Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life

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The authors of the bestseller The Secret (over 350,000 copies sold)-legendary bestselling author Ken Blanchard and top Chick-fil-A executive Mark Miller-offer profound wisdom and practical advice for how to keep growing in your leadership effectiveness throughout your life.

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An Unexpected Loss

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“You can be a leader.” The words had ricocheted through Blake’s mind countless times since his father had said them. In part, because he had long had doubts about his ability to lead; also because they were the last words his father ever said to him. The next day, Jeff Brown died of a heart attack.

It had all been so unexpected, as heart attacks usually are, but in this case even more so. His dad had been in great physical shape. He’d eaten the right foods, gotten plenty of rest, and exercised three to four times per week. He and Blake had just returned from the ski trip of a lifetime. No one, especially Blake, had been prepared for Jeff’s death.

A month after his father’s funeral, Blake was sitting in the university library, struggling not only with his father’s death but also with the idea that he could be a leader. Had his father been blinded by his love for his only son? Was this just another example of his dad’s eternal optimism? Or perhaps—the scariest possibility of all—could it be true? Maybe Blake could be a leader. There were so many questions Blake wanted to ask his dad. And now, he couldn’t.

 

Moving Forward

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Three weeks elapsed before Blake’s exams were over and Debbie had a free afternoon. The meeting was scheduled for the same coffee shop. Again, they both arrived early.

“Good afternoon!” Debbie said. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Blake said. The truth was, he was still grieving over his father’s death.

“Getting used to losing a loved one takes time,” Debbie said gently. “Did you have time to think through the things we discussed at the end of our first meeting?”

“I did. Just as I feared, I don’t know the answers to all the questions.”

“That’s okay. I rarely know all the answers to my own questions,” Debbie said with a grin. “And that really doesn’t diminish the power of the question. Often the search for the answer is just as valuable as the answer itself. Let’s see what you’ve come up with so far.”

They began to discuss Blake’s strengths and passions. Blake was very talented, so this was a fascinating conversation.

“It’s easy to see Jeff’s influence on your life,” she said. “After just twenty minutes, we’ve identified the following about you: You’re comfortable meeting people. You enjoy working with children—you were a camp counselor during your high school years. You’re a good student—a high GPA and other test scores helped you get into a prestigious university. You majored in business administration with a minor in marketing. And you’re athletically inclined—you played several sports growing up and are still an avid skier.”

 

Learning to Serve

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Blake contacted several companies and was able to schedule interviews with three organizations he hadn’t pursued previously. He felt the interviews went well. One of the three firms offered him a job on the spot. The second sent him a letter thanking him for his interest and letting him know that the job had been filled by another candidate who more closely fitted their needs. The third invited him back for another interview.

Two out of three wasn’t a bad average. His top-rated university, combined with above-average academics and social skills, made him a young man most companies would welcome to the team. He was pleased.

He asked the first company for a little more time to make a decision. The second interview turned into an invitation for a third. He wasn’t sure what to make of this. Were they indecisive or just careful? Were they unsure of his candidacy? Were they probing specific concerns? He thought this would be a good conversation to have at the coffee shop with Debbie.

“How’s the job search?” Debbie asked as she greeted him with a smile.

 

Landing the Job

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The day for the third interview arrived, and Blake was a bit more relaxed than on his previous meetings—in part because he had another job offer and in part because Debbie had defused some of his concern about the kind of organization that would conduct three interviews. As he approached the building, he had no idea what was about to happen.

He was greeted in the Dynastar lobby by Anna, his host from Human Resources. She thanked him again for investing the time in their interview process. Anna asked him about his schedule, and he shared with her that he had no other appointments that day.

“Good,” Anna said. “We hope to finish our interview process today.”

“Outstanding,” Blake said. “Who will I be meeting today?”

“We’ve scheduled you to meet with several people.”

Anna gave him a schedule. It looked like four new individuals, plus a lunch with a team of people, and then another meeting with one of the gentlemen he had met on his last visit.

“Any questions?” Anna asked.

“No, I’m good.”

The first meeting was with a woman from Marketing. She began by introducing herself and then telling Blake about the job he was being considered for. She asked him several thought-provoking questions. Then she asked him if he had any questions. Luckily, he had prepared a short list, including a question about the company’s core values and their philosophy regarding professional development. He was pleased with her answers.

 

Gaining Knowledge

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Blake accepted the job at Dynastar and was eager to get started. His start date was set for two weeks after graduation.

This gave him just enough time to settle into his new apartment and have one more meeting with Debbie before he began. This time, there’d be no talk of job hunting. Just one topic: how to GROW as a leader.

They met at the usual coffee shop. After brief greetings, Blake got right to the point. “Tell me how I can GROW as a leader.”

