Ken Blanchard Interview

Best-selling author Ken Blanchard is recognized as one of the authorities on how to lead people well. He wrote "The One Minute Manager" in the early 1980s and then "Lead Like Jesus" in the early 1990s. Here we ask him how the same principles from his book still apply today and how we can faithfully live our lives like Jesus in the workplace.

Faithful Leadership in the Workplace

Tim Antkowiak: Few people have influenced the day-to-day management of people and companies more than Ken Blanchard. Ken is a prominent speaker, business consultant and author. His most successful book, The One Minute Manager, has sold over 15 million copies. In early 1990s, Ken wrote Lead Like Jesus, where he looked at leadership strategies through the lens of Jesus Christ. When comparing his knowledge of leadership to the gospels, Ken discovered Christ to be the greatest leader who has ever lived. I recently sat down with Ken to talk about leadership, Christ and our responsibility as Christians to impact the world.

First of all, thanks for doing this. When did you first start looking at leadership principles? When did you first start to discover that there were traits and characteristics that helped people lead well?

Ken Blanchard: Well, I think it went all the way back to elementary school. I had a very interesting upbringing. I grew up in Nourish Hill, New York, and I went to a 95% Jewish elementary school. On Jewish holidays they put us all in one room and they laughed and they said I was retired, the go of the month award and I won all the elections as the Compromise candidate, and I remember I won the president of seventh grade and I came home and told my dad, my dad was a naval officer. He had grown up at West Point. And so when I was elected president of seventh grade, I came home and I told my dad and he said, congratulations Ken, but now that you're president, your leadership training begins because just because you're president, don't use your position. Great leaders are great because people respect and trust them, not because they have power. And then when I went to Cornell, it was natural for me to decide to major in government and political science with a minor in philosophy. And so I really pursued leadership all the way from the beginning.

Tim Antkowiak: As you started to explore leadership principles, you wrote a book called One Minute Manager. When did you start to realize the impact, the influence that a book like that would have on leadership styles and helping people lead well?

Ken Blanchard: Well, it was interesting is that when I was in graduate school getting my PhD, my faculty said, if you want to be at a university, you should be an administrator because you can't write. Because if you don't write articles and all this a faculty member, you perish. So I started off as an administrator assistant to the dean of the College of Business at Ohio University.

In 1980, I was invited to a cocktail party for authors in San Diego by Adelaide, Bree. She wrote Visualizations directing the movies of your mind. And I got invited because I had this textbook. And so Spencer Johnson was there and he had written a whole bunch of children's books with his wife called Value Tales, the Value Kers, the story of Jackie Robinson, value of Determination, the story of Helen Keller. So Margie Ann carried him over and said, you guys ought to write a children's book for managers. They won't read anything else.

And Spencer was working on a one minute scolding with a psychiatrist, and I invited him to a seminar I was doing the next week and he sat in the back and laughed and all came running up at the end and said, to hell with parenting, let's do the one minute manager. And so since he was a children's book writer and I have a storyteller, we decided to do a parable and he had the one minute scolding, which became our one minute reprimand, and I always said, all good performance starts with clear goals and one minute goal setting. And then the key to developing people is to wander around and catch 'em doing something right and give him a one minute appraising. So that's how we ended up writing that book. And we ended up on the Today Show on Labor Day 1982, and interviewed on there and the book went on the bestseller list next week and stayed there for two or three years.

Tim Antkowiak: When did you first start to realize that you wanted to look at leadership principles through the lens of Christ? What role did Christ play in your life at that time and how did you want to apply the leadership principles you've been teaching through the lens and the modeling of Jesus Christ?

Ken Blanchard: Well, in the popularity of the One Minute manager, I got invited to be on the hour of Power of Robert Shula in his heyday at the Crystal Cathedral and Shula said, Ken, I love the One Minute Manager, but you know who is the greatest one minute manager of all time? I said, who's that? He said, Jesus. I said, really? He said, yeah, he was really clear on goals. Isn't that your first secret one minute goal set? I said, yeah. He said, you and Tom Peters didn't invent management by wandering around. Jesus did. He wanted one from one little village to another village. If anybody showed interest, he'd praise him, heal him. Isn't that your second secret? One minute praising. Yeah. And if people stepped out of line, he wasn't afraid to give him a one minute reprimand. He threw the money lenders out of the temple. Isn't that your third secret?

