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.

The Best Leaders Practice and Model Self-Care

Since the pandemic era began in 2020, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot more about the importance of self-care. We all need to continue to keep ourselves safe and healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally during these strange times in whatever ways work for us.

For leaders, it is similar to the safety message at the beginning of a flight: Put on your own mask before helping someone else. Leaders must be healthy themselves in these areas before they can be effective at showing empathy or otherwise helping others.

Why is it important for you as a leader to practice self-care? Because consciously or unconsciously, you’re always setting an example for people on your team. If they perceive you as struggling with your own issues, they may not feel right asking you for help or advice. But if you exhibit a healthy, positive, caring attitude, they will feel safe turning to you when they’re in need. And people who feel psychologically safe in their work environment tend to be more committed and productive on the job because they’re less distracted and more secure.

Here are a few suggestions, based on how I practice self-care to be the best boss I can be.

Begin your day slowly. I have often written about the benefits of entering your day slowly. Some people exercise or write in a journal. I keep a few reading materials on my nightstand including a booklet of my favorite inspirational quotes that I read each morning. It only takes a few minutes and helps me start the day off with a positive perspective. Then, after breakfast, I can focus on the important things with energy to face whatever comes my way.

Get plenty of sleep. I never have a problem with this—ask anyone who has been in a day-long meeting with me! I learned about the importance of sleep from the man himself, sleep expert Dr. James B. Maas. He literally wrote the book on sleep, Sleep for Success!, a few years ago. Dr. Maas says most adults are sleep deprived, which causes lowered immunity to disease, reduced concentration and productivity, and poor quality of work. He suggests avoiding caffeine after 2:00 pm, avoiding alcohol within three hours of bedtime, and avoiding computer and phone screens within one hour of turning in. And he endorses a 15-minute power nap at midday if you can get away with it!

Take occasional wellness days—and use all your vacation time. Our company recently added a few wellness days to our holiday calendar. Now there is at least one three-day weekend in every month, including April, August, and October. We also have implemented an unlimited PTO (paid time off) policy so that people can take time away from work when they feel the need. We know everyone benefits from time off—leaders included—but people in leadership positions often don’t use all of their allotted vacation time. It is critical for leaders to set the example that taking time away from the job isn’t bad, it isn’t just okay, it’s absolutely necessary for healthy work/life balance. So take those days—you’ve earned them!

Work with a coach or other wellness expert. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of working with a coach, counselor, trainer, or other expert advisor to get the help you need. I’ve benefited from several different kinds of coaching and counseling throughout my life. My first basketball coach, Paul Ryan, taught me how to focus on my strengths. Later in my life, my fitness coach (and coauthor on Fit at Last), Tim Kearin, knew how to give me the right kind of direction and support I needed to get healthy. I’ve had various intellectual coaches over the years, including my sister, Sandy, Warren Ranshaw, and Don McCarty, who helped me with my undergrad, grad school and doctoral programs, respectively. My wife, Margie, and I started our business with encouragement from folks in the Young Presidents Organization and have kept things afloat due to other advisors who are experts on family businesses. Margie and I have also worked with several relationship coaches over the years, which greatly improved our communication—one of the biggest hurdles in a successful marriage. We celebrated our 60th anniversary in June! Get an advisor you can be honest with, meet regularly, and you’ll never regret it.

Now I hope you create a new list for yourself on ways you are going to start (or continue) practicing and modeling self-care. You owe it to your people—and to yourself—to be the best leader you can be.

Quiet Quitting and the Servant Leader

Let’s face it—over the past couple of years, life at home and at work has become more difficult for just about everyone. I’ve always been a great advocate of positive thinking, and I still am. But I know it’s not always easy to keep your head up when going through tough times.

We’ve been reading a lot about a trend called “quiet quitting.” It’s when people feel so overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed that they make a conscious decision to do the bare minimum on the job. They stop doing things like working on tasks outside of their job description or volunteering for work teams or committees. They come to work every day, do their job as assigned, and go home. They are hurting—and they hope quiet quitting is a way for them to avoid burnout and still keep their job.