“Gladly,” Debbie began. “Growth is what separates living things from dying things. Organizations and people that are fully alive, GROW—leaders especially. Sometimes, people and organizations aren’t really alive at all—not in the fullest sense of the word. They’re not fully alive because they are not growing. Think of a heart-rate monitor. If you’re not alive, the line is flat—you’re clearly not growing. Growth brings energy, vitality, life, and challenge. The people I meet who aren’t growing are also the ones who find life and their jobs boring. Without growth, we’re just going through the motions.”

 

A Rocky Start

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Blake was excited about his first day at Dynastar and was thankful he’d landed a job. The first item on his agenda was to meet his new supervisor. Her name was Maggie Barnwell.

Maggie was only a few years older than Blake. She was known as a hard-charger, with results as her trademark.

“Good morning,” Blake said as he knocked on the door frame to Maggie’s office. “I’m Blake. Today’s my first day on the job. I visited with the team a few weeks ago, but you weren’t there. I just wanted to stop by and say hello.” With that said, he expected Maggie to invite him in. She didn’t.

“Yes, I heard you were coming. Please see Ms. Grant to schedule a meeting for us this week. Ten minutes should be sufficient.”

Blake wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but this wasn’t it. She wasn’t rude—just very direct and very formal. Ms. Grant? He assumed this was Maggie’s assistant.

As he stood there processing all of this, Maggie said, “Is there anything else?”

“No, ma’am. Well, yes, just one thing. What do I do before we meet?”

 

Reaching Out to Others

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The meeting with Debbie couldn’t have come at a better time. Blake had a lot of questions for her. They met as usual in the coffee shop near Debbie’s office.

“How was your first week on the job?” Debbie asked.

“Crazy!” Blake said. “I’ve got so many questions.”

“Let’s jump in. First tell me about your team and your new supervisor.”

For the next thirty minutes, Blake told Debbie about his new world. He told her everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When he finished, Debbie said, “It sounds like a great place to be.”

“Other than the fact that you’re an eternal optimist, why would you say that? Because I’ve got to tell you the truth—one week in, I’m wondering if I made the right choice.”

“Where there is challenge, there is opportunity. It sounds like the entire company is under competitive pressure. Your boss sounds like she’s showing signs of it. What’s needed is fresh thinking and leadership. Those are two things that you can contribute. And you’re lucky enough to have the best in the business as your partner. Sounds really good to me,” she concluded with a huge smile.

 

Teaming Up

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Back at work, tensions were running high. Everyone had their own interpretations of what Ms. Barnwell meant when she’d said, “Or there will be consequences.” Sam in particular was on edge.

“Sam, I’ve been thinking about what you said last week,” Blake began.

“What did I say? I probably said a lot.”

“You said our industry was changing—the service standards of the past are not cutting it today. Who’s working on that?”

“On what?”

“The service standards.”

“I hope manufacturing is working on it.”

“Sam, I don’t think hope is a strategy.”

Sam chuckled. “You’re right.”

“Besides, service is more than a manufacturing issue. It seems like it touches several areas, including operations, sales, purchasing, and distribution. And I’m sure I’m missing somebody.”

“You’re right, Blake.”

“I don’t have a hundred-percent confidence that manufacturing knows the severity of the situation. They may not have talked to Ms. Barnwell.” He smiled, trying to get a smile from Sam.

“You’re right again,” Sam said—without a smile. “What do you propose?”

 

Opening Your World

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As Blake prepared for his next meeting with Debbie, he had that feeling again—that feeling that things were going to be okay. Although the circumstances looked bleak, he was optimistic. Thankfully, his group hadn’t lost any more customers, Sam was still his training partner, the cross-functional team was making some progress, and he hadn’t been fired yet. Maybe that was all that was fueling his buoyant spirit. Yet he felt there was something else going on—something good—but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

When Debbie arrived for their next meeting at the coffee shop, Blake was already seated at a table, notebook in hand. His plate was full at work—he didn’t think he could handle any more growth opportunities right now—but his curiosity was getting the best of him. He knew from the GROW acronym that there were two more ways a leader could fuel his or her growth, and he wanted to know what they were.

“How are you?” Debbie asked.

“Fantastic, I think,” Blake replied.

“You think?”

“Yeah, I think things are good.” Blake did his best to explain why he was optimistic.

 

A Plan of Action

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The team charged with improving service was making progress—or at least they felt like they were. The interviews were complete. Everyone would agree they had learned a lot about the expectations of their customers. They had even identified some recommendations to make things better. Now they had to figure out what to do next. When the team was formed, no one really thought about next steps. The team had no authority to make changes, they could only make recommendations. And because the issues were extremely cross-functional, the solutions would be, as well. Sam called the group to order and thanked everyone for working to get the interviews done—and done in short order. He said, “Today, we need to discuss what’s next with this project.”

This started a lively conversation about possible next steps. The ideas ranged from the absurd to the obvious. But the longer the group talked, the further it seemed they were from consensus. Blake was quiet during all of this—listening and taking notes. He felt he’d gotten good at both during his short tenure at Dynastar.

