A Head and Heart Approach to Next-Generation Leadership
Ken Blanchard and Scott Blanchard are leaders from different generations bound by a common goal—infusing today’s leadership development practices with a head and heart approach. It’s something Ken Blanchard has championed for over 50 years—and it’s something Scott Blanchard is reshaping for the next-generation workplace.
We recently sat down with both men to learn what’s changed and what’s stayed the same when it comes to focusing people’s energy and efforts toward a shared goal.
Ken, you talk about leadership being a partnership, and how leadership is not something you do to people, it's something you do with people. What do you mean by that distinction?
“Today’s generation of workers expect to be part of a collaborative approach to leadership. Leadership used to be seen as a top-down endeavour with everybody looking up the organisational hierarchy. But when leading people today, once you have a clear vision, direction, values and goals, you turn the organisational pyramid upside down.
“As a result, your role is to work for your people. It's about we, not me: ‘We're in this thing together. How can I help you in achieving our shared goal?’”
Scott, you’ve recently been quoted as saying leaders must have their people's backs. Why is that so important today?
“Good performance begins when people feel safe, secure, and valued. A large part of that is tied up in a person’s relationship with their immediate manager.
“Trust follows a progression. In a new relationship, trust is given out of courtesy or respect: ‘You’re my manager, I’m going to trust you enough to see what makes you tick.’ As a relationship develops, actions and experiences influence perceptions.
“Managers can help themselves by extending trust first. Send clear signals of support to your people; don’t be guarded or wary, holding back until they’ve proved they're worthy of your trust. Behave in ways that are consistent with trusting relationships: Provide a safe place for people to make mistakes without getting beat up. Turn mistakes into learning moments. Things like that.
“Self-focused leaders think it's all about them, which causes people to think ‘It's not about us, so that's clearly somebody that doesn't have our back.’”
Scott, you also suggest that leaders must adapt to and develop rapport with their people, not the other way around.
“A manager has the status in an organisation that enables them to dole out both positive and negative consequences and rewards. Leaders have access to workplace resources that can make people’s work life easier and more engaging. They also have tools to make people’s work life uncomfortable, because they are figuratively sitting above their people in the hierarchy.
“The goal, of course, is to create an environment where employees are motivated, engaged, and able to bring their best self forward. For that to happen, people need to feel safe and valued. As a leader, that’s your job—learning how to adapt to your people.
“I first learned this through research presented in Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today's Workforce by Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch. They studied managers who did a great job of getting good performance out of younger workers and managers who had trouble with it. One of the biggest things they learned was that the managers who did a better job took the time to learn, to honour, to understand, and to embrace the differences that the younger employees brought to work.
“This got me thinking about all of the talk accusing the next generation of workers of not being as smart, tough, or dedicated. Turns out this kind of criticism has been going on for at least 300 years. There are all kinds of examples of older generations blaming the generation coming after them.
“It's really important to avoid that way of thinking. As a leader, you must adapt and become interested in the way your people present themselves at work. It neutralises the natural barrier of your being one step higher in the hierarchy.
“Remember that you are responsible for enabling circumstances where people can succeed. Do your best to understand and create an environment where the people who work for you feel safe, valued, and useful.
Ken, from your perspective, what are some of the ways leaders can create this type of environment?
“Leaders should focus less on evaluating and judging people and more on catching them doing things right.
“If somebody told me I could only be remembered for one thing, I’d want it to be the concept of catching people doing things right. Positive reinforcement is so powerful in bringing out the best in others. So often when people see their boss coming, they try to hide or get out of the way. They think if the boss wants to talk to them, something must be wrong.
“What if that were reversed? What if the boss were to walk around catching people doing things right and cheering them on? And if there’s an area where performance isn't as good, the boss could say, ‘How can I help?’ Would that make a difference? You bet it would! And it starts with catching people doing things right and accentuating the positive.
“I've also felt for a long time that in order to be a great leader, you have to care deeply about your people. Leadership is love. It says, ‘I really care about you. I honour you. I listen to you. I love having you on my team.’ It's a way to express that we're in this thing together. It's the ultimate we, not me.
“People look a little surprised initially when I use a term like love in a work setting—but after I share some of these behaviours, it starts to make more sense. What do you do when you love somebody? You're there for them. You're praising them. You're noticing them. You’re involving them. They're part of your team. And I think that's what great leadership looks like.”
You’ve both talked about leadership as a journey. Ken, what are your thoughts on that?
“As a leader, your learning is never over. Earlier in my career, I wrote a book with Norman Vincent Peale, the bestselling author of The Power of Positive Thinking. Norman was a great mentor to me. He said, ‘Ken, if you stop learning, lie down and let them throw the dirt on you because you’re already dead.’ I'm in my eighties now and people ask, ‘Are you retiring?’ Absolutely not, I'm refiring! That means I'm constantly learning and thinking about new ways to help people.”
Scott, what are your thoughts on leadership being a journey?
“Leadership is a role, an identity, and a profession that can extend over the bulk of one’s career. One of the things that's important to remember is that things change. People change, rules change, and the ways we succeed in society change. Therefore, the way we lead effectively changes.
“If you're successful in your career and you get opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, you move from a frontline position up to the next rung of the ladder and then to the next one. At each stage of the journey, the formula for success changes. You always need to adapt to the larger set of responsibilities or span of control you are given.
“Sometimes, people find the set of behaviours that worked for them at a certain level aren’t as effective when they need to scale themselves. If you're going to be successful, you really need to keep listening, learning, growing, and adapting as a leader.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.