As a servant leader, you are there to serve your people, develop them, and bring out the best in them. It’s important for you to say and do the right things—but if people don’t believe you truly care about them, you won’t earn their trust. When you become aware that someone is troubled, schedule a one-on-one meeting and show them you care by asking them what they need, listening to the answers, and working together on a solution. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, have your HR department send out reminders letting people know how they can take advantage of that benefit. 

Leadership is a matter of the heart. Pay attention to your team members. If you notice anyone exhibiting uncharacteristically negative behavior or seeming unusually tired or withdrawn, let them know you have their best interests at heart by reaching out to help. As a trusted servant leader, when you establish a sincere, caring environment through your words and actions, you can be assured your people will remember the way you made them feel.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou) is Simple Truth #36 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!

Leaders: Stop Treating Everybody the Same

Every great leader strives to treat their people fairly and equitably. But leaders who think that means they need to treat all their people the same are doing their people a disservice. One of the most unfair things a leader can do is give everybody the same broad-brush treatment.

If you’re thinking, “I have to use the same leadership style with everyone or it will look like I am playing favorites,” remember that each person is skilled in different areas and at different levels. Brad may be an ace at creating graphs and managing data on spreadsheets and Ginger may be highly skilled in designing online presentations. Although you would be able to delegate a spreadsheet task to Brad, Ginger would need to start with specific direction on how to create a spreadsheet. And Brad would need to begin at square one with presentation software while Ginger would be able to sail through a design project on her own.

Let’s look at this topic situationally using our SLII® leadership training model.

Every person is at a specific development level (amount of both competence and commitment) on each task or goal they are pursuing. For example, a professional editor (let’s call him JT) with 20 years of experience is what we call a self-reliant achiever—the highest development level (D4)—at editing. JT has internal clients who send him documents to edit but he needs almost no direction or support to do the job well.

Now let’s say JT decides he really wants to learn to play guitar. When he begins working toward this goal, he is initially at the lowest development level (D1—enthusiastic beginner) at playing guitar. He is excited about learning but has no idea what he is doing. He needs specific direction (S1) from his instructor on every aspect of playing, starting with how to hold the instrument and position his hands.

After a short time of learning and practicing, JT is discouraged. His fingertips are sore and he can’t get the rhythm of strumming. He thought playing guitar would be easy and fun, but it’s not. JT is now at the development stage we call disillusioned learner (D2). He needs direction as well as coaching (S2) from his instructor to help him power through this stage.

Fortunately, JT doesn’t give up. With continued instruction, he slowly gains confidence and becomes a capable, but cautious, contributor (D3). He is still learning, but he knows how to play guitar competently and enjoys practicing and challenging himself. He continues to get support (S3) and encouragement from his instructor but needs only occasional direction.

After months of continuous practice, a bit more instruction, and some performing in front of friends and family, JT has reached D4 as a guitar player. He is confident in his skill and proud of his accomplishment. He will still keep his day job as an editor, but has developed his original spark of interest into an enjoyable pastime. JT’s instructor knew how to set him up for success by using different leadership styles—specific amounts of direction and support—depending on JT’s level of expertise at the task at hand.

As you can see, even though someone is a seasoned expert (D4) at one task, they can be a beginner (D1) at another. The concepts of SLII® can be applied to relationships at work, at home, and in the community by leaders, parents, partners, teachers, coaches—anyone who wants to help others accomplish goals.

Most likely, each of your direct reports has areas where you can simply delegate to them—and they also have new tasks or goals where they need your specific direction. Let your people know you care about helping them develop their skills. Work with them to diagnose their development level on each of their tasks, and flex your leadership style to match by giving them the amount of direction and support they need to accomplish their goals. Your people, your organization, and your leadership will be all the better for it! “There’s nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals” is Simple Truth #40 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!

5 Tough Challenges for Managers and How to Tackle Them

No matter what industry they are in, every manager experiences key pain points—those perennial challenges that get in the way of accomplishing organizational objectives and achieving productivity goals. When objectives and goals aren’t met, it’s usually the manager who is held responsible.