He said, so he was the greatest one minute manager of all time, and so I kind of grew up in a Christian family but kind of drifted away and all. But after being on Shula's show, with that, I went and started to read the four gospels and started to laugh because everything I had ever taught about leadership, Jesus did with these 12 incompetent guys he hired. I mean, you wouldn't have hired that lot and take situational leadership. I mean the first commission, he tells 'em where to go, where to stay, what to do if they do this dust off your feet and all, and you see him go from directing to coaching to supporting. In the end of Matthew, he says, go and make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the son of the Holy Spirit, and that's all the direction he gives, pure delegation.

I got fascinated about it and I realized that working with my friend Phil Hodges, who I met as a freshman at Cornell on the bus going to orientation camp, and he had become a big believer and he had came down to see me and he said, Ken, why do you think this book is so successful? And that was when I said, Phil, I don't know God must be involved. And he said, oh, thank God.

Then I met Bob Bufort through the young President's organization and he had talked about moving from success to significance and all that kind of thing. And so it became really clear to me that Jesus practiced and taught all the things that we had been teaching and he was the greatest leader of all time. But it was interesting at that time, nobody was talking much about Jesus as a leader. He was a great preacher and he was the son of God and all those kinds of things. But when you think about it here, he took these 12 incompetent guys. I mean you wouldn't have hired that lot and trained them and then sent 'em off to give their lives off for the ministry and spread the word.

Loving Those Around Us

Tim Antkowiak: What did Jesus have to say about leadership when we talked on the phone, you talked about Jesus didn't come here to start a religion. He came here to establish relationships. In your explanation of this, what did Jesus have to say about relationships?

Ken Blanchard: Well, I think Jesus really, his whole philosophy was based around love. And he said when they said, what are the main commandments, these 10 or too many? And he said, love God with all your heart and all your mind and love thy neighbor as thyself. And I think that's his whole philosophy of leadership. And so I really said that particularly servant leadership, which he was a classic example, is love and action because in the last supper when he got up and said to them, basically, I'm going to be gone and all, but here's what I want you to do. And then he gets down to his knees and washes their feet, that's the ultimate servant leadership. I mean, how many people do that? So he said to them, even I have come to serve not to be served. And so he modeled servant leadership all the way till the end, really.

Tim Antkowiak: And Jesus wasn't Christian. I mean, he wasn't here to start a religion, he was here to love people. Tell me more about that.

Ken Blanchard: I mean, a lot of people don't know that Christianity is never mentioned in the four Gospels and as mentioned a few times in Acts, but it's negative those damn Christians. And Jesus, I don't think came to start a religion. I think he came here to build a relationship and it was man that created this religion around them.

And so I'm really a follower of Jesus, not a Christian. And I think that if we would remember to follow him and his philosophy and the way he treated people and all the world would be a whole different place. But the minute you box 'em into a religion and then they start saying, well, you got this rule and that rule and all of those kinds of things, then you're really in trouble. And Jesus' only rule was to love thy you love God with all your heart and all your mind love thy neighbor as thyself.

Tim Antkowiak: You talk about the disciples, the staff that Jesus had, the disciples worked for free. Many of them died for the mission and vision that Jesus had instilled in them. What role did the disciples play in the mission and the leadership of Jesus?

Ken Blanchard: Well, when he started to gather them up, he said, come and follow me and I'll make you fishers of men, not fishermen, fishers of men. And he trained them to go out and spread the word, of love and compassion and all those things. And if you look at the whole love passage, love is patient, love is kind. I mean that's really the whole philosophy that they taught and they were willing to give their life for the vision. And when people say, you say, really, Jesus is the greatest leadership role model of all time. I say, well, how many of you have people that work for you that are willing to die for your vision? And all is not too many?

Tim Antkowiak: And what's our role as Christians? What's our role today to to drop our nets and follow Jesus like they did 2000 years ago? What's our role as Christians? What's our responsibility? What's our opportunity to impact the world?

Ken Blanchard: Well, my whole philosophy is that the best way to help bring people to Jesus is not proclamation but demonstration. And I think that what we need to do is follow his whole philosophy of dealing with people and then well, people will come to you and say, I've been watching you and all, where does all that come from? I mean, you're so kind. You listen to people and then you can tell 'em where it came from. And so it's demonstration, not proclamation.

Tim Antkowiak: How do you think people want to be led? In one of your books you wrote, people who feel good about themselves produce good results, but then later recently you adjusted it to people who produce good results, feel good about themselves. How do leaders need to lead in order to motivate people? How do they want to be led?

