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!

Investing in Your People Is Never Risky

People sometimes wonder why Spencer Johnson and I titled our book The One Minute Manager. They can’t imagine how someone can manage in a minute. The reality is that many managers don’t take the time—even a minute—to follow the three secrets from the book: set goals with your people, catch them doing things right and praise their progress, and redirect them when they get off track.

I’ve often said “The best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.” Why do I believe that? Because leaders who invest time in their people are building important, meaningful connections. Those connections create inspired people and inspired leaders who work together to achieve great results and who benefit from great relationships. It’s an investment that’s no risk, all reward!

Part of The One Minute Manager’s significance is how the book helps leaders understand that the best ways to serve your people don’t have to involve rehearsed conversations, lengthy meetings, or stressful performance reviews. Sometimes an act as simple as listening to a person’s idea, talking about their weekend, or sharing a laugh with them can be the most memorable moment of their day.

Investing in your people is about time spent focusing on them, not on yourself. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you are trying to influence. The more you know about each of your direct reports, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. For example, taking time to work side by side with a direct report to determine their development level on a task lets them know you are interested in meeting them where they are. And it allows you to use the right leadership style, with the right amount of direction and support, to help that person get to the next level.

Here’s another way you can spend a minimum amount of time and build a major connection: schedule one-on-one meetings with each of your people where they set the agenda. These meetings don’t use up a lot of work time—just 20 to 30 minutes every other week. There’s no better way to show someone you care about them as a person than to set aside time to chat about anything they wish. It’s a great opportunity for both of you to speak openly without interference or judgment. These short meetings lead to trusting relationships with feelings of respect, loyalty, and accountability on both sides.

Also, don’t forget to take time to celebrate people’s talents, skills, and successes. Celebrating doesn’t require a big, expensive party. It can be as simple as taking a person aside (or sending them a private chat message) to praise them for their input at a meeting. It can be as quiet as sending someone a gift card to acknowledge their going above and beyond on a project. Or it can be as grand as announcing to everyone they can stop working two hours early on a Friday afternoon. Celebration in any form lets people know they are doing things right, which builds morale and camaraderie. And it’s fun!

Making your team members feel special doesn’t need to be time consuming. Invest a few moments now and then to let people know you’re glad they’re on your team, you appreciate their contributions, and you enjoy helping them win. Take time to build those meaningful connections. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.  

This blog was based on Simple Truth #8 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, available now at your favorite bookstore. To download an eBook summary of the book, please go here.

My Personal Leadership Point of View

In my last LeaderChat blog post, I talked about the importance of having a clear, teachable leadership point of view. In this post I thought it might be helpful for me to share my personal leadership point of view, so you can get a sense of how to create your own.

Developing your leadership point of view can be broken down into three basic steps:

  1. Identify key people and events that have shaped and influenced your leadership point of view.
  2. Describe your leadership values.
  3. Share your expectations of yourself and others.

Identify Key People and Events

Who mentored you, taught you, inspired you? What did you learn from these people that shaped your leadership behavior? For me, it’s my mom and dad.

My mom was the ultimate positive thinker. She told everyone that I laughed before I cried, I smiled before I frowned, and I danced before I walked. With those kinds of messages, how could I have ended up anything but a positive thinker? Mom also helped me keep things in perspective. She said, “Ken, don’t act like you’re better than anybody else. But don’t let anyone act like they’re better than you either. Remember, there’s a pearl of goodness in everyone.”

My dad was a career naval officer who retired as an admiral. I learned from him that leadership was a ‘both/and’ relationship—both people and results were important to him. He taught me that position power and “my way or the highway” are not the way to lead.

As far as key events go, I’ll never forget the moment my dad taught me a lesson that has stayed with me all my life.

I was elected president of the seventh grade and came home all excited. Dad said, “It’s great, Ken, that you are president of your class. But now that you have a position, don’t use it. Great leaders are followed not because they have position power, but because they’re respected and trusted as individuals.” That lesson has stayed with me all my life.

Describe Your Values

Values—things like integrity, excellence, success, humor, freedom, power—are the core beliefs that you feel strongly about. What qualities and principles do you value? Jot them down on a piece of paper.

You may come up with a long list. Narrow the list by holding each value against the others until you have just three to five of your most important values. You might want to look back at your stories about key people and key events in your life and think about the values reflected in those stories.

