Creating Leadership Ripples

For good or bad, our behavior as leaders ripples throughout an organization.

Examples of bad leadership behavior negatively affecting organizations are all too easy to cite.  In the early 2000s, the criminal behavior of Enron executives caused thousands of employees to lose their jobs and led to the dissolution of Arthur Andersen, one of the country’s largest accounting firms. During the Iraq War, toxic leadership in the United States Army led to skyrocketing suicide rates among soldiers.

The fallout from poor leadership can last for years, even decades. Even if they don’t lead to bankruptcies and suicides, poor managerial behaviors reduce engagement, interfere with alignment, lower productivity, and drain human resources.  Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies, together with Training Magazine, found that bad managers cost organizations money in at least seven ways.

The good news is that the ripple effects of positive leadership can also last for years. Consider this story from Dick Ruhe, one of my favorite business consultants:

One time, I had a half-day supervisor training in the spice fields of Gilroy, California. You’ve probably consumed the vegetables and fruit these folks harvest. You’d certainly recognize the company’s logo in your neighborhood supermarket.

The front-line people who worked the crop were happy to have a job. The training venue was on a large garlic farm. The meeting itself was in a relatively small building. The eighteen attendees sat on simple benches, and they stayed involved.

In the course of the day we discussed the qualities of good leaders. During the training, one name came up time and time again: Manny. The conversation basically became stories about Manny. He had quite a reputation. This guy seemed superhuman. But at some point, he had moved away from the company.

The conversation drifted to what the coworkers referred to as “flowers from Manny.” Somebody in the class asked if others still had their flowers. Many people said they did. Some of them even opened their lockers to show them to me.

The “flowers” were actually pink sticky notes on which Manny had simply drawn a smile as a reward for doing a good job. People in the group got emotional when they talked about Manny. I had trouble myself. I felt as though I knew him, even though we had never met.

Manny’s story underscores the importance of positive feedback in helping people reach their full potential. Catching people doing things right doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but the ripple effect of those praisings goes on and on.

While small gestures—like smiley faces on sticky notes—can have lasting positive impacts on organizations, bigger efforts can create legacies. Consider the work of Patrick McGovern, self-titled “Chief Encouragement Officer” of International Data Group and the founder of Computerworld magazine. A positive thinker who ended every meeting with his signature line “the best is yet to come,” McGovern grew his Boston-based technology media firm into a global powerhouse.

The day-to-day choices a leader makes become actions—and those actions create reactions. Think carefully about the ripples you’re sending throughout your organization and make sure their impact is positive.

What’s Your Leadership Point of View?

Margie and I recently spent a wonderful weekend teaching our “Determining Your Leadership Point of View” class at the University of San Diego. It’s part of the Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) degree program offered by USD in partnership with our company.

I often start off training sessions with managers by asking: “How many of you consider yourself a leader?” Amazingly, only about 20 percent raise their hands. I think a lot of people believe that to be a leader you have to have a certain amount of power or an executive position—and for some reason they don’t think they have enough power or the right title yet. The second thing I say is: “Tell me about one or two people who have impacted your life the most.” Almost no one names a manager or supervisor; they all identify a parent, grandparent, their spouse or significant other, or a relative, coach, friend, or neighbor.

In life, everyone has the opportunity to lead. In fact, we all are leaders right now. Why do I say that? Because there are two different kinds of leadership roles: life (as a spouse, parent, or friend) and organizational (as a manager, supervisor, etc.). So everyone is a leader in some aspect of their life—even if they are a follower! In fact, my wife, Margie, wrote an article titled “In Praise of Followership” for the book Servant Leadership in Action. It’s all about how followers are also leaders.

Research proves that effective leaders exemplify and communicate to their followers a clear and consistent Leadership Point of View. The students in our MSEL class develop their own unique Leadership Point of View that they will be able to demonstrate to people who work with them. So often in organizations, people can’t figure out what’s important to their boss—what “makes them tick.” When direct reports are aware of their manager’s Leadership Point of View, that mystery is solved.

We tell our students that figuring out their unique Leadership Point of View is like writing a course on themselves. After they identify the people and events that have impacted their life the most, we ask them to think about what they learned from those people and experiences. How did those parts of their life influence their leadership style? What values did they instill? Then, based on those reflections, what do they expect of people who report to them now—and what can their people expect from them as a leader?

It is a fascinating process. As students unearth these thoughts and memories, they write their Leadership Point of View in a story format. Why? It’s a more authentic and personal way of communicating. Stories paint a picture that allows others to see the consistency between values, words, and actions. As students progress in their writing, they share their work in small groups of their classmates. At the end of the course, each student stands in front of the class and tells their leadership point of view story as if their fellow students were their team members at work. They get feedback from their classmates as well as from Margie and me.

What values have you developed through the important people and experiences in your life? Based on those reflections, what do you expect from your people and what can they expect from you as their boss? I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Leadership Point of View process in the comments below.

Happy Families are No Accident

Years ago, Peter Drucker said “Nothing good happens by accident—put some structure around it!” So if you want something good to happen, put some structure around it. This doesn’t just apply to business; it’s also for family life. I can name several traditions that are perfect examples of Drucker’s line of thinking.

 

Like many families, we like to get together on every family member’s birthday. As part of the celebration we all sit at the dinner table and, one by one, tell the birthday person what we like about them. Our kids Scott and Debbie used to protest this tradition, but today they encourage their kids to take part in it, too. It’s an easy thing to do and a great way to make someone feel extra special on their special day.

 

Here’s another Blanchard tradition: every Christmas Day, between dinner and dessert, all our family and friends who are gathered share something special with everyone. They can sing a song, recite a poem, or tell us something important in their lives. This not only delights all those who are gathered, it makes the day more memorable and meaningful.

 

We know several couples who plan a date night at least once every two weeks. They make a rule that they can’t talk about work or the kids—only about their relationship. “How are we doing with each other?” If every couple did that 26 times a year, I guarantee there would be a lot fewer divorces.

 

Structure also helps our family business. You may or may not know this, but The Ken Blanchard Companies is family owned. Margie and I cofounded the company almost forty years ago—and Scott, Debbie, and Margie’s younger brother, Tom, joined the company around twenty years later. Sometimes family businesses work well and sometimes they don’t. We didn’t want to run the risk that our family business would mess up our family, so Scott had the idea that the five of us should meet one day every quarter with an outside consultant/facilitator. And what a great idea it was! We’ve been holding our “Family Council” meetings for a number of years now. More recently, Tom’s wife, Jill, and Scott’s wife, Madeleine, have joined us. We all know it’s due in no small part to these meetings that we still love each other and often vacation together, even though we work together almost every day.

 

So follow Drucker’s advice. If you want good things to happen, put some structure in place—it’s as easy as starting a few simple family traditions. When families find new ways to celebrate their positive relationships, life gets more enjoyable.

 

You Don’t Need a Fancy Title To Be a Servant Leader

One of my favorite stories in our recent book, Servant Leadership in Action, comes from James Ferrell of the Arbinger Institute. The leader James writes about doesn’t have a fancy title, but he’s a living example of Robert Greenleaf’s definition of a servant leader as someone who “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.”

Who is this servant leader? It’s the man who collects the trash in James’s neighborhood each week.

“Our trash is collected on Friday mornings,” James writes. “One Friday morning, as I heard the garbage truck pull into our cul-de-sac, I realized that I had forgotten to take the bins out.”

Perhaps you can relate to the panic James felt as he threw on some clothes and hustled down the stairs—not to mention the sinking feeling he had when he heard the truck pull away. “A week with no room in our garbage bins!” James thought with a grimace.

But when James looked out the front window, he saw his two bins—and they were empty! He was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for his amazing neighbors.

A few weeks later James bumped into two of those very neighbors: David, who lived across the street, and Randy, who lived around the corner. David was telling a story about how he’d seen the garbage truck driver walking around and picking up trash strewn all over the street. David said he felt badly, because he’d overpacked his bin and it was likely the spilled trash was his.

“So,” David said, “I decided that the next week I’d go out and thank that driver and give him a gift.”

But the next week the truck was early. By the time David rushed out the door, it had already rounded the corner. “The truck was parked in front of Randy’s house,” David continued. “Then I saw the driver wheeling Randy’s two garbage bins down from the side of his house!”

“Wait!” Randy interjected. “The garbage man did that? I thought the neighbors had helped us out.”

As he listened to this story, James had the same reaction. He realized that the driver must have helped with his bins, as well.

“Now,” James writes, “you might think that David, Randy, and I had it made at this point. After all, we wouldn’t even have to take our trash out to the street anymore; the garbage man would do it for us!”

But that’s not how they responded. Instead, the garbage truck driver’s selfless actions motivated James and his neighbors to remember to take out their bins, because they didn’t want to make things harder for the driver. Plus, they took care to leave ample room between the bins, something they’d heard they were supposed to do, but hadn’t bothered with before.

“In a way,” James continues, “our garbage man trained the entire neighborhood to make his life easier. How did he do this? By making our lives easier, which is the essence of what servant leaders do.”

In Leading at a Higher Level, my Blanchard colleagues and I define leadership as the capacity to influence others by unleashing their power and potential to impact the greater good. James Ferrell’s story underscores the point that you don’t need a fancy title to be an effective servant leader.

Greetings from a Servant Leader

“Good morning everyone, this is Ken. It’s a little bit after eight o’clock in San Diego, California….”

That’s an example of the way I begin my morning message that goes out to most of the people in our company every weekday morning. I’ve been doing it for the better part of twenty years now!

When folks outside of the company hear that I send a daily morning message to our people, they usually ask, “How can you think of something new to say every single day?” They think it sounds like a lot of trouble. But I enjoy doing it. Why? Because knowing that people are expecting my daily message compels me every day to think of things I feel lucky about. What did I do yesterday that was interesting? What did I learn? I’ll ask for prayers and love to be sent out when I hear someone is ill or when they lose a loved one. And sometimes it’s about celebration—I’ll congratulate a person or a whole department on something specific they did right, like giving great service to a client or making a big sale.

Sending out a daily message helps me stay in touch with almost everyone in our company at once. I’ve been told it keeps our company culture top of mind for people I don’t get to see very often—those who work in the field or in other parts of the world.

Sending a morning message does as much for me as it does for the people who receive it. I highly recommend it as a great communication tool for any servant leader!