Blanchard at 75: He’s still leading the way
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Thirty-two years after “The One Minute Manager” was published, Dr. Ken Blanchard says he still gets more in annual royalties from his most famous work than any of his 61 other books.
He has more than 21 million copies of his books in print and distributes programs in 12 languages across six continents.
The Ken Blanchard Companies, the management training and consulting firm he created with his wife, Margie, has more than 200 employees and last year was rated the No. 1 midsize place to work in San Diego by the Union-Tribune newspaper.
And, oh, by the way, he turns 75 on May 6.
So it’s time to settle back, reminisce about all these accomplishments and do The Much More Than One Minute Retirement, right? Don’t be misled. Blanchard, whose name has been on Grand Canyon University’s College of Business since 2004, is still looking for ways to better manage his message and his schedule even though he established himself as a leadership guru when Ronald Reagan was leading the country.
“I think there still are a lot of opportunities to spread the word,” Blanchard said. “I’m constantly learning. I continue to have fun.”
It shows. Blanchard has five more books in the works. He is a frequent guest lecturer at GCU and will be here again this week. He will speak at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Williams Building lecture hall on matching leadership behaviors to maximize human potential and profits. Then, the next afternoon, he will serve as a judge at the finals of the Canyon Challenge, the University’s annual entrepreneurial competition.
The University of San Diego and his alma mater, Cornell University, are his two other favorite college stops, and he also travels internationally for speaking engagements. His “Lead like Jesus” ministry has reached 40 nations. Even the terms he uses are evolving: He has changed The One Minute Reprimand to The One Minute Redirection, to make it sound more positive and constructive.
“What Ken has taught has almost become best practice across the world,” said Tim Kelley, assistant professor for entrepreneurship and economics in GCU’s business college.
Blanchard has made his hectic schedule more doable by losing 30 pounds, which he chronicled in a book – of course – when he wrote “Fit at Last” with his personal trainer, Tim Kearin. Blanchard said he has never smoked and has only an occasional scotch, but his lifelong affinity for food combined with his busy career made it difficult to keep his weight under control. He said he stopped and started a Weight Watchers regimen 15 times.
Instead of providing readers with yet another fitness fad, “Fit at Last” explains how an out-of-shape man in his 70s who had never lifted weights used his Situational Leadership II strategies to establish SMART (Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, Trackable) goals and move from Enthusiastic Beginner or Disillusioned Learner to committed Self-Reliant Achiever. Now that he has this subject under his 40-inch belt (down from 45 inches), Blanchard said he sees “great potential to get this to fitness companies.”
His nonstop zest for life is partly the result of a phone conversation Blanchard had a decade ago with Zig Ziglar, the famed motivational speaker who died in 2012 at age 86. Blanchard was talking about his revised goals as he was turning 65, but Ziglar shot back, “I’m not retiring, I’m refiring!” — even though he was approaching 80. It pushed Blanchard to reassess how he would spend the rest of his career, and it is a mantra he has used often in recent years.
If there is one company that is totally on the same page with Blanchard’s “Servant Leadership” mantra, it’s Southwest Airlines. Renowned for its customer service, including flight attendants who do a standup-comedy routine before every flight, Southwest already had that culture when co-founder Herb Kelleher and his successor, Colleen Barrett, first met Blanchard. In fact, Barrett has made a habit of buying books and giving them to employees, and the first one she remembers handing out was “The One Minute Manager.”
But once Blanchard did connect with Kelleher and Barrett through mutual friends Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, who co-authored “Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success,” it was LUV — Southwest’s moniker and stock symbol, representing its home at Dallas Love Field and its approach to employee and customer relationships — at first sight.
“I adore him,” said Barrett, now president emeritus but still a fixture at the company’s Dallas office. “I would kill for him. I really would. Herb and I talk about Ken like he’s a household name, and some of our employees have read every book he’s done. I would say he’s had a great deal of influence on Southwest.”
Barrett has been to Blanchard’s home about a half-dozen times and said it’s so down to earth, “I would feel comfortable taking my shoes off and having a glass of wine. And I hope that he would feel the same way at my house.”
In 30 years with Southwest, Barrett has done something that Blanchard raves about: She has sent more than 3,000 handwritten notes to employees thanking them for things they had done to help passengers. He also talks enthusiastically of how Southwest turns around flights so quickly (even pilots help clean up) and how a mechanic was the one who suggested what became its “Business Select” program, in which passengers can pay slightly more to get one of the first 15 places in line at boarding. Naturally, Blanchard co-authored a book with Barrett, “Lead with LUV/A Different Way to Create Real Success.”
Another of Blanchard’s many business associates and co-authors is Garry Ridge, president and CEO of WD-40 Company in San Diego. WD-40, so named because it is a water-displacement formula that was perfected on the 40th try, already was successful when the pair met at an executive leadership program in 1999. Six years earlier, it was reported that WD-40 was in four of five households and was being used by 81 percent of professionals. But the company has prospered even more in the last 15 years, jumping from about $15 a share to more than $70 and reporting record sales of $95.5 million for the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year.
How did the maker of such an iconic product, one that is to household repairs what Kleenex is to sneezes, grow even more? By investing in its people, according to Ridge.
“We were able to put into practice and see results from his theories,” Ridge said. “He’s tough-minded but tender-hearted. He understands the power of people, and that really inspired me.”
He was so inspired he teamed up with Blanchard to write “Helping People Win at Work,” which introduced the “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A” business philosophy. The book explains WD-40’s “Partnering for Performance” employee-evaluation program and its reasons for referring to its employees as a “tribe” rather than a “team.” Ridge believes that a tribe is a place to belong, while a team is just something you play on once in awhile.
“We are consciously in contact every day,” Ridge said of Blanchard. “The fountain of knowledge he has is something that refreshes me every time I come in contact with him.”
Blanchard said the biggest change in the evolution of his teachings is from creating the theories themselves to finding new ways to apply them. For example, he recommends that each company have someone to manage the present and someone to create the future because “time is moving so fast now.” But everything he believes comes back to his love of people and how he thinks they should be treated.
“It might sound slightly bizarre,” he said, “but one of the keys for effective leadership is to be madly in love with all of the people you are leading.”
And Blanchard has made it clear that one of the keys for teaching effective leadership all these years is to be madly in love with the topic. No wonder “The One Minute Manager” has had such a long reign.
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or [email protected].