Three Steps to Becoming the Best Boss Ever

A couple of months ago I sent out a Facebook post with a photo of a briefcase-carrying woman jumping a hurdle, along with the headline, “Hire smart people, train them properly, then get out of their way.” That post went viral, garnering thousands more views than my usual posts.  Something about the message really resonated with people. Why? I think it’s because people know that at its best, leadership is a partnership—one that involves mutual trust and respect between people working together to achieve common goals. Leaders and direct reports influence each other. Both play a role in figuring out how to get things done. In other words, leadership is about we, not me.

So, let’s drill down into the three steps a leader can take to become the kind of boss people want and organizations need.

Hire Smart People

This one is a no-brainer. When you hire, you’re looking for people who resonate with your organization’s values, first and foremost. You also want people who have the required skills for the position or the potential to develop those skills. You’re looking for people with the ability to think and plan. Plus, you want to see initiative, organizational ability, creativity, and an ability to communicate well. In short, you’re looking for winners.

I often ask managers, “How many of you go out and hire losers? Unfortunately, too many organizations still use the normal distribution curve model, where managers are expected to rate only a few people high, a few people low, and the rest as average performers. That’s nonsense. Do you go around saying, “We lost some of our worst losers last year, so let’s hire some new ones to fill those low spots”? Of course you don’t! You hire either winners or potential winners—people who can perform at the highest level.

Train Them Properly

Even if you hire someone who already has the technical skill to do the job, it’s essential to provide ongoing training and support. Too often leaders hire people, give them some haphazard training, and pray that the new hire will become a winner. Great leaders don’t leave people to sink or swim. They support them through all three stages of partnering for performance:

Performance Planning. No matter how busy you are, it’s essential to spend time with your direct reports on planning and goal setting. Assess your direct report’s competence and commitment on each task. It’s up to you to provide the support they need, whether it’s technical training, help getting access to people or information, or just moral support. Even high performers need support and encouragement to be their best.

Performance Coaching. Leaders often assume that their performance planning conversations are so clear that there is no need for follow up. Save yourself time and misery by having regular progress-check meetings with your direct reports. If everything is coming along smoothly, it will be an opportunity to praise progress and celebrate wins together. If things aren’t progressing as planned, it will allow you to redirect efforts before small issues turn into 800-pound gorillas.

Performance Review. I don’t believe in the dreaded annual performance review. I think of performance review as an ongoing process that happens during open, honest discussions leaders have with their direct reports all year long. If you’ve been having regular one-on-one meetings throughout the year, the annual performance review should contain no surprises.

Then Get Out of Their Way

Once you’ve collaborated with your direct reports on goals and given them the coaching and support they need to master the job, you really need to let them run with the ball. People aren’t just hired hands—they have brains, too! A trained individual doesn’t need micromanaging; they need autonomy to grow and thrive.

While it’s completely appropriate to provide a hands-on, directing/coaching leadership style when someone is learning a new task or skill, the goal is to move to a hands-off, supporting/delegating style. This means trusting your direct report to act independently. It means turning over responsibility for day-to-day decision making and problem solving. It means, in other words, to get out of their way!

But don’t disappear altogether. Even the highest, most self-reliant achievers need leaders to praise their progress, celebrate their wins, and provide new challenges to keep them engaged.

Leading a High Performance Team

People working together toward a common goal usually can get things done much faster and more effectively than individuals working alone. Because of this, and because of the constant change happening in the way organizations work, the way they are managed, and in technology overall, teams are becoming a major strategy for companies around the world that want to do business in a more efficient way. Personally, I enjoy participating in teams because I love helping people and I love learning from them. I guess you could say being on a team is in my sweet spot.

Now I have a couple of questions for you: How many work-related teams (project teams, virtual teams, management teams, etc.) are you on right now? And how much of your work week would you say is spent doing team-related work? If you’re like most people, it’s likely you are on five or six different teams and you spend about half your working hours in a team setting. And if you’re in a leadership role, the higher your level, the more time you spend in teams.

If you’ve ever worked on a high performance team that had a skilled leader, you know it can be  a powerful approach for goal accomplishment or problem solving. But what if you’re on a team that you know is not a high performance team? You’re not alone there, either. If members of a team don’t have a shared purpose, if they are unclear about their roles or the team’s goals, or if they aren’t accountable to each other, it’s hard to get anything done. What’s more, if the leader isn’t proficient in the skills required to successfully lead a high performance team, the team is more likely to fail than to succeed.

So if you’re a team leader, how do you give your team the best chance of success? It’s about knowing and understanding the characteristics and development stages that make up a high performance team.

The 4 Stages of Team Development

When a team is first put together, the first stage members go through is Orientation. They have high expectations but are not yet informed as to the goals of the team or the roles each person will take on. The team leader must provide structure while building relationships and trust.  

The second stage of team development is Dissatisfaction. After the excitement of joining a new team with intriguing possibilities, members may find themselves discouraged and frustrated with the process and with each other. The team leader’s responsibility is to clarify the purpose and goals while recognizing small victories and positive behaviors.

In stage three, Integration, things are getting better. Team members work together more effectively and trust among members increases as they learn to support each other and collaborate. The leader may begin sharing leadership responsibilities but must continue encouraging people to talk openly, catch each other doing things right, and work on their decision making and problem solving skills.

