043: Ken Blanchard, Conversation 1: We’re here to help each other, full transcript

May 8, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard has written over 60 books. The big one is The One Minute Manager and I will tell you my One Minute Manager story because it made a big impression on me but I tell that to him at the beginning so you get to hear it in a couple of seconds. Ken does not need to be humble. He does not need to put others first but he does. What I love about speaking to people with experience is that they can say in a few words [intelligible] behavior what takes me a paragraph to get across. He’s just come out with a book Servant Leadership in Action and that’s one of the main things we talk about. You’ll also get to hear his talking about the environment and he’s a different take than a lot of people. He connects leadership and environment in a very close way and I think you’ll enjoy what you hear. So, here’s Ken.


Joshua: Hello and welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m here with Ken Blanchard. Ken, how are you doing?

Ken: I’m doing just great. Life is a very special occasion that I try not to miss too much of it.

Joshua: Me too. I’ve slept through about a third of it though. Actually, I enjoy the sleep.

Ken: Yeah. It’s kind of a waste of time but I think we need it.

Joshua: Yeah. So just before we hit record I was telling you that I wanted to start with my One Minute Manager story and you know part of me doesn’t want to tell it because I feel like I don’t want to be like everybody else and say like, “Oh, it was such a formative thing, it was such an important thing experience for me” because you probably get that a lot but I’m going to indulge myself and tell you anyway. And it was after I started my first company and I lost control of it and I got squeezed out by the investors and only later did I look back and realize that I didn’t really have great leadership skills. And I started to work at a friend’s startup and I got hired into this position and after I got hired another person got hired after me and not long after that my manager got promoted and the woman who was hired after me got promoted to the position and I didn’t. And I was really angry. I was really frustrated and I was angry at her for getting the position that I thought was mine, I was angry at the company but I wasn’t angry at myself because I didn’t yet know what was going on. And the first thing that she did was she gave everyone in the team a copy of The One Minute Manager which I had never read before but had actually seen because it was on my mom’s bookshelf from like the early 80s when she was just starting becoming entrepreneurial.

And I got the book. And I was really angry. And I read it like it didn’t take long to read it. I thought I wanted to be angry at her. I wanted the book to be stupid. And I read it and I was like, “Oh, this isn’t stupid.” And I thought, “Oh, this is really useful.” And then years later I went to business school and in business school I started learning how to lead, how to manage. And this woman that I was angry at for getting my job ahead of me, that’s what I felt, over and over again I kept learning what she did was really effective. She was a very effective leader and she deserved the job ahead of me. And that book exemplified it. And so, it was all back when I was really angry and only when I understood more of how to listen to people, you know it was all about me at the time how great I was and they should have recognized how great I was and only later did I realize she gave that book out not for her, she gave it for me. She was doing all these things to lead us. And so that book really, it was this thing that I wanted to dislike instead I liked it. And then it was this illustration of a very effective leadership my first experience of it. So sorry if that’s too long of a story.

Ken: No, I think that’s a powerful story you know because it’s really interesting when you look at leadership because you know I looked at all the MBA programs you know as an example and they don’t teach anything about leadership. They kind of tug at an organizational behavior class and we ended up starting a master’s degree program and executive leadership at the University of San Diego just because I want to do that because I think that leadership is you know some people are born leaders you know some people say and some people you know can learn it. But I think everybody can learn some stuff and we think that effective leadership is a transformational journey beginning with first understanding yourself you know like in your example you took a while before you took a look inside and who you were and what you were up to.

And all the leaders I’ve seen who have problems in organizations are scared little kids inside. And it’s interesting, Josh, I look back to Thomas Harris who wrote a book years ago called I’m OK, You’re OK and he said that the worst life position was “I’m OK, you’re not” you know. And what he said is all the research shows that people with that life position are really covering up not OK feelings about themselves you know. And so, we always start with self-leadership with how people look at themselves and take some personality tests and then you know take a look at what’s their leadership point of view. I mean who impacted their lives events and people, what were the values they learned from them and what does this mean in terms what people can expect of them and all that, who really does that. Then we move to one-on-one leadership which is how do you build a trusting relationship between you and somebody else. Then we move to team leadership which is different than one-on-one because it’s more complicated. Now you are talking about how do you build a sense of community. And then finally the last stop is organizational leadership where now you’re trying to build a culture you know cause it’s more complicated teams and people ought to be taught all of those kinds of things. And so, I really got interested in those. And the key to run all of them is the mindset. It’s got to be one of a servant rather than a self-serving person you know and that’s when I really got interested.

Joshua: I am going to go and listen to what you just said several times. I hope other people do. There’s so much of what you just said. Do you mind if I pick on a couple areas that to me I found really intriguing?

Ken: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

Joshua: One was that you talked about the reason people, the ineffective leaders are ineffective, they’re covering something inside there. I read insecurity and…

Ken: Yeah, they’re scared little kids inside.

Joshua: Because it’s long been a question for me as a leadership professor what leads people to be ineffective leaders. Because it’s not that… I mean there’s a few trends of ineffective leadership and I often ascribe it to media that when you watch movies, TV, the leader is always telling people what to do and it tends to be more authoritative and not very much listening, not very much paying attention.

Ken: Kind of my way or the highway.

Joshua: Yeah. And it always looks great because it’s really exciting and dramatic. And until I saw that failing in my life I thought, “Oh, that’s really cool. That’s how it is.” But I didn’t really think about the insecurity. I mean I could see the insecurity now that you say I’m like [unintelligible]

Ken: Well, it’s interesting, Josh, you know Jim Collins wrote Good to Great which was considered one of the great books in our area. And he said the great leaders, level 4 as he called them, had two characteristics. One is resolve which is determination to accomplish a goal or live according to a vision. The second was humility. When I first heard Jim talk about that he said when the data first came out I said the researchers, “How can humility be the number two characteristic? Go look at the data again.” And they kept going back. And they said, “No, Jim. That’s what comes out because people think that people with humility that that’s a weakness.” Listen to this definition of humility that I came up with when I was working with Norman Vincent Peale on a book on ethics: people with humility don’t think less of themselves. They just think about themselves less. And that gets into my thing about you got to first feel good about yourself you know because then if you feel OK about yourself, then you can focus on other people. But if you’re a scared little kid and you’re not quite sure about yourself, you want to make sure you cover up that weakness by controlling everything and you know keeping it all in your office and all those kinds of things. So, people who are great servant leaders or are very humbled because they feel comfortable about themselves as a result. You know as Greenleaf’s said, “You got to serve first and lead second.” So that’s why I really wrote this book Servant Leadership in Action just as I wanted people to realize that this isn’t just hairy fairy fun kind of thing but it’s a very powerful thing that to me you know and John Maxwell wrote the forward says the only way he knows to get great results and great human satisfaction is through servant leadership. And I agree.

Joshua: Yeah. The rewards of being with your people and having them… You didn’t say these words but I’m hearing loyalty, dedication, teamwork, getting each other’s back. And then I think of…. You mentioned your book. Your book I think it came out a month ago. I’m sorry it took me a little while to schedule, and the people that you have in this book are the top leaders. You have around you your people… Well, I’m sure you have other people. But it’s like everyone’s a number bestseller. Everyone’s a guru. You’ve really collected quite a group of people together to get… I think the reason is that you wanted to get lots of different perspectives from lots of different people.

Ken: Well, what I really want to do is to make sure we really ignite a movement around the world that was desperate need of a different leadership role model. We’ve seen what self-serving leadership has done in every sector of society around the world. Why is Washington so dysfunctional? Well, it’s a self-serving system. You know it is not one party’s fault, it’s the whole system is self-serving. And so, I asked John Maxwell, I said, “Who should we get to endorse the book?” He said, “Are they all in the book?

So when you open the book the first three and a half pages list of the contributors and what they’re known for so that people can see who we got and I wanted to get not only the practitioner, I mean theorists and writers in the field but these really presidents you know you know the [unintelligible] from Southwestern, Sheryl Batchelder turned around Popeyes and you know Gary Ridge from WD-40 and Jimmy Blanchard that led Cenovus, they won the best company to work for so often from Fortune magazine they estimate or stop applying and set up an all-star list you know and that kind of stuff and, Waste Connections. I have a wonderful story about them and so I really wanted to get all those in. Simon Sinek you know and to start with why and you know Leaders Eat Last, Brene Brown with all of her fabulous work on vulnerability and courage that comes up with that, and Marshall Goldsmith and [unintelligible] and Frances Hesselbein.

So I just thrilled that all these people care enough about this subject that they want to get involved and help me started. And all the royalties for this book don’t go to anybody including me. They go to… We created a foundation for servant leadership so that we get some funds together to support projects and people that are doing good things in the area. So that’s a powerful thing.

Joshua: I did notice that it’s a B Corp and that’s not a trivial thing to do so I thought someone put attention and… You know the level of details is very high. I mean each chapter begins with you describing your connection with these people so it’s not just some cold someone coming in out of the blue but it’s a community effort. Your wife, she’s got a chapter.

Ken: Yes, I think Brene Brown’s onto something when she said that you know to be vulnerable have to be courageous. And Colin Barrett who took over presidency in Southwest after Herbs stepped down, amazing person. She her highest position before, she was kind of Herbs’ executive secretary you know and that he didn’t what when he stepped down so you know Jack Welsh look alike coming in and because they had their vision and their values and all that really clear so he didn’t want somebody to come in and change that. He wanted a person who had servant in their heart that could really use that second part to model the implementation and Nikole was perfect about that. But she has a great saying. She said, “People admire your skills but they love your vulnerability.” And a lot of people think if you say to your people, “God, I got a problem. I wish I had an answer. And I really could use your help” people don’t say, “What’s wrong? He’s a damn leader. He ought to know where all they go. Whoa, this is going to be a fun group to work with. I could even bring my brains to work.”

Joshua: Man, I’m listening to this… Yeah, sorry, I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing or something like that but I’m going to listen to this. I mean one of the things I like about talking to authors who have written you know big box that like have you know topped the charts for a long time is that they say in a few words what takes me a paragraph to say and you’ve done that several times. You might not know it but you’ve said a couple things that I’m like, “That took me years to learn.” I’m sure it took you a few years to learn too but I would guess it over years you figure out also how to communicate it effectively.

Ken: You know my mission statement is to be a loving teacher, an example of simple truths. My goal is to get the BS out of the behavioral sciences so that’s what I’m always looking for ways and people and things that kind of simplify things and to make it easily understandable. When I met Spencer Johnson, you know at a cocktail party in 1980 in San Diego he wrote children’s books, I don’t know you knew that he wrote this whole series with his wife called Value Tales. You know the value of determination, the story of Helen Keller, the story of value of courage, the story of Jackie Robinson, the value of honesty, the story of Abe Lincoln.

My wife Margie met him first and hand carried him over to me and she said, “You guys ought to write a children’s book for managers because they won’t read anything else.” So, all I had written up before that was a textbook basically and another book which was you know somewhat of a text on organizational change that I coauthored. So, we started talking and he was working on a book called The One Minute Scolding with a psychiatrist on disciplining kids and I invited him to a seminar I was doing the next week and he sat in the back and he laughed and came running up at the end and said, “Forget [unintelligible]. Let’s do The One Minute Manager.”

And so, since he was a children’s book writer and I’m a storyteller we decided to write a parable because when we asked each other what our favorite books were, it was amazing, we both loved [unintelligible], the greatest salesman, you know The [unintelligible] Prince, you know books like that and there were all kind of parables stories.

Joshua: And timeless.

Ken: So yeah, because I think people like to read. I mean how did Jesus teach in the Bible? He answers to a question, he tells a parable, he tells a story. So, I think storytelling is really… And so, we decided to do that. And at that time there was no business parable book you know. We were the first to do that kind of thing but it was one of those fun things you know that you don’t plan on.

Joshua: I’m glad you did it. Actually, you can’t… On my blackboard behind me you can’t see it but it says, “More stories, fewer words” as a reminder for me when I do interviews and all these other things like I’m prone to talk a lot and stories are so effective.


Joshua: Alright. I’m going to segue away into… We’ve been talking about leadership for a while and the podcast is Leadership and the Environment and you know the environment is an area where authoritarian leadership, self-serving leadership is supremely counterproductive. In many places it is but in this place in particular telling people what to do like turning your light off when you’re not in the room, people push back on that. And we have not talked about it. Is the environment something that is important to you? Is it something you care about? How do you define…

Ken: Well, the environment to me means all the people and the environment where they live and all that you know and I’m concerned about our environment. But I’m concerned about it, Joshua, leadership standpoint you know because you know now the people we’re talking about is that we’re getting close to having too many people on the planet for the resources that we have. But for a long time, we have had enough resources that everybody could be living you know a halfway decent life in terms of food and shelter and all that kind of thing you know. And then you wonder why and the reason why is this leadership. It’s all leadership and wherever we see problems you see self-serving leaders who take care of themselves but they don’t you know take care of the people that they’re serving you know. And I worry about that starting to be a movement in our country you know with leadership at the national level. What can we do?

And so, see for example take Rwanda where they were killing each other. You know 20 years ago and they got this new leader in there, then what a difference has it been there. Now they want to be you know the new Singapore for Africa. It’s a leadership issue.

Joshua: I’m really glad that that was the first thing you said when you came back to [unintelligible] to that too. Yes, I completely agree it’s a leadership thing. I think there’s no technological issue that’s here right now that we can address if we choose to. There’s no distribution issue that we can’t handle if we choose to. You know these systems issues make things more complicated than if it was just a linear problem. But again, leadership is the issue. And most people look at technology or they look at the markets and these things are important. But I think it’s people and their behavior that’s the things and that’s the domain of leadership if we want to change those things. And I feel like most people are missing that. You went right to it.

Ken: Yes, it seems to me to be obvious you know that that is an issue and how can we do that because you know if we’re going to be self-serving and just think about ourselves you know that’s not going to be a good way. I mean one of the great things about our country in the past is that we have reached out to help people around the world. Now we need to continue to do that. But how do we get other people? I think it’s the modeling of leadership.

Joshua: I hope to amplify your voice on that and what I want to do is invite you, if you’re up for it, to act by your values in a way that you maybe haven’t so people can see leaders acting by their environmental values. I invite you at your option to act on a value of yours, and I have to put in a couple of things.

One is that you don’t have to solve all the world’s problems all by yourself overnight. So, some people think, “If I don’t do everything I might as well not do anything.” But it can’t be something you’re already doing and it can’t be telling someone else what to do. It has to be a behavior of yours and not just awareness or learning something but it has to be something behavior related. And a lot of people think, “Well, what I do isn’t that big of a deal.” But that’s the point of this podcast is to create community and for people to see, “I’m not the only one changing something.” So, if you did something, like I don’t know, lower the thermostat or drove a little bit less or carpooled or something like that, then other people say, “[unintelligible] is doing it. I’m not the only one doing this.” If this was an excuse for you to act on something you’ve kind of had on the back burner for a while, I would love to be part of that.

Ken: Well, you know we formed a foundation with our family. Our kids both are running our company and Margie’s brother and we have a family council. So, we’ve created a foundation. And we met, we know we have an outside consultant who works for that reason or meet with our family, we call the family council for a whole day once a quarter and we’ve said, “OK, now what do we want to do with the foundation? Where can we make a difference?” And we’re so excited to put our efforts on working with the young people in schools. How can we… If we are talking about leadership and people helping them all we got to help people who are in a situation where maybe they don’t have parental guidance, maybe they don’t have the kinds of things and where we want to teach everybody that none of us is as smart as all of us and that we need each other. And you know as a philosophy of servant leadership I think that we’re what we need to do is create environments in schools and environments and communities and all, that we’re in this together. How do we help each other? It’s not about you know that, “I got my deal taken care of and I’ll drive into my garage” but how can I help people who maybe don’t have as many privileges as I have. And what can we do to do that? You know so that’s kind of what I think about

Joshua: OK. So, I’m trying to think if there’s something specific that we could come back to and talk about afterward. If not, then maybe not. But if so, that’s what I’m kind of looking for. But maybe I should just leave it open-ended that if there’s something that you after me after you finish this conversation that you say, “You know what? This is something that makes a difference and I bet Josh’s listeners would like to listen to that, would like to hear it.”

Ken: Well, you know one of the things your folks may want to listen to you know is if somebody said to me, Josh, “Blanchard, I’m going to take everything away you’ve ever taught for 50 years except one thing. What would you hold on to?” I would hold on to the second secret of The One Minute Manager which is the key to developing people and creating organizations is to catch people doing something right and accept the positive. And I think one of the biggest problems in our country now is the press because all they do is share bad news stories you know. I mean if you listen… I don’t even listen to news anymore you know because it’s depressing and yet I know for example I was down and was asked to do a keynote on a group called First Tee and they’re teaching urban kids character and values through golf you know. And they’ve impacted 10 million kids since they’ve started. And I said, “How come I never heard about you all?” You know I think it’s a pretty good news story. And how come we don’t hear about good news stories? People that are reaching out to help people you know are sort of like my wife who is working with a group of people who are you know law firms that are training young people about the legal system so that they can help people that are here that would love to get you know become citizens and all those kinds of things that you know some of their legal rights and all those kinds of things and all. I don’t know it’s just… But you know you never hear about any of them you know. So, it’s just a bad news things.

I was at a program years ago with Walter Cronkite but that was when we only had news it’s 7:00 in the morning and at 6:00 at night. And he’s he said he thought his job was to report the news, not to make it. And now since news is a 24-hour thing they’re running around digging up stories you know and it’s choosey bad news stuff. So, I don’t know. I mean I just think that we need to catch ourselves doing some things right once in a while and not just beat ourselves up you know because I think we’ve made a lot of progress and a lot of things. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to keep our movie but should think like we haven’t made any gains at all.

Joshua: Yes, well I think what you just shared is I mean you came right off the bat and talked about successful programs and successful things that you’ve seen. You’re sharing these things if not the major media. So, it came natural to you.

Ken: Yeah. No, I like to report good news stories. You know some of the books I’ve written you know with Colin with Southwest as a good news story you know and I think what you’re doing is important and you’ve kind of motivated me to think and talk with Margie tonight what can we do individually that we’ve thought about you know.

You know like this weekend we got our young grandkids coming. We’re filling these bags and other things for homeless people you know because we think that rather than you know just throwing money at them we ought to give them something you know that they can use you know and there’s a lot of opportunities to do things and as a group here that goes down every Saturday you know down into the homeless area and gives people supplies for the week and all that you know kind of thing. And so that’s a whole concern of ours, I mean it’s crazy for us to have homeless people, I mean we got to find some ways to solve that problem. And you know I understand from some of the people you know there’s a lot of out there that don’t want to be in shelters because they have rules and regulations you know and they don’t want to be under that. But there’s a lot of people who are out there that [unintelligible] tough breaks.

Joshua: I feel like you understand and that the potential there… What I want to be able to do, what I want to do is to give you a chance to have your voice, your actions heard. Obviously, you have an audience already. But to combine your actions with those of other leaders in a lot of different fields so that listeners can get a feel for that. Give a legacy to you, to expand your legacy so that others can hear and say, “I’m not the only one. I’m part of a community. And you know if I do it, it’s not just spitting into the wind.” And so, I want to amplify that in in a different way. And so that’s why I’m leaving the open invitation for you that if you talk to your wife and you say, “Here’s something, let’s come back to Josh.”

Ken: Sure, I’ll be happy to. That’ll be great.

Joshua: And then let me close with one question. Is there anything that you’d want to say directly to the listeners about anything we’ve spoken to? I mean so far it must have been talking me but anything directly to them.

Ken: Well, I think the biggest thing I would want to say to people is that I think they were put on this earth to help others not just for ourselves. I think that if we could only learn to get out of our own way, it would really be helpful. I often tell a story. We lost our house in the 2007 fire. Margie and I were out of town and I leave a morning message for everybody in our company. My title is I’m the Chief Spiritual Officer you know that’s not religious at all, I just didn’t like being called Chairman you know and I’m going to leave some things for people, I’d like to leave them remembering the power of love rather the love of power.

But my morning message before the fire was I just finished reading a really wonderful book by a friend of mine John Ortberg called When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box and it is a story about his grandmother and she was an incredible monopoly player when he was young and he said she played happily she was vicious you know. He kidded and said, she acted like the illegitimate child of an affair between Donald Trump and Martha Stewart.

But at the end she had everything. She had percolation [unintelligible]. She said, “John, someday you’re going to learn how to play the game.” So one summer when he was about 12 or 13, kid moved next door who was an incredible monopoly player and he practiced with her every day all summer because he knew his grandmother was coming in September. When she came, he ran into the house and give her a hug and a kiss, and he said, “Grandma, how about a monopoly game?” And her eyes lit up and [unintelligible] and he was ready for this time and he wiped his grandmother out. She had nothing. So that was the greatest day of his life and his grandmother said to him, “John, now you know how to play the game. Let me teach you a lesson about life.” He said, “What’s that?” She says, “It all goes back in a box.” Everything you bought, everything you accumulated.

I think a lot of people think success has to do with how much money they make, their recognition for their efforts and their power and status. And there’s nothing wrong with making good money or getting recognized. But when that’s who you think you are the only way you keep your self-worth up is get more of those. And that’s where self-serving leaders get in trouble. They want more, money more power, all of this kind of stuff. And they missed significance because the opposite of power and status, I mean the opposite of making money is generosity of your time, your talent, your treasure. In the book I wrote with Troy Kaththi from Chick-fil-A we talked about touch as a fourth one and the opposite of recognition is service and the opposite of power and status is loving relationships.

You know this idea that at the end of the day, when you die the only thing you are going to have left is your soul and that’s where you store who you love and who loved you and did you make a difference in the world. And so that’s all big long-winded thing to tell your people but…

Joshua: Well, big and long-winded but for me I just had this big event and I have a small but growing team of volunteers helping to turn this podcast into a movement and we’re meeting at this big event. And you just gave me the agenda for stuff, for what to cover because they did a great job and it was all about people. And I mean for me it was exactly what I needed to hear for the next stage that we’re about to start.

Ken: Well, that’s great. It’s super you know it’s such fun. But you know I’m already learning some stuff from you. You know I wrote a book on mentoring you know and a lot of times I think that mentors are always just older you know and you could gain something from the fact that I’ve lived 79 years. But I can learn a lot from people like you know about technology and about the environment and about other things I would be thinking about. So that’s why I love these opportunities because it’s a learning experience for me too.

Joshua: Well, I’m honored and flattered to hear that and I think I’m going to I’m going to close right there if that’s OK with you.

Ken: Yeah, that’s fine.

Joshua: So, thank you very much. And I look forward to following up. As I said open invitation to contact me and I’ll probably check in again at some point. But thank you for the book. Thank you for the conversation. Thank you for the insight and I look forward to next time.


I hope to talk to Ken again. As you heard there was no commitment to come on again for a second conversation. But we also heard that he’s been doing things to live by his environmental values already as well as instilling them in his community. As you know from listening to other episodes, my goal is to share what happens in these conversations. Not a greenwashed or whitewashed this-is-what-I-hope-would-happen but this is how it happens. And so sometimes it doesn’t happen that there’s a commitment to the second conversation. I have a feeling he’ll be on again and I hope people listening, if you are not living by some environmental value, I hope that doesn’t stop you from choosing to pick it up. I think you’ll like it if you do. Also, when he spoke off mic to people that were nearby him when this recording was happening he said some things that showed that he had listened and processed some things that I had said and I had some big authors on my show before that they didn’t pick up on some of these things. So I’m not going to go to the details but I’m really impressed. I was really gratified with the level of detail in the listening that Ken showed me. I think’s that servant leadership in action. It makes me really like talking to him.

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