I had trouble narrowing down my top values, so I combined two words to create “spiritual peace” as my number-one value, followed by “integrity,” “love,” and “success.”

The next step in clarifying your values is to define them. To be able to live consistently with a value, you must be able to explain what that value means to you. For example, I define “love” by how it makes me feel and behave:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself and others, anytime I express compassion, anytime I show love to others, and anytime I receive the love of others.”

Your Expectations of Yourself and Others

Clarifying your expectations for yourself and others is the last step in crafting your leadership point of view. These expectations should flow naturally from the key people and events that have influenced you and your values. Your expectations really are the essence of your leadership point of view.

Here’s how I describe my expectations of myself:

“I believe my role as your manager is to help you win—to help accomplish your goals. I want you to get an A. If I am behaving according to my expectations of myself, I will be cheering you on. If progress is not being made, I will be redirecting your efforts and helping get you back on course by either providing direction or support or both. In other words, you should know when you are getting ‘wrong answers’ so that we can discuss what would make a ‘good answer.’ If I am living up to my expectations of myself as a leader, everything I do with you will be geared toward helping you produce good results and, in the process, feel good about yourself.”

Letting people know what they can expect from you underscores the idea that good leadership is a partnership. It gives people a picture of how things will look as you work together.

Here’s what I expect from the people who work with me:

“I expect you to partner with me as we work together to achieve goals. I expect you to be open and honest, so that we’re both clear and enthusiastic about the goals we set. If you are unclear about a goal, my expectation is that you will communicate with me so that I can provide the direction and support you need to succeed. Finally, I expect us to have fun together. Life is a very special occasion, and we don’t want to miss it!

When you let people know what you expect from them, it’s a gift, because it tells them how they can be successful under your leadership.

Okay, I’ve shared mine—now it’s your turn. What’s your leadership point of view?

If you need some help, check out Blanchard’s free webinar on Creating and Sharing Your Leadership Point of View.

What Principles Are on Your Belief Window?

Many years ago, my late, great friend Hyrum Smith was a member of a team that discovered the Reality Model, a brilliant visual way of describing how people look at life. Hyrum was so taken by the concepts in the model that he spent much of the rest of his life traveling around  and spreading the life-changing message to businesses, schools, churches, and even prisons. The ideas in the model aren’t new, but they are remarkably relevant for today. Why? Because the Reality Model helps people see the world as it really is.

The main concept of the Reality Model is the idea that each of us has a Belief Window through which we observe the world around us. On our Belief Window are thousands of principles we believe to be true about ourselves, our world, and other people. Most of these principles are an attempt to meet a basic human need such as to live, to love and be loved, to feel important, or to have variety. Some principles, such as “the Earth is round,” reflect reality, and some, such as “dogs are better than cats,” are subjective. Either way, we believe them to be true and we will behave as if they are—because our beliefs drive our behavior.

That said, the key to effective living is to continually identify the changing principles on our Belief Windows, look at the results they give us, and ask an important question: Will these results meet my needs over time? If the answer is yes,it usually means it is a valid belief for us. If the answer is no, we can chalk it up as a lousy belief and choose to either get rid of it or change it.

Let me give you a personal example. I once found myself tipping the scale at more than thirty pounds over my normal weight. My wife, Margie, asked me what my philosophy of eating was—particularly when I was consulting and teaching on the road. I answered, “If I’ve been working hard, I deserve to eat anything I want at night.” She said, “So how is that working for you?” I had to admit, it wasn’t fun carrying around the burden of that extra weight. These results weren’t meeting my needs over time. I needed to make a change.

Now remember: beliefs drive behavior. I realized that before my behavior could change, what I believed about eating had to change. I had to find an alternative principle. After much thought, I came up with this: “If I’ve been working hard, I deserve to eat a healthy dinner so I can sleep well and feel good about myself.” My revised principle helped me, over time, to get the results I wanted—and evaluating my Belief Window was instrumental in helping me turn my health around.

Why am I sharing these thoughts with you today? In the past eighteen months, we all have been carrying around the burden of living through a pandemic. Each of us has faced our own challenges—physical health, mental health, jobs, finances, etc. Many people’s lives have been turned upside down in too many ways to count. I’d like to suggest we all take a look at the principles that have formed on our Belief Windows and determine whether or not they have been meeting our needs over time.