 

Walking toward Wisdom

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Debbie and Blake had agreed to meet in the coffee shop but Blake asked if they could meet later than usual. Debbie had no problem with that.

This time, Debbie arrived first. Blake came rushing in, still five minutes early, but feeling as if he were late.

Before he even said hello, Blake said, “Sorry, I’m late.” He was almost out of breath.

“Good evening, Blake,” Debbie said. “You’re not late.”

“I knew it was going to be close. I had a meeting this evening.”

“That’s a little unusual,” Debbie said. “Why’d you guys meet so late?”

“Oh, it wasn’t a meeting at work. I decided to look for a way to apply a few of your GROW concepts outside work.”

“Good for you! What’d you come up with?” Debbie asked with a smile.

“As you know,” he began, “I’ve been fairly busy. But I didn’t want to use that as an excuse. Instead, I started reviewing my notes, looking for a way to multitask.”

“You were looking for a way to multitask regarding your leadership development?”

“Yes, I wanted to Reach Out to Others in a way that fits with who I am and what I’m passionate about. Do you remember when we talked about my strengths and passions?”

 

The Presentation

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The team was getting closer to its first presentation. Blake shared with them Ms. Barnwell’s ideas about the short-term audience and the long-term audience. The team liked the concept. As they made their final preparations, they were trying to decide who would actually do the presentation. After an hour of pros and cons, the team decided to have three presenters. Sam would set the context, Blake would present the “state of the industry,” and the senior marketing person on the team would present the team’s recommendations.

Blake was honored to have been given the chance to present to the short-term audience: the senior leadership. He certainly didn’t want to overplay it in his own mind, but in some way, it felt like he would be teaching. As Blake thought about this, he knew it would be a tremendous opportunity to GROW.

The team decided to present Ms. Barnwell’s idea of addressing the long-term audience—all the company’s leaders—as one of the recommendations. They would wait and see how the senior leaders would respond. The presentation was scheduled for a Tuesday morning. The team had been given one hour to present, and they allocated another hour for questions.

 

Room to Grow

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As usual, Blake reached the coffee shop early. Still, he was not early enough to arrive first. But this time it was Ms. Barnwell, not Debbie, he’d arranged to meet. His boss sat waiting for him at a table by the window.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Barnwell.”

She welcomed him with a smile. “From now on, it’s Maggie, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said as he took a seat across the table from her.

“Not ‘ma’am.’ Just ‘Maggie.’”

Blake nodded. This was the first time he’d seen her since she’d returned from her vacation. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something in her appearance had changed dramatically. Her face bore the signs of grief, but it also looked more open and less guarded.

“I heard your presentation went splendidly, Blake,” she said.

“Thanks greatly to you, Ms. Barn—I mean, Maggie. Your ideas about the short-term and long-term audience for our recommendations really resonated.”

“From what I hear, you made quite an impact at that meeting,” she said. “I know your father would be proud of you.”

A pang went through Blake, and he lowered his eyes. The triumph of his meeting with the president was a moment he would have loved to have shared with his dad, but he knew he never could. When he looked up again, Maggie was staring at him.

 

Resources to GROW

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Personal Assessment

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Rate each statement using the following scale:

5 = Completely Agree; 4 = Partially Agree; 3 = Neither Agree nor Disagree; 2 = Partially Disagree; 1 = Completely Disagree

Gain Knowledge

Your
Score

I know my own strengths and weaknesses.

_____

I know the people I lead on a deep level
(personally and professionally).

_____

I know my industry extremely well.

_____

I have a high level of mastery of the principles
and practices of leadership.

_____

I have a detailed, written personal development plan.

_____

Total

_____

Reach Out to Others

I am always looking for ways to invest in the
growth of others.

_____

I have ongoing mentoring relationships with
emerging leaders.

_____

I frequently see and seize teachable moments.

_____

I frequently share what I’m learning with others.

_____

I have developed a high level of mastery
communicating my point of view on leadership.

_____

Total

_____

Open Your World

Your
Score

I constantly look for opportunities to grow
at work.

_____

I constantly seek new experiences outside
the workplace.

_____

I have a mentor(s) who helps me grow.

 

Other Assessments

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Many assessment tools are available to help you better understand your personality, strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Here are a few you may want to explore.

This powerful tool can help you significantly improve your work effectiveness. With its unique Self-Assessment and unlimited 360° Observer Assessment, the DISC Profile is designed to give you a comprehensive view of how you interact with others in everyday situations. The goal is to understand your personal chemistry in order to enhance your relationships. Once you know the characteristics of your behavioral style, it is easy to see what drives those around you and how you can interact more successfully with them. For more information, visit www.kenblanchard.com.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® is another instrument used by many organizations, large and small. Results of this assessment provide a framework for understanding individual differences in the workplace. When you understand your type, you can tailor your work to your style and find the best approaches to decision making, developing skills, communicating, and coping with change. For more information, visit www.myersbriggs.org.

 

The SERVE Model

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