The Best Lessons I Learned from Ken Blanchard



“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Ken Blanchard

One of the interesting people I got to meet this year is Ken Blanchard.

Ken Blanchard is all about empowering people, growing people, and helping everybody get an “A”.

This post is my notes from Ken Blanchard’s live presentation.

Catch People Doing Something Right, Accentuate the Positive

I’m putting this right up front because Ken said if there was only one thing he could be remembered for, he would want it to be:

“Catch People Doing Something Right, Accentuate the Positive.”

Hopefully this helps.

Random Highlights

Here’s a sampling of some of the one-liners and insights from the session:

  1. The triad is the provider of choice, employer of choice, investment of choice.
  2. People will compete with you in garages — have the triad.
  3. Bring your brains to the job vs. kiss up the hierarchy.
  4. Write the final exam up front.
  5. Life’s about getting A’s.  Everybody gets A’s.
  6. The journey of an effective leader starts with self-leadership (who are you)
  7. None of us is as smart as all of us (the collective brain)
  8. Don’t ask yes/no questions — ask, what’s one thing we could have done differently to make your experience better?
  9. Know your rank order values.  Walk your values.  Don’t have too many values.
  10. Profit is the applause you get for taking care of customers and being a motivating place to work.
  11. Get customers telling stories about you.
  12. Who does she work for? a duck or an eagle? Ducks quack excuses.  Eagles soar above the crowd.   Bring your brains to work.
  13. You got what you got (your team), what are you going to do?
  14. Help people accomplish goals and have goals tied into the organization.
  15. Now you have the position, don’t use it (don’t use your position — it’s on loan.)
  16. All the important stickers went on people (people are the most important asset.)
  17. Ken’s favorite insight from the movie Ghost – “You can take the love with you.”
  18. What Ken’s mom taught him — “Don’t act like you’re better than anybody …but don’t let anybody act like they’re better than you.”

Philanthropy is the News Around the World

Ken travels the world and the big news he kept hearing about was the philanthropy.

Specifically, the news was focused on Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.  The fact that Buffet trusts the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help the world sends a powerful message.

4 Keys to Lead at a Higher Level

Ken framed out 4 keys to lead at a higher level:

  1. Set your sights on the right target and vision.  Ken reminded us that since Alice didn’t know where she wanted to go, the Chesire cat told her that the direction doesn’t matter.
  2. Treat your customers right.  Decide, discover, and deliver.
  3. Treat your people right.  If you don’t treat your people right, they won’t take care of your customers (the customers are the only people they can beat up.)
  4. Have the right kind of leadership.  Effective leadership starts on the inside.  You don’t own the position, it’s on loan.  Be a servant leader over a self-serving leader.

Decide, Discover and Deliver

To treat your customers right, Ken provided a decide, discover, deliver approach:

  1. Decide.  Decide what experience you want your customers to have.  For example, one gas station used the “Indianapolis pitstop experience” and had the slogan, “jump to the pump.”
  2. Discover.  Listen to what your customers want and see if it makes sense to include their suggestions in your vision.  Don’t ask yes/no questions — ask, what’s one thing we could have done differently to make your experience better?
  3. Deliver.   To implement your customer service vision, invert the traditional pyramid and empower your people.

Turn the Pyramid Upside Down

Turn the pyramid upside down.  Have your team bring their brains to work vs. kiss up the hierarchy.

Don’t have them be ducks (who just quack excuses why they can’t do this or can’t do that.) Empower them to be eagles who soar above the crowd.

A Fortunate 500 List According to Ken Blanchard

Ken suggested the idea of a Fortunate 500 list.

A Fortunate 500 Company would have a triple bottom line and be a good citizen in the community.

Customers, Business, Employees (The Triple Bottom Line)

The triple bottom line includes:

  1. Provider of choice (customers)
  2. Employer of choice (employees)
  3. Investment of choice (business)

Ken remarked that profit is the applause you get for taking care of customers and being a motivating place to work.

Organizational Vitality, Employee Passion, Customer Devotion

Ken outlined the keys to organizational vitality:

  1. Organizational vitality.  Organizational vitality is supported by customer devotion and employee passion (which support each other).  The employees don’t see strategic initiatives in their day to day, so the biggest impact on org vitality is how does their boss threat them and how are they evaluated? (fair/just?)
  2. Strategic leadership.  Strategic leadership supports org vitality.  Strategic leadership includes vision, culture, and strategic imperatives.
  3. Organizational leadership.  Organizational leadership supports employee passion and customer devotion.   Organizational leadership includes policies and procedures (indirect relationship on strategy), leader behaviors, and fairness / justice.

From Self-Leadership to Organizational Leadership

The journey of an effective leader starts with self-leadership (who are you) and progresses to organizational leadership:

  1. Self-leadership (who are you)
  2. One-to-one leadership
  3. Team leadership
  4. Organizational leadership

Ken noted that one of his favorite mantras is — none of us is as smart as all of us.

3 Skills of Situational Leader

Ken identified 3 skills of a situational leader:

  1. Diagnosis – figuring our the development level.
  2. Flexibility – adapting your leadership style based on the development level.
  3. Partnering for performance – helping everybody get A’s.

The 4 D’s (Development Level)

The four development levels vary by competence and motivation.  If you can identify which development level somebody is in, you can use the right leadership style:

  1. D1 – Enthusiastic beginner (low competence, high commitment)
  2. D2 – Disillusioned learner (low competence, low commitment)
  3. D3 – The capable, but cautious performer (low to some competence, variable commitment)
  4. D4 – The self-reliant achiever (high competence, high commitment)

4 Leadership Styles

The four leadership styles range from directing to delegating:

  1. S1 – Directive
  2. S2 – Coaching
  3. S3 – Supportive
  4. S4 – Delegating

Your leadership style varies by how you need to teach skills and provide motivation.   You match your leadership style based on the development level.

More Supporting, Less Delegating

Ken noted that the most common style in tech is delegating (telling folks what to do), but that it only works if you have self-reliant achievers.

He said lots of situations where somebody fails, it’s because the leader didn’t spend enough time supporting.  For example, somebody might be great at sales, but poor at administration and could use more support.

Don’t Be a Seagull


Ken described the seagull type manager:

  1. Flies in
  2. Makes a lot of noise
  3. Dumps on everyone
  4. Flies out

Yuck!  Don’t be a seagull.

How to Manage Effectively

Ken gave us a recipe for managing effectively:

  1. Teach situational leadership II
  2. Agree on goals
  3. Agree on level of performance
  4. Diagnose development level
  5. Agree on appropriate leadership style
  6. Follow up on agreements

Leadership vs. Management

When a colleague asked Ken about his thoughts on the difference between leadership and management, he said he doesn’t get involved in the debate.

He doesn’t think management should play 2nd fiddle.

Don’t Rank Employees on a Bell Curve

Ken made a few key points against ranking employees on a bell curve:

  1. Why screw a certain percentage?
  2. You don’t hire losers to fill slots.
  3. Putting your new people at the bottom doesn’t encourage them.

Help Everybody Get A’s

Ken’s recipe for results is:

  1. Give out the final exam up front
  2. Teach people answers to get the A’s
  3. Demonstrate how you’ve helped them get A’s each quarter
  4. Have an informal formal review each quarter
  5. A review at the end of the year should be a review — not a surprise.

Share Them With Your Competition

What happens if you give help people get A’s but they don’t get A’s:

  1. If they’re a good citizen, then help them find the right position.
  2. If they’re not a good citizen, then share them with your competition.

From self-serving leaders to Servant Leadership

Ken gave us three ways that somebody moves from a self-serving leader to servant-leadership:

  1. Near death experience
  2. Spiritual awakening
  3. Be a role model

Basically it’s life-changing events or by following an example.

Egos Anonymous

There’s two ends of the spectrum with ego issues:

  1. False pride
  2. Self-doubt / fear

The problem with ego issues is that the world spins around you.  Ken said the key is to put the focus somewhere else.  When you put the focus on something else, the fear goes away.

Ken told us about “Egos Anonymous” meetings.   He said at the meetings, people introduce themselves with “I’m an ego maniac, the last time my ego got in the way …” 

The irony is, everybody wants to go last to be more clever, funnier — and that’s an ego thing.

Bigger Emphasis on Results or Developing People?

Ken pointed out that it’s not an either/or it’s a both/and.  The keys are:

  1. Fixing motivation.
  2. Fixing capability.

The Secret of Great Leaders

Ken told us the secret of great leaders:

  1. Values, results and people
  2. Emphasis on results
  3. Significant investment in their lives
  4. Express appreciation

You’re Learning or Dying

Ken told us we’re learning or dying:

  1. Reinvent continuously.
  2. How will your resume be different next year?
  3. Are you learning from mentors?

SERVE – What Great Leaders Know and Do

Ken explained that SERVE is what great leaders know and do:

  • See the future.
  • Engage and develop others
  • Reinvent continuously.
  • Value results and relationship.
  • Embody the values.

Leadership is Love

Ken told us leadership is love:

  1. Loving your mission
  2. Loving your customers
  3. Loving your people
  4. Loving yourself — enough to get out of the way so others can be magnificent.

How To Implement the program

Ken said he’s seen remarkable impact when organizations apply the knowledge.

He said there’s three keys:

  1. Performance management program (3,4,5x the difference)
  2. Situational leadership
  3. Final exam.

Wrap Up

At the end of the talk, I met Ken and he signed my copy of The 3 Keys to Empowerment.

What surprised me the most was how down to earth and engaged in the moment he was.

I thanked him for teaching people situational leadership.  I asked him where the II part came from in Situational Leadership II and he told me the story of the split.

I told him it would be great to be able to read stories like that in his blog, if he had one.

3 Actions

As a habit, I challenge myself to turn what I learn into three things I can apply.  There’s always more I can do, but I start with three.  Here they are:

  1. Help everybody get A’s.  I’ll start by diagnose the development levels on my team.  Does somebody on the team need more encouragement or more instruction than they’re getting right now?
  2. Figure out how my resume will be different next year.  I used to do this exercise regularly, but it’s been a while.  Flashing forward is a great way to help me choose certain paths over others.
  3. Decide, discover, and deliver the right customer experience.  Very practically put, stop asking yes, no questions and start asking, what’s one thing we could have done differently to make your experience better?

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  1. 1. As always, great write up on getting results, leadership and growing others besides yourself.

    2. “… kiss up the hierarchy”

    The old saying is of course a picture says a thousand words, but I think the four words above did just that for me. Images of corporations that are bloated up top with people who got there by “kissing” the hardest and fastest are things that come to mind. Nice vivid metaphor if you can call it that.


  2. Hey Kevin

    Thank you!

    I’m a fan of making others great.

    Yeah, Ken’s a master of metaphors. His quick visuals are spot on and it helps everybody quickly relate to his points.

  3. Hi,

    Liked your article. I linked to it on the Blanchard International group on LinkedIn.



  4. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, education, and experience. I really liked “everybody gets an A” which will help me overcome my ego by making sure that the team does better instead of just me doing better.
    I am struggling to understand the “final exam” point(s). I would really appreciate further explanation.

  5. @ Chessiq

    Ken has a wealth of advice and he has a great way of delivering it, both live and in his books.

    The beauty of making the team great is you make yourself great in the process. It’s all about growth.

    On the final exam point, it’s really a metaphor. It means rather than punish people in their review for bad behavior after the fact, let people know up what’s expected up front, and help them get A’s on the exam.

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