Let’s take a look at five of the toughest challenges for managers and how to tackle them.

Challenge #1: Conflicting or unclear priorities

Are your people caught in an activity trap, where they are busy doing tasks, but not the right tasks? If your answer was yes, then it’s time to clarify goals with them. Although most managers agree with the importance of setting goals, most do not take the time to clearly develop goals with their team members and write them down.

Solution: Set clear goals. Effective performance management always begins with clear, observable, measurable goals. Meet with each direct report and establish observable and measurable goals around each of their key areas of responsibility. Then you and they will have clear performance indicators to help determine whether they are making progress or need coaching to improve.

Challenge #2: Disengaged employees

Have you noticed declining engagement in any of your people? Often managers avoid dealing with disengaged employees because they don’t know how. Sometimes when they talk to their people, they make matters worse by criticizing what they perceive as a lack of commitment. Unfortunately, this often turns the not engaged into the actively disengaged!

Solution: Provide support.

While it may seem counterintuitive to impatient managers, providing a supportive leadership style is the best way to remotivate someone who is disengaged. Talk to the person and find out what’s getting in the way of their engagement. Ask them how you can help remove any obstacles. Are performance expectations clear? Do they need a different leadership style from you? Do they need more feedback? Finally, remember to catch people doing things right, even if they’re doing things only approximately right. Cheering people on with specific, meaningful praise boosts morale and reinforces behavior that moves them closer to their goals. When you praise progress, you strengthen your relationships and improve results.

Challenge #3: Poor performance

Just as managers often avoid dealing with disengaged employees, they often avoid dealing with poor performance. By not saying anything, managers are essentially rewarding poor performance.

When Spencer Johnson and I published The One Minute Manager in 1982, we recommended that managers give a quick “reprimand” of the unsatisfactory behavior—not the individual—to help them get back on track. Today, side-by-side leadership is proving far more effective. Because technology and other changes are happening so fast, people are almost always in a learning mode. Punishing a learner is never appropriate, so in The New One Minute Manager, Spencer and I changed the Third Secret to “One Minute Re-Directs.” When people are clear on the goal and still learning but their performance isn’t up to standard, redirection is far more effective than a reprimand.

Solution: Redirect mistakes.

To give a One Minute Re-Direct, take the following steps:

  1. Redirect the person as soon as possible.
  2. As the leader, be sure you have made the goal clear. If not, clarify the goal.
  3. Confirm the facts first and review the error together. Be specific about what went wrong.
  4. Let the person know how you feel about the error and its impact on results.
  5. Pause for a moment to allow them time to feel the effect of the error.
  6. Tell them they are better than their mistake and you think well of them.
  7. Remind them that you have trust in them and support their success.

The aim of redirection is to build people up so they will continue to move toward good performance.

Challenge #4: Communication breakdowns

In too many organizations big communication gaps exist between managers and employees. Often, managers are using top-down communication only. They assume that things are working smoothly, when in fact employees feel unheard and dissatisfied. Because of these communication gaps, both relationships and results suffer.

Solution: Have regular one-on-one meetings.

To get information flowing with your people, encourage your direct reports to schedule regular 15- to 30-minute meetings with you at least once every month. During these meetings, people can talk to you about anything on their hearts and minds—it’s their meeting. These meetings have multiple benefits: they inform both the manager and the direct report, foster problem-solving, deepen relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Remember that as a manager, the best moment you spend is the one you invest in your people.

Challenge #5: Too much to do, not enough time

Many if not most managers complain that they have too few hours in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done. In actuality, no one has more time than anyone else; we all have the same 24-hour day. The problem is that many managers take on issues that their people should be solving.

Solution: Help your people become self-reliant achievers.

When you stop doing your people’s work and hand back responsibility to them, you not only free up more time, but you also empower your people. Use SLII® skills to provide your direct reports with the support they need to become self-reliant achievers. This will free them to bring their brains to work and use their innate knowledge, experience, and motivation to accomplish goals.

Put these techniques into practice on an ongoing basis. Remember, good management is a lifestyle, not a fad diet! For more time-tested techniques, pick up a copy of my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview.