Ken Blanchard and Chick-fil-A’s Mark Miller, on What It Takes to Grow as a Leader

Posted 03.08.2012

Mark MillerKen BlanchardKen Blanchard is the co-founder and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies, an international management training and consulting firm. One of the most influential leadership gurus in the world, he is the author or co-author of dozens of books, including the international bestseller “The One Minute Manager.” Mark Miller is vice president of training and development for Chick-fil-A.  I recently interviewed them about their new book, “Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life.”

In your book, you state that great leaders grow by Gaining Knowledge, Reaching Out to Others, Opening their World and Walking toward Wisdom. In your experience, which of these steps comes naturally for most leaders and which are typically more challenging?

It all depends on the leader. For some leaders, it’s natural to Gain Knowledge, because they love to read and study. Extroverted leaders find that Reaching Out to Others is an easy thing to do. For adventuresome leaders, Opening their World is built into their DNA. Those with a reflective bent find that Walking toward Wisdom comes easily. The point is that all of these practices are vital — not just one or two of them. A great leader stretches outside his or her comfort zone to develop in areas that don’t come naturally.

What’s your best advice for a leader who’s having a hard time getting started with one of the more challenging aspects of the GROW model?

We all have a tendency to limit ourselves by our own assumed constraints. To break through these self-limiting beliefs, try a few of the suggestions in the book that you find challenging. For example, if you believe that you’re a lousy teacher, find an opportunity to give some instruction, either formally in a class or by informally sharing your knowledge with others. This is part of Reaching Out to Others. Perhaps you recognize that you’re strong on giving advice but not so great at taking it. If that’s the case, find someone you admire and respect and ask that person to give you feedback about your leadership. This is part of Walking toward Wisdom. The important thing is to take action — not just to think about it.

Who are some public leaders that you admire who you think demonstrate the GROW approach in action? What do you think the rest of us can learn from them?

When it comes to demonstrating the GROW approach, two people come to mind: Garry Ridge, President/CEO of WD-40 Company, and Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to write books with both of them.

I got to know Garry after he enrolled in our Master of Science in Executive Leadership program at University of San Diego. I shared with Garry that back when I was a college professor, I was always in trouble because I gave the final exam out the first day of class. When the faculty questioned me about that, I told them that not only would I share the final exam at the beginning of the semester, but I would also teach them the answers, so that when my students got to the final exam, they’d get As. Life is all about getting As, not some normal distribution curve! Garry was fascinated by my story and said, “Why don’t we do that in industry?” He took off on a journey to change the culture at WD-40 Company and to implement a business philosophy called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.” In 2010 WD-40 Company had the greatest financial year in the history of the company. At the same time, they handed out an internal employee satisfaction survey, which 98 percent of their people filled out — and they’re in over 60 nations! The results were overwhelmingly positive. One survey statement said: “At WD-40 Company, I am treated with respect and dignity.” Over 98.7 percent said “true” to that statement.

Colleen Barrett took over the presidency of Southwest Airlines from co-founder Herb Kelleher. Her main experience before taking that job was being Herb’s executive secretary for over 20 years. Herb understood the two aspects of leadership. He felt the vision and direction of Southwest Airlines was clear and he didn’t want a Jack Welch lookalike to come in and turn the company in a different direction. He wanted somebody who knew the implementation or servant aspect of leadership; someone who could cheerlead and keep everybody going in the direction they had set. Colleen was the perfect choice. I got so excited about her leadership that I wrote a book with her called “Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success.”

For a leader who’s all about results, what advice do you have about how to reach out to others without coming off as a phony?

Leaders who are “all about results” are missing a big part of the success equation: relationships. If you’re not known for your relationship skills, start practicing them with the people most familiar to you and move out to others gradually. The first few times you reach out may feel uncomfortable — for both you and the other person — especially if you are not known for that type of behavior. Start casually, perhaps by stopping to chat with a person in the hallway or after a meeting. To avoid coming off as phony, be honest and real. For example, tell a co-worker about an article you read that you think he or she might genuinely be interested in. Or ask that person a question and — most importantly — listen to the answer with an intention to really understand that person’s point of view. Don’t expect instant results; relationships take time to build.

How do you define wisdom? What can leaders who find themselves running as fast as they can do to bring about more wisdom in their lives and the way they lead?

In the book, wisdom is defined as the application of knowledge, discernment, insight, experience, and judgment to make good decisions when the answer may not be obvious. To bring more wisdom into your life, start by examining yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How are you adding value to your life, your organization, the world? Self-evaluation isn’t easy but it is a necessary starting point for pursuing wisdom. Next, ask your colleagues at every level for honest feedback on how you have been doing. Encourage them to be frank. Ask them what you should start doing, what you should keep doing, and what you should stop doing. Another step in the walk toward wisdom is to seek counsel from someone who has more experience or expertise in any area in which you would like to grow. Wisdom will enhance your leadership, but don’t expect to become wise overnight. Walking toward wisdom is a lifelong journey. Every step you take will enhance your growth and bring you closer to your final destiny.