Ken Blanchard: It's interesting. A lot of people look at organizations and they say the reason to be in business is to make profit. No profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people. So they'll take good care of your customers and then they'll become raving fans of your organization. And that takes care of the bottom line and the profit is that the focus is on your people. And that's what leadership is all about. And it's a both/and, both results and people because you want to get things done, but you also want to realize that you get it done through your people.

Helping Our People Win

Tim Antkowiak: What kind of difference can it make when a leader models his leadership style after Christ. Christ talked all about the future? He talked about life, purpose, mission and vision. What kind of difference do you think it makes if a leader chooses to make his leadership style model that of Christ?

Ken Blanchard: Well then what they do is they become servant leaders. And a lot of times when I talk about servant leadership, people think I'm talking about the inmates running the prison or trying to please everybody or some religious movement.

No, there's two parts of servant leadership, this vision, direction, values, and goals. And that's the leadership part of serving leadership. And that comes from the hierarchy. It doesn't mean you don't involve your people, but it's the responsibility of the leader and the hierarchy to make sure people are clear on what they're being asked to do and what good behavior looks like. You don't jam it on it, you do it with them. But once that's clear, then you philosophically turn the pyramid upside down. This is what Jesus did when he washed the feet of the disciples. You turn the pyramid upside down and now you work for them.

Your job is to help them win. And that's where the real action is. And when people realize that you got their back, that you're in their corner and all, then they'll do anything to help and all because they realize that they're about a team.

Leadership is about we, not me. And I think a lot of times that people really felt, and I think that's what Jesus was saying to his disciples, I really need you. It's about we not me, because I'm not going to be here forever. And you need to pass the word around and create disciples and spread the word.

Tim Antkowiak: Let's talk about servant leadership. We live in a world where it just seems like everybody's in it for themselves. Where does servant leadership fit into the world today?

Ken Blanchard: Well, it's really interesting. People ask me, well, who really practices servant leadership? And I say, well, the best organizations. I wrote a book with Colline Barrett to go to presidency of Southwest. Now, they had this problem with the technology recently, but they're an incredible human organization. Nordstrom's in retail, Wegmans in the grocery business, Sunova and financial services, Chick-fil-A in the fast food area. They're all companies that basically lead with a servant leadership philosophy. They really believe that you need to first make sure that everybody knows what business they're in, what the picture of the future is, what are we trying to accomplish, what are the values that should drive our journey? And now we can set some goals. And once those clear, now we turn the pyramid upside down and we basically work for them.

Tim Antkowiak: I read that during a time in your life you were an instructor at university or a professor, and you said that you gave the final exam on day one and then spent the rest of the semester teaching people to succeed. Tell me a little bit about that. What was your motive in giving people the final exam on day one?

Ken Blanchard: Well, what really drove me crazy when I got working in my doctorate and all is to see how classes and all were set up with a normal distribution curve where a few people win, a few people lose and the rest are in the middle. And I started going around and saying to people, how many of you go out and hire losers? We lost some of our best people from last, the worst people from last year. We need to hire some new leaders, losers to fill the low slots. And the reality is that you hire winners and why don't you want to keep 'em winners? And so rather than trying to have a normal distribution curve, how do you help everybody win? And so I started to, in the beginning of class, give out the final examination and the faculty would say, what are you doing?

And I'd say, I'm confused. They'd say, you acted. I said, I thought we're supposed to teach these kids you are, but don't give 'em the questions in the final. And I'd say, not only am I going to give 'em the final, what do you think I'm going to do all semester? I'm going to teach 'em the answers. So they get an A. Life's all about getting A's not some stupid normal distribution curve. And so they didn't really kind of get too excited about that and all.

We started a master's degree program at the University of San Diego in leadership because I looked at all the MBA programs and they maybe have put leadership studies in a course in organizational behavior, but it's mainly around finance and accounting and marketing and all. And so we started one where I believe that effective leadership is a transformational journey, starting from self-leadership.

You've got to find out who you are while you're here to serve or be served. And then once that's really clear, then you take a look at the head, which is what are your beliefs about leadership? And we feel it's about servant leadership, the two aspects and then the hands is how do you make it happen?

