Guru Review: Great Leaders GROW

Two leadership experts explain why and how you need to G.R.O.W.
Strategic Facilitation & Ideation,
February 14, 2012

Ken Blanchard is one of the original business gurus, and the inventor of the modern business fable, so it's my pleasure to review his recent offering. Ken rose to guru status with The One Minute Manager, which started out as a self-published book. Ken has just published a new fable, called Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life, with Mark Miller, vice president of training and development at Chik-fil-A. It's their second collaboration, and Mark's third book.

Great Leaders Grow continues the business saga of Debbie Brewster, a character the authors introduced in their previous book, The Secret. The emphasis in Great Leaders Grow is showing leaders, and aspiring leaders, how to ensure that they'll be able to effectively serve others throughout their careers.

Debbie Brewster has become an accomplished leader, and now becomes a mentor to Blake, the son of Debbie's former mentor. She teaches him not just how to lead, but emphasizes the critical importance of continually learning and developing his leadership abilities throughout his career. She identifies four areas in which every leader must continue to G.R.O.W.:

Gain knowledge of themselves, others, their industry and the field of leadership. Every leader is a learner, but many leaders fail to gain knowledge because they have too much to do–they're going too fast and trying to accomplish too much.

Reach out to others both formally and informally. As a leader, your role is to teach both by sharing information as well as by probing questions.

Open your world at work and outside of work. If you get too busy with your job to grow, your influence and your leadership will stagnate and ultimately evaporate.

Walk toward wisdom through self-evaluation, feedback and counsel. Wisdom is the application of knowledge, discernment, insight, experience and judgment to make good decisions when the answer may not be obvious.

The best way to review a business fable is to interview the authors about applying the key messages they're trying to communicate through storytelling. So I sent Ken and Mark the following questions. Here are their answers:

How will people be able to tell whether they are growing or not?

They have to be able to answer "yes" to questions like: Are they responding to the challenges of their roles in new and fresh ways? Are people seeking them out for their counsel on issues?

What is the number one mistake someone makes while growing to become a leader?

Quite simply this: confusing leadership with a position or a title.

How is the mentality of a leader who is willing to grow different from one who isn't? What are their advantages? Any possible disadvantages?

Growing leaders understand how little they really know about the world. They have an appropriate humility regarding their roles and their accomplishments.Leaders who aren't willing to grow have misplaced confidence in their own abilities. Their egos are huge obstacles to their future success.

What is the biggest hurdle a leader needs to overcome when growing?

The biggest challenge is not getting too caught up in today's challenges and ignoring the future. A leader's first priority is to ensure that there will be a future for his or her organization. Unless a leader is extremely vigilant, the current challenges will always win the day over future challenges. Only the disciplined leader will make time to grow, yet growth is absolutely required.

What is the most important advice you would give to current leaders? Newcomers?

The advice is the same for both: Assume responsibility for your own growth as a leader. If your organization will help, that's fantastic. However, your growth is not your organization's responsibility.

How have you personally implemented these lessons in your life