Ken Blanchard has been a prolific writer on topics of management and leadership. He has written over 60 books, though usually co-authored with someone else. If you’re old enough, you may remember his classic work, “The One Minute Manager.” I recently stumbled across one of his books, “The Secret: What Great Leaders Know – and Do,” which he co-authored with Mark Miller (VP of Training and Development for Chick-fil-A). In it, he talks about the five hallmarks of great leaders, and he has an interesting, graphic way of describing those leadership qualities. Of course, every author who writes about leadership has his or her own list of essential leadership attributes, but if you’re interested in Blanchard’s take on what makes a great leader, please continue reading below.
“The best of all leaders is the one who helps people so that eventually they don’t need him.”
~Ancient Chinese Proverb
First, Blanchard is a proponent of “servant leadership.” If you’re not familiar with that leadership style, it’s the idea that a leader “serves” his followers . . . that the job of the leader is to help her followers to be successful. In Blanchard’s words, a servant leader is serving, not self-serving. So, a servant leader can be a disciplinarian when it is necessary, but for the most part, a servant leader is more mentor than boss, more coach than supervisor.
Anyway, against the backdrop of servant leadership, Blanchard uses the acronym SERVE to demonstrate the five characteristics he believes all great leaders share.
See the future.
Engage and develop others.
Value results and relationships
Embody the values.
See the future. Great leaders have a vision of where they want to take their followers. It must be a bright, compelling vision that followers can get excited about. So every day is not just another day at the office, it’s another step toward achieving the goal.
Engage and develop others. “Engage” in this context means to put the right people into the right jobs, and then to actively get both their hearts and their heads in the game. Ultimately, these are the people you’ll need to depend upon to get you where you want to go, so ask for their thoughts, opinions, and ideas. As to the “develop others” part, that’s just about like it sounds. A great leader uses training, both formal and informal, and mentoring to help people to reach their potential.
Reinvent continuously. Business moves very fast and will continue to move even faster. Everywhere we look, conditions are fluid, changing. To keep up, leaders need to continuously improve their skills and knowledge, and insist their followers do the same. And the processes we use to do our work must be constantly scrutinized to find ways to do it better/faster/cheaper.
Value results and relationships. Blanchard makes a point of saying it isn’t an “either/or” case of delivering results or building relationships. Good leaders know we must do both. Good leaders know that if they build strong relationships with their people, those people will move heaven and earth to deliver the desired results. Entrepreneur and author Jack DeBoer put it even stronger when he said, “In your business decisions, risk only money . . . never people or relationships.”
Embody the values. This is about building trust . . . about not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk. For instance, if a leader purports to “put customers first,” but then subverts good customer service practices, how can his followers trust him? And if she loses the trust of her followers, it’s unlikely they will follow her anywhere.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. As you’ve probably noticed, we have only talked here about what great leaders do, but we haven’t said anything at all about how they do it. How, for instance, do they develop an exciting, compelling vision that will inspire their followers? Or how do leaders “engage” their people in a meaningful way? How do they build strong, lasting relationships? For the answers to these and other “how” questions, you’ll need to get Blanchard’s book. It’s only 115 pages long and is written as a business fable, so it’s a very easy read, but full of good stuff. So if you’re interested in continuous self-improvement, as Blanchard suggests, reading his book would not be a bad place to start.