For example, let’s say you have this principle on your Belief Window: “I’m afraid to leave the house. The world is a scary place.” Is that a lousy belief or is it a valid belief? Have the results of your behavior met your needs over time? If they haven’t, perhaps you could adopt an alternative principle that would meet your needs better. How about this: “Walking my dog after breakfast is a safe way for me to get back into life.” Will that alter your behavior in a positive way? Yes, it will.

Or maybe there’s been a change in what is important to you: “I’m not looking forward to going back to my office. Working from home makes me happier and I get more work done.” Is that a lousy belief or a valid belief? Have those results met your needs over time? If you think they have, talk to your supervisor—perhaps you can make working from home a permanent choice.   

When you discover that certain principles have helped you find peace of mind, hold on to them. When you uncover beliefs that haven’t been working for you, get rid of them or come up with alternatives that can help you change your results for the better. And don’t forget the phrase over time—because results take time to measure.

Are the results of your beliefs and behavior meeting your needs? Following this model won’t improve everything overnight. But becoming aware of your principles and applying the concepts of the Belief Window may be a step in the right direction.

Training Plus Coaching: A Formula for Success

Several years ago, someone asked me a thought-provoking question: “What has been your biggest disappointment in your career?” After careful reflection, it occurred to me that what bothered me most was that while my books were widely read and our training programs were used around the world, people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work.

Why not? I wondered.

When Training Doesn’t Stick

It’s not that people didn’t care or weren’t motivated to apply the learning. It’s just that, despite their most sincere efforts, what they were learning just wasn’t sticking.

People would go to an expensive training, get inspired, and vow to apply the learning. Then they would get back to the office. Soon their notes from the training would be buried under a pile of work. Perhaps they would even try to apply some of the training. But because they were not yet good at the skills, the outcome of their efforts would be neutral or even negative. The newly trained people didn’t really have time to figure out why, so they would write off the training and go back to their old, not-so-great way of doing things.

It bothered us that the investments organizations were making in training were going down the drain.

Coaching Can Bridge the Gap

We realized that to bridge the gap between what people knew—all the good advice and tools they had learned in training—and what they did with this knowledge, people needed more support.

We have found that the best way to help people retain and apply what they learn is to integrate coaching with training. We recommend enrolling participants into a minimum of three coaching sessions after a training. In each session, the coach has focused conversations with the participant to help them tailor their new knowledge to their own work scenarios.

Sometimes even the smartest students miss key insights. Madeleine Blanchard, cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services, recalled working with the president of a company who had just taken our SLII® leadership training. The program teaches leaders how to diagnose the development level of their direct reports on each goal and task and apply the appropriate leadership style.

The president was eager to become a role model for SLII® leadership—someone who knew exactly what each person on his team needed to succeed.

“Do you have clear goals and tasks for each direct report?” Madeleine asked in her first session with the president.

The answer was no. In his eagerness to master all the other content, the president had forgotten the first step in the training: goal setting. That kind of oversight is common—and is exactly why coaches can be invaluable in helping people apply what they’ve learned.

Where AI and Virtual Coaching Fall Short

Lately, artificial intelligence has been making a big splash in the training industry. Although AI technology offers some benefits, when it comes to making training stick, there’s nothing as effective as working with another warm-blooded, breathing human being.

There’s no big mystery to that. If you’ve ever done a physical fitness or weight loss program, you know how much more effective it is to answer to a personal trainer or classroom instructor than an unfeeling, computer-generated coach.

No matter how sophisticated AI becomes, a virtual coach can’t prepare people for all the variables they will encounter when they try to put their training into practice in the workplace. It can’t hold people accountable to their commitment to apply the training. And there’s no way a virtual coach can take the place of a human when it comes to acknowledging, praising, and celebrating progress.

It’s human nature to be motivated by positive feedback from others. “After our coaching sessions, people often get back to me about how they’re applying the training,” says Madeleine. “A common email I get is, ‘You are going to be so proud of me.’”

Coaching: An Investment with Long-Term Rewards

The investments organizations make in training are not intended to end when people leave the classroom. In fact, that’s just the beginning. The hope is that the benefits from the training will accrue to the bottom line over the long term.

A small additional expenditure in follow-up coaching assures that an organization’s training investment will pay dividends well into the future. If the cost of one-on-one coaching is prohibitive, small group coaching can also be effective. So, start integrating follow-up coaching with your training. You’ll be amazed at the results!