And it's interesting, in our first class that we had at the University of San Diego, Gary Ridge was in it and he had just come from Australia and took over the president of WD40, and he got excited about giving people the final examination and he said, why don't we do that in organizations? And so he created a whole thing at WD40. In fact, we wrote a book together about it called Help People Win at Work. And the subtitle was a business philosophy called "don't mark my paper helped me get an A."

And at WD 40, they would sit with each of their people at the beginning and they would set goals and objectives and all. And then there was the job of the manager because three parts of managing performance, performance planning day-to-day coaching and performance evaluation. And when you talk to most people and say of those three things, where do you spend the most time? And they'll usually say evaluation because they're filling out all these forms and all that kind of thing. And where the real action ought to be on the day-to-day coaching, which is once you agree on goals and objectives, how do you help people help them accomplish their goals? And that really became the whole philosophy of leadership. And Jesus didn't want people to lose. He wanted everybody to win.

Tim Antkowiak: Do you have to be a leader to make a difference or does everybody have an opportunity and really a responsibility to make a difference?

Ken Blanchard: Well, my philosophy is everybody's a leader because leadership is an influence process. Anytime you attempt to influence a behavior of somebody else, you're engaging in leadership, whether you're as a parent with your kids, as a spouse, in your marriage, as a friend, as a colleague at work. So we're all leaders. And the question is, as leaders, how do we help people win?

The power of the one minute manager is once goals are clear, then what you do is you wander around and you see if you can catch people doing something right and give 'em a praising. And if they're not doing right. We wrote the New One Minute Manager recently, we changed one minute reprimand to one minute redirection because it's much more participative than a reprimand. Sounds like I'm coming down on you, but if you come to somebody and you say, gee, I noticed your performance in this area isn't as good as we had hoped. Do you agree? And they'll always agree, well, what can I do to help you get back on course? I'm here For you,

Tim Antkowiak: How has the world changed since you first wrote lead like Jesus? Is it still relevant today or is it maybe even more relevant today with everything that's going on in the world?

Ken Blanchard: I think it's even more important today. I think we've gotten into much more of a win-lose philosophy about things. I mean, look at Washington. They're not in there to solve problems. They're to put their opposing party down.

I got to speak one time a few years ago to Republicans. My first thing was, where's Jesus in this whole thing? Here you are in a pissing contest with your opponents. Why don't you look at the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and come up with a new vision for our country, and then go to the Democrats and say, here's our best shot of what we need to be accomplishing and see what they can come up with. And then once you agree on that, then how do you help each other win?

Tim Antkowiak: What do you think the greatest challenge is today? What's the greatest challenge facing Christian leadership?

Ken Blanchard: I think the greatest challenge is to be consistent with your beliefs and not to fold under pressure and get into believing that it's the bottom line. That's only thing that's important. You got to realize that if we lead like Jesus, we can get both great results and great relationships because it's not just about relationships. You want to accomplish things. That's why the leadership part of serving leadership is really important.

Bringing Our Faith into Every Part of Life

Tim Antkowiak: I mean, there are a lot of people of influence who honor God on Sunday. They lead their families well. They're elders of some of the largest churches in North America. But at eight o'clock Monday morning, their business is still their business. What would you say to encourage them to start weaving some of their faith into their Monday through Friday?

Ken Blanchard: Well, I think we need to encourage them to take Jesus out of the church and into their lives. It's been exciting. When we started the Lead Like Jesus ministry, people went, whoa, that's really interesting. They hadn't thought about Jesus as a leader. We're with our ministry. We're not trying to convert people to the faith. What we're trying to do is get them to have a different model of leadership. And when they start to behave like Jesus, that's when you get people to actually go to change their faith too. But it starts with following his example of leadership and how he treated people.

Tim Antkowiak: If you were to write one more chapter to Lead Like Jesus, what would it be?

Ken Blanchard: I would probably call it do it now. Do It Now. Because I think it's an opportunity to really make a difference. People need this in the world.

Tim Antkowiak: What's your hope? What's your hope for Christian leaders? What's your hope for Christian leaders who are learning to lead differently? What's the possibility? Where could this go? What's your hope for these kinds of initiatives?

Ken Blanchard: Well, my hope is that we could spread the word all around the world if we would realize that we have the greatest leadership role model in our realm, and how can we spread that? And it's not to put other people down, but it's to say, here's the way to lead, here's the way to love. Here's the way to be.

Tim Antkowiak: Thanks for doing this, Ken. We appreciate you sharing like this with our audience. Thank you.

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