The biggest challenge of the fourth stage, Production, is for team members to sustain their high performance. Morale and trust among members is high, as is the quality and amount of work the team is producing. At this stage the team provides its own direction and support and the leader is there to validate members’ achievements. Everyone participates in leadership responsibilities.

Leading a high performance team is a big job, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For more help on keeping your team on track toward success—and finding your sweet spot as a team leader—check out this blog post by my colleague David Witt. It features great tips from Lael Good, our company’s director of consulting services and coauthor of our new Team Leadership program.

A Message from an Associate

On my 80th birthday this month, I left the company a morning email message—as I’ve done almost every day for more than 20 years—sharing my thoughts about entering my ninth decade.

Some people have asked me if it’s a burden to come up with a morning message every day. It really isn’t, because it keeps me thinking about learnings I can share and how I can help people. And when I get a message like the one below from our associate, Sarah Caverhill, it’s all worth it.

Dear Ken,

What a wonderful morning message! Your life has given so much to the world and you still have so much to give.  I am amazed at how much positive impact we create for others and how many lives we touch, directly and indirectly.  Every person who participates in one of our courses impacts all the people they lead, and they in turn impact the people they touch.  Such a virtuous cycle!

I believe we are put on paths for a reason and I want you to know how much I value the experience I have had with Blanchard.  I have learned so much from you and you probably don’t realize that. I didn’t grow up with happy parents, although they were good people who had a strong work ethic and valued education. I do appreciate what they taught me. But happiness, joy, and celebration were not part of our household. Then God steered me onto a different path, and I came to Blanchard over 23 years ago. I had so much to learn! I can’t tell you how much your mentoring through morning messages has meant through the years. Here are some of the great things I’ve learned from you.

  1. I’ve learned the value of celebration. Growing up, my family didn’t celebrate much. You have helped me turn my own family into a loving, celebratory, supportive one. I actually taught my parents how to celebrate and appreciate all that life has to offer. In fact, we had a big celebration last month to honor my dad’s 90th birthday!

 

  1. I’ve learned the importance of keeping “I love you’s” up to date.  After we reached adulthood my parents rarely said “I love you” to us. In fact, I can’t think of a single time from teenager-dom on. But after I joined Blanchard, I started saying it every time I talked to them. It was awkward at first because they weren’t used to it. But over time they caught on and it’s now a part of our daily conversations. I recently lost my mother and I’m so grateful that you taught me to keep my “I love you’s” up to date! I know she knew how much I loved her, and I know how much she loved me.  That simple statement put a lot of joy into her later years. And nowadays my dad gets a big grin on his face whenever he sees me and tells me he loves me.  WOW! Who would’ve thought?

 

  1. I also learned from you that life is a very special occasion and not to take it for granted. I focus on showing up well every day that I can!  I don’t want to miss a thing and I want every moment to count. I spend time with my friends and loved ones and cherish every moment. And that includes a lot of Blanchard friends I’ve made over the years. It really is great to work with such talented, loving people.

 

I know there are a lot of other things, but those are my top three.  So, keep on doing what you do so well. We are all blessed to be here celebrating with you, even if virtually!  You will never know exactly how many lives you’ve touched because it’s impossible to count that high. Your legacy is one of love, caring, and respect for all.  You should run for President!

Love to you and Margie as you celebrate,

Sarah

Thank you, Sarah. By sending me this message, you put into action another of my favorite learnings: Catching people doing things right!

Servant Leadership in the Midst of Tragedy

Several members from our church, including a friend of mine, recently traveled to the Holy Land. Before they left, my friend received well wishes from his friend, a rabbi at Chabad of Poway synagogue. “He gave us special blessings for a safe journey. Many people worried about our safety while we were in Israel and Jordan. How ironic that only a short time after our return, this attack took place at my friend’s synagogue, a mile from our home.”

On Saturday, the last day of Passover, Chabad of Poway was the scene of a shooting that left several people wounded and one woman dead. Witnesses say Lori Gilbert Kaye was killed as she jumped between the shooter and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein as bullets were fired. Friends of Lori describe her as a kind, generous person—a “warrior of love.”

During the attack, Rabbi Goldstein was shot in both hands. One of his fingers later had to be amputated. Yet, immediately after the shooter left the scene, the rabbi got up on a chair and said to the congregation, “We will not let anyone or anything take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down.” What a great example of a servant leader—despite his own physical pain, he knew his congregation needed that comfort and encouragement right away. Rabbi Goldstein later spoke about the heroism he had witnessed. “It’s standing up to evil, standing up to darkness. It’s necessary in life. We can’t just be a bystander. We need to be an activist and get out there and be a hero. Light pushes away darkness.”

Only a few hours after the shooting, more than 900 Jews, Christians, and Muslims from all over San Diego attended an interfaith prayer and peace vigil at our own Rancho Bernardo Community Church, which is less than a mile from Chabad of Poway synagogue. It was a wonderful demonstration of the power of peace, love, and prayer.

No matter what evil there is in the world, we need to come together and love our neighbors. So this week, no matter where you live, reach out to people in your community who may be hurting—and always remember to keep your I love yous up to date.

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.