5 Simple Leadership Lessons I Learned from Ken Blanchard

When I first entered the workforce 15 years ago, I had the great honor of working directly with best-selling business book author Ken Blanchard. At the time, I had little knowledge of his work or his reputation as one of the most influential thought leaders in the business world. I knew even less about his numerous best-selling business books, including one of the most successful business books of all time, The One Minute Manager.

Don Shula, Jason Diamond Arnold, Ken Blanchard

Don Shula, Jason Diamond Arnold, Ken Blanchard

Shortly after working with Ken on book endorsements, and helping him organize and publish The Little Book of Coaching with Don Shula, I quickly came to realize how worthy Dr. Blanchard was of his celebrity status. Ken Blanchard has a way of making you feel like you’re the most important person in the room, whether you are one-on-one with him in his office or a captivated member of a 5000-person audience. Ken is one of the most down-to-earth and compassionate people I have ever met.

This January, I graduated from the Ken Blanchard Companies, taking with me a wealth of knowledge and experience applicable to my own leadership development and media firm. There are five key leadership and career principals I learned from working with Ken Blanchard during my 15-year apprenticeship with the company that bears his name and helped start a leadership revolution.

“Take a minute to set goals.” 

Not only is goal setting the first secret in The One Minute Manager, it is also the first skill of one the world’s most influential leadership models, Situational Leadership II. Most leaders and individuals have goals set in their minds, but few leaders and individual contributors actually write those goals down and actively use them to manage performance. Ken often quotes fondly the enigmatic Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Goal Setting is a foundational business skill, whether you are a leader of others or a self-led leader. Setting clear outcomes makes your path more certain and productive.

“Catch people doing things right.”

If one lasting legacy of Ken Blanchard will be passed on for generations, it will be the practice of catching people doing things right. We all have a tendency to focus on the negative—to point out what’s going wrong rather than what’s working well and thus making the adjustments to improve. Great leaders build upon others’ strengths. They lift up and encourage the people they’re trying to influence toward peak performance. Once people have goals set and desired outcomes determined, the leader’s role is to encourage them to achieve those goals—not micromanage them by emphasizing the details of their shortcomings and failures on the path to achieving those goals.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

The best way to encourage others is by praising or redirecting toward the desired outcomes. Feedback is the conduit through which we provide the praise or redirection necessary on the path to excellence. Most leaders don’t think of feedback as a skill, but studies highlight the importance of effective feedback in motivating and building trust in the people you’re trying to influence. Great leaders understand how to give effective feedback. Excellent individuals learn how to seek feedback from leaders and anyone that can help them advances their goals.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

There is perhaps no greater truth in today’s knowledge-based workforce than the wisdom of the crowd. When people try to solve problems on their own, go Lone Wolf on tasks and goals, or keep acting as the gatekeepers of knowledge, they not only disrupt the outcomes of projects critical to organizational success, they isolate themselves from real solutions and the support of others. Great leaders seek wise counsel and seek input by empowering people to create solutions to everyday business challenges and employ strategic initiatives. Today’s most influential leaders and successful individual contributors understand the importance of collaborating with others for organizational and personal excellence.

“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

This is one of the most influential concepts I learned from Ken Blanchard. People often think of themselves too highly or, conversely, suffer from low self-esteem. Being humble may be more about a person’s attitude than an actual skill, but people who think about themselves less and focus on the needs of others often build trust and have a greater influence on the people they lead. Humility is not as difficult as it seems when you have a healthy self-awareness of your place in the world at large. Not only is humility a great character attribute, it’s a powerful leadership concept that will elevate the success of your team and your career.

Thank You, Ken Blanchard

The lessons I learned from Ken Blanchard are worth more than a Ph.D. in leadership. These five Key Leadership Lessons are valuable life skills that, if embraced, will guide you on your own journey toward professional and personal excellence. Whether you are serving clients through your own company or within the organization that employees you, clear direction, positive praise, consistent feedback, collaboration with others, and humility will all go a long way to ensure lasting success in all your endeavors. Ken Blanchard is a thought leader in the business world because he has learned to tap into the timeless truths that have inspired people to flourish throughout human history. I hope you will consider these five simple truths this day as you engage in your daily tasks and interactions with others.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant for The Ken Blanchard Companies and Cofounder of DiamondHawk Leadership & Media. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a powerful learning experience designed to help individual contributors to excel at work and in their career through critical leadership and business skills.

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