Improve Leadership Skills

Improve Leadership Skills

By: Ken Blanchard

A lot of people ask me about leading in tough times and managing in a recession. I remind them of these three irrefutable principles:

  1. A leader should be a bearer of hope. Be positive and optimistic. When morale goes down, don't turn your back on the reality. Think of yourself as a chief spiritual officer. I leave a message every morning at my company for employees that includes three things: I tell people who to pray for, praise people for their efforts and I include a motivational message about how we're moving forward as a company that's consistent with our core values.
  2. Focus on what people can grow. The brain and the computer are alike — both don't know the difference between the truth and what you tell them. As leader, it's your job to keep them straight. Refocus people on what can grow.  Share what you know with them, even if it's the "wait and see" part of the process of cost-cutting measures. If you do, they will not be so anxious.
  3. Treat employees as business partners. Top managers often work behind closed doors, which plummets morale. Remember that none of us is smarter than all of us. Teach people how to read a balance sheet. Empower people with information.  Southwest Airlines did that — they asked for ideas on how to increase revenue and got some great ideas from their employees that have shaped their company's brand and success. Use your people as business partners.

It's said that ten to fifteen percent of an organization's vitality comes from strategic leadership. The rest is operational. If people don't know your strategy, they'll focus on how they're being treated. And if they're not being treated in a way that encourages their spirit, they're not going to be passionate about what they do.

Another company that's been successful with these principles is Chick-fil-A where manager turnover is less than two percent. How do they do it? They train their managers with this SERVE acronym:

See and shape the future
Engage and develop your people
Re-invent continuously — don't get mired in policy
Value both people and results
Embody the values

Frankly, the problem with leadership is often the human ego. Top managers develop a false sense of pride in their management style that makes them think they're above it all. The other problem is doubt or fear — when people feel that they're less than, they become too insecure to speak up. 

An antidote for both is humility. People don't need to think less of themselves, they just need to think about themselves less.

I lead Egos Anonymous seminars with top managers at large corporations. During these meetings, people volunteer to share their doubt and false pride. We work on cultivating a belief in unconditional love — whether it's from God or not — the kind of love that you give your kids.

It starts at home with how we treat those closest to us. Treating your kids as subordinates is false pride. Not calling your spouse to say you'll be late is false pride. It's about changing yourself first and having a servant heart.

In the same way, it's about how your company culture treats its own workers. Garry Ridge, the president of WD-40 Company, changed their company's hierarchy to a tribal culture. The term conjures up an image of people sitting around the fire with elders, sharing information with younger community members. In practice, it's about building cross-functional teams that cultivate a "we" mentality, rather than "us versus them."

People sometimes confuse servant leadership with soft management skills. Servant leadership is not about the inmates running the prison — it's the only effective way to lead. Leadership is the vision, direction, values and goals. Managers should shout out where the company is going. The responsibility of your company's hierarchy is to set the vision and move it to implementation. Philosophically, it's about turning the pyramid upside down so that everyone is working for the customer. That's the servant part of servant leadership.

I encourage managers to be "called" rather than "driven." Remember that your actions have a ripple effect that is limitless in its potential, both good and bad. Demonstrate respect in all your personal interactions and you'll cultivate a foundation of employee trust that will buoy your company through these challenging times and position it for future success.

Author Bio
Ken Blanchard is Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies, a global leader in workplace learning, employee productivity, leadership and team effectiveness. Dr. Blanchard is a New York Times best-selling author of over 18 million books, including the bestseller, The One Minute Manager®, coauthored with Spencer Johnson.  A revised and expanded edition of his book Leading at a Higher Level was recently published.