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.  

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.

How Coaching Has Helped Me—And How It Can Help You

I’ve talked a lot about how leaders can help people succeed through day-to-day coaching. In fact, our company recently offered a webinar called The Manager Who Can Coach: Bringing Coaching Skills into Your Organization, which you can view here.  

For my blog today, I wanted to share how coaching has helped me to be successful in various aspects of my life—and how it can help you. While some of these people didn’t have the formal title of “coach,” they had experience in the areas where I needed help.

A coach can give you what you can’t give yourself and provide the direction and support you need to succeed.

As a youth I had a great example of what coaching could do for me with my basketball coach, Paul Ryan. Paul coached me to focus on my strengths—in my case, my big hands and outside jump shot. While I wasn’t much of a runner, people nicknamed me “Hot Hands” because I was an excellent shooter.

A coach can help you set the goals that matter to you and keep you accountable as you move toward them.

Later in life, my affinity for food combined with my busy career made it difficult for me to keep my weight under control. When I finally decided to get serious about getting into shape, Tim Kearin, my coauthor on Fit at Last, became my primary fitness coach. We used SLII® to figure out the kind of leadership style I needed to get healthy. I now know that I need ongoing coaching and support to keep me accountable with my diet and exercise, so I work with a fitness coach on a regular basis. This is how I “keep my commitment to my commitment.”

A coach can improve your skills and deepen your knowledge.

I was never a great student. My first intellectual coach was my brilliant sister, Sandy, who taught me good study habits. In college I found coaches who guided my academic career. During graduate school at Colgate University, Warren Ramshaw coached me to find a major that really captured my interest. Later, Don McCarty helped me get accepted into the doctoral program at Cornell and coached me as I pursued my PhD.

As a writer, I also consider the dozens of coauthors I’ve had over the years to be my intellectual coaches. Every one of them exposed me to new learning and helped me drill down into subjects that interested me.

A coach can clarify next steps, ask smart questions, and keep you moving forward toward your goals.

In the late 1970s a group of presidents who were members of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) encouraged my wife Margie and me to start our own company. We were flattered by their high opinion of us, but in those days we couldn’t even balance our own checkbook! Fortunately, five of those presidents became our business coaches and helped us get our company going.

Twenty-five years ago, we began using professional advisors for our family business. We wanted to make sure the business didn’t mess up our family—and vice versa! An advisor meets with us once a quarter, giving us invaluable coaching.

A coach can help you gain self-knowledge and improve your relationships.

One of my weaknesses is that I’m a pleaser and tend to say “yes” too often. That’s why it’s important for me to work with a coach to look at what I’m doing and help me set priorities that align with my purpose.

My wife Margie and I are always looking for ways to improve our relationship and how we communicate with each other, so we’ve worked with several relationship coaches over the years. The key to a good marriage is being open to learning.

When we met Norman Vincent Peale and his wife, Ruth, in the 1980s, we learned how important it is to be a team when you’re married. We observed that they each had their strength areas and didn’t try to tell the other one what to do. Every morning Norman and Ruth would take a two-mile walk together, holding hands, but they wouldn’t talk. They called it their “alone time together.” When it came to the teamwork of marriage, Norman and Ruth were great coaches for us.

A coach can give you perspective and someone to confide in.

After seeing how badly my old church treated a pastor who protested the Vietnam War back in the 1960s, I turned my back on my spiritual side. Fortunately for me, I found a great spiritual coach in Norman Vincent Peale when we got together to write The Power of Ethical Management. Norman gave me a broader perspective and helped me get back onto my spiritual path. Since then, I’ve had several great spiritual coaches, including Bob Buford, coauthor of Half-Time and founder of The Leadership Network, Phil Hodges, my long-time friend and coauthor, and Bill Hybels, former senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.

Take Advantage of Coaching

If you’re avoiding doing something just because you’ve never done it before, a coach can help you with that.

If you’re stuck in any area of your life, a coach can help you identify what’s stopping you and find ways around your roadblocks.

Take a look at your life. Where are you now—and where do you want to be? Where do you need more direction and support? Be honest with yourself about the areas where you’re not able to succeed on your own, and find a coach to help you with them.

To get the most out of a coaching relationship, you’ll need to be honest with your coach about what’s happening and where you need help. You’ll also need more than one session. Coaching is most effective when you meet regularly over an agreed-upon period of time.

My final advice is to let go of your pride and stop struggling on your own. Go get yourself a coach!

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!