What You Expect

When people don’t understand what their leaders expect from them, they feel lost. They have no compass and no agreed-upon standards of conduct to follow. They’re not sure how to please their boss, how to behave around their teammates, or what a good job looks like. All they can do is wait for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it.

As a servant leader who works side by side with your team members, you must let your people know exactly what you expect from them. This gives them a mental picture of how to be successful under your leadership.

But expectations aren’t just about words—they are also about you modeling the behaviors you expect. You must walk your talk, or your words are meaningless. Communicating your expectations gives your people confidence and clarity about what a good job looks like.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

For example, suppose you tell your people that your expectations of them are similar to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Describe to them in clear terms what that would look like:

  • Act ethically in everything you do.
  • Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated.
  • Care for your teammates and cheer each other on.

Bravo! You’ve just painted a picture your people can see, feel, and apply to their daily work. These clear expectations, communicated directly to your team members, establish the standard for how you want them to consistently behave. Serve your people and help them accomplish their goals by setting the bar high and modeling the behavior you wish to see.

“You Get from People What You Expect” is Simple Truth #13 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a sneak preview!

Make it Easy for People to Give You Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback can be a helpful, productive part of a business relationship. But for many people it can conjure up negative feelings of being criticized, second-guessed, or reprimanded. And as hard as it is for a manager to give feedback to a direct report, it’s even more challenging for the direct report to give feedback to their manager—even when they know know it would be helpful for the manager to hear what they have to say.

Have you ever known someone who gave feedback to their boss, who then “killed the messenger”? Maybe it was an honest comment like, “Boss, I think our Thursday afternoon meetings are a waste of time”—and the boss shouted, “What do you mean, ‘a waste of time’? Are you kidding? Those meetings are important!”

It’s clear this self-serving leader didn’t want to hear the truth. Self-serving leaders believe they are too high and mighty to listen to feedback from a subordinate (sub-ordinary) employee.

Servant Leaders Love Getting Feedback

On the other hand, servant leaders love feedback. In fact, they look at it as a gift. As a servant leader, the only reason you are leading is to serve your people—and if someone has suggestions on how you can serve better, you want to hear them.

Giving feedback to the boss doesn’t come naturally to most people—so make yourself approachable and easy to connect with. Assure your people you won’t get defensive and you really want to hear what they have to say.

When receiving feedback, remember that the person is giving you a gift. Make sure the first thing you say is “Thank you.” Then follow up with “This is so helpful.” And then, “Is there anything else you think I should know?” I’ve found that once leaders open the door for feedback from people, they can learn many valuable nuggets of truth they can use to improve their leadership style.

Giving and receiving feedback without judgment is a best practice for any leader who strives to achieve both great relationships and great results. My colleague Rick Tate said it best: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions!”

“Servant Leaders Love Feedback”is Simple Truth #23 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a sneak preview!

Simple Truths of Leadership Book Coming February 1!

Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley

I’m thrilled to announce that my new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, will be available on February 1. My longtime colleague and expert on trust, Randy Conley, is my coauthor. I’m especially excited about this book for several reasons:

  • Randy Conley. Randy has been writing and speaking about the importance of trust in leadership for many years. His expertise and passion around the topic—along with the fact that he is a lot of fun to work with—has made him a dream coauthor. Randy and I firmly believe that servant leadership and trust go hand in hand.
  • The Message. For years, we’ve wondered why commonsense leadership isn’t common practice. We know how much more enjoyable it is for leaders to work side by side with their people—serving them, empowering them, and allowing them to bring their brains to work—than to keep looking over everyone’s shoulders and questioning every decision. To help drive home this point, Randy and I share 52 commonsense philosophies we believe will resonate with leaders and show how each one can be applied in your workplace.
  • The Format. Although Simple Truths of Leadership contains more than 140 pages of time-tested lessons on the best way to lead, it’s not a weighty book you’ll need to read for hours on end to benefit. The book was designed so readers can enjoy learning and then applying what they’ve learned bit by bit. It’s a fun, easy read that features 52 simple leadership truths, defines them, and provides suggestions for how to make common sense common practice.
  • The Discussion Guide. Whether you belong to a business book club at work, enjoy talking with a friend or two about leadership strategies, or prefer independent study at your own pace, you’ll appreciate the discussion guide located at the end of the book. It’s filled with questions that will challenge you to delve into your ideas and beliefs about leadership.

I’ve been saying this for a long time, but it’s truer now than ever before: the world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. Trusted servant leadership is not quaint, and it’s not nice to have—it’s critically necessary for every industry, organization, and leader working to manage the immense changes still happening in the way business is done.

We hope Simple Truths of Leadership provokes your thinking and brings you closer to the trusted servant leader we know you can be!

Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust is available for preorder at your favorite online book retailer.

Let’s Talk: Tips for New Managers

A new manager faces important and sometimes jarring differences in their new role. They must focus on not only achieving their own work, but also managing the work of their team, managing the relationships of former colleagues who are now direct reports, and managing projects that have an impact on the organization. One of the keys to becoming an effective manager is the ability to conduct meaningful conversations. Our new First-time Manager program introduces the four most important conversations a new manager can master: goal setting, praising, redirecting, and wrapping up.

Put yourself in the place of a direct report who is beginning work on a new task or project. What questions do you think they would have? Here are four areas of concern that I believe drive people’s behavior at work:

“What are my goals on this task or project?”

“Am I doing the right things to help the team move forward?”

“How did I get off track—and how can I get back on?”

“Now that we’ve achieved the goal, what did we learn?”

The answers to these questions lie within the four types of conversations every manager needs to have with each team member at various stages of work on a task or goal.

For example, when a direct report needs to understand what they are supposed to be doing, they need to have a goal setting conversation with their manager. This dialogue focuses on exactly what the direct report needs to do and by when. It should take place at the beginning of a project or task and should include clear and compelling goals that are written down and reviewed frequently. This conversation sets the direct report up for success, growth, and development.

During the course of the task or project, the manager must give feedback to the direct report about their performance. When the individual is making good progress and doing things right, it’s time for a praising conversation. This conversation helps the person understand what specific behaviors are helping achieve the goal, why they matter, and that they were noticed and appreciated.

When things aren’t going as well in terms of a direct report’s behaviors or actions, the manager must initiate a redirecting conversation. This discussion will guide the direct report back on track toward the goal by helping them know what specific behaviors are out of alignment with the goal, why they matter, and that the manager wants the person to succeed.

Once a project or task is completed, it is important to have a wrapping up conversation. This is the manager’s chance to focus on the outcome, celebrate accomplishments, and acknowledge learnings. Managers see the wrapping up conversation as a great way to keep people energized and to inspire engagement by encouraging their progress and honoring the work they have done.

Have you started conducting these conversations with your team? How’s it going? If you find some of the conversations easier to have than others, that’s normal—but I hope you see the importance of continuing to have each of these important discussions with each of your people. You’ll build their trust and confidence while improving morale and performance—and getting excellent results—all for the greater good.