Skip to content

Legends: Ken Blanchard’s Lifetime Mission

For more than 30 years, author and management expert Ken Blanchard has been helping people unleash the power and potential of everyone they know. The Ken Blanchard Companies has helped thousands of organizations become more people-oriented, customer-centered and performance-driven.

Blanchard is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world; his books, including best-seller The One Minute Manager, have sold more than 18 million copies in 25 languages. Much of the work he developed decades ago is still being used in some form today. His career is a testament to his ability to make the complex seem understandable and relevant through the use of simple parables, and also to the way he speaks from the heart with a dose of humor thrown in for good measure.

Blanchard has been honing these skills since he was in elementary school. He recalls the fi nals of the sixthgrade basketball championship game, when his team was not expected to win. What stood in their way was a 6-foot dominant center nicknamed “Meatball.” Thanks to some sharpshooting from Blanchard and a little luck, his team ended up pulling out the upset.

After the game, an elated Blanchard went back into the locker room to get his shoes, but had to pass Meatball who was sitting on the bench, obviously dejected from the stunning loss. Wanting to smooth things over, Blanchard said in passing, “Great game, Meatball.” Still fuming from the defeat, the 6-footer threw Blanchard up against the lockers, screaming in his face, “Only my friends call me Meatball!” This would have frightened the living daylights out of most sixth-graders, but not Blanchard. He simply smiled and said, “Well, why don’t we become friends.” Admiring his moxie, Meatball unpinned him from the lockers and said, “You’re all right.” And thus began their friendship. Just to make sure there were no hard feelings, Blanchard hired Meatball to be his campaign manager to win the seventh-grade presidential election.

"We want to equip people to inspire others to make a difference in the world."

Charmed Upbringing

Blanchard describes his upbringing in New Rochelle, N.Y., as “charmed.” From his father, a retired Navy admiral, he learned the principles of leadership. When Ken came home from school the day he was elected the president of the seventh grade, his father congratulated him, then sat him down and said, “Now that you have that position, don’t ever use it. Great leaders are great because people trust and respect them because they don’t use their power.”

From his mother he received his positive outlook. “My mother invented positive thinking before Norman Vincent Peale,” Blanchard says. “Her motto was, ‘I laugh before I cry, I dance before I walk, and I smile before I frown.’ How could I not be a positive person with this one-two punch of great parents.” Blanchard went to college with the belief he would be a salesman. “All the tests I took told me I should consider sales as a career,” he says. “So I thought I’d go to a good Ivy League school and then sell my soul to corporate America.” But after a summer sales internship turned him down, he switched gears and continued his education, eventually earning a doctorate from Cornell University in education administration and leadership. It’s also where he met his wife Margie, who would help him found The Ken Blanchard Companies years later.

As a full tenured professor by age 35, Blanchard teamed up with Paul Hersey, who in the 1960s established the Center for Leadership studies, which provides training in situational leadership, a theory that teaches there is no single best style of leadership. Blanchard and Hersey did research on the original model and came up with improvements. They published their findings in a book called Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources, which just came out in its 10th edition and sold more copies in 2009 than it did in 1969.

“Most leadership theories last five to seven years in the marketplace, so we are amazed at the longevity and relevance the book still has in business and academia,” Blanchard says. “Situational leadership is about analyzing those people who you are working with and matching their leadership styles. You have to realize there are different strokes for different folks.”

The One Minute Phenomenon

Once in a while, something comes along so unique yet simple it creates its own category. And for more than 20 years, millions of managers across the globe have followed the techniques found in The One Minute Manager, a simple compilation of what Blanchard and children’s author Spencer Johnson learned about how people work best with other people. The book centers on a young man’s quest for world-class management skills. He is tutored by a seasoned manager who teaches him three one-minute secrets about setting one-minute goals, and giving one-minute praises and one-minute reprimands. "The One Minute Manager really is a kids' book for big people,"Blanchard says. “Spencer came to me shortly after Margie and I started Ken Blanchard Companies with the idea to write a children’s book for managers because they won’t read anything else.”Amazingly, the book has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide in many languages. In fact, the book stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller List for more than three years. Soon, other books came out based on the One Minute philosophy, such as The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey (1989), The One Minute Manager Balances Work and Life, and The One Minute Golfer (1999), just to name a few. The magic behind the one-minute concept was simplicity—breaking things down into bite-size increments that people understand. The international success of The One Minute Managerwas a launchpad to greater opportunities. Not only was Blanchard a respected business author, but it helped his company attract consulting work with some of the biggest names in business.

"When you make people feel like they are appreciated members of your team, they get passionate about what they do and will go out of their way to take care of customers."

Leading at a Higher Level

The mission statement of The Ken Blanchard Companies is “Leading at a higher level.” Blanchard and 13 others even co-authored a book by the title that today serves as the base curriculum for their clients. When asked what the company does best, Blanchard says, “I think we take the ‘BS’ out of behavioral sciences and help people and organizations unleash their power and potential,” he says. “Leading at a higher level is a process of helping people accomplish worthwhile goals while taking into consideration the needs and concerns of all involved. We want to equip people to inspire others to make a difference in the world.” The list of companies who are committed clients of The Ken Blanchard Companies are some of the largest and most respected companies in the world, including Walmart, FedEx Office, Microsoft and Verizon.

Blanchard practices what he preaches with his own company. His open-book policy empowers his employees because they are invested in the company’s success. “I think you need to make your people your business partners,” he says. And that means sharing with employees where the company stands fi nancially once a quarter. “We share with everyone in our company the balance sheet. When my wife and I started the company, we didn’t want to be the only ones losing sleep when times get tough.”

For years, Blanchard has served as chairman, a title he never really liked. Today he is turning his efforts to what he feels are more important duties as the chief spiritual offi cer. Each morning he leaves a three-part message for everyone in the company. First, he tells of people he would like for them to pray for due to illness or other difficulties. Second, he praises people who have gone the extra mile in making life easier for everyone. And last, he leaves an inspirational message with a story or lesson he has learned. “Part of my job is being the head cheerleader,” Blanchard says. “When you pass on good news and make people feel like they are appreciated members of your team, they get passionate about what they do and will go out of their way to take care of customers. And all of a sudden you get ‘raving fan’ customers who are loyal, which reinforces your people to work even harder.”

Having Too Much Fun to Stop Now

Authoring or co-authoring more than 40 books with the likes of Norman Vincent Peale, Spencer Johnson, Paul J. Meyer and NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, Blanchard is still in strong demand to co-author books. “My publisher has urged me to slow down, but I’m having too much fun. We have six books that will be released by the end of 2009 and more in the works for 2010.”

Blanchard’s most recent book is Whale Done Parenting: How to Make Parenting a Positive Experience for You and Your Kids, co-authored with Thad Lacinak, Chuck Tompkins and Jim Ballard. The parenting fable emphasizes communication and praise rather than obedience and punishment, and serves as a guide for how to bring out the best in children.

With all the accolades he has received over his life for his contributions to the field of management leadership and speaking, including earning induction into Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 best-selling authors of all time, Ken Blanchard is as humble and easygoing as they come. When asked what he is most proud of in his career, he immediately talks about the 47 years of marriage he has spent with his beloved wife, Margie. “It’s just really fun to be married to your best friend,” he says. “You can push or shove for money, recognition, power and status, but when all is said and done, when we all leave this earth, all we get to keep is our soul. And that’s where you store who you love and who loves you. The rest is just stuff.”

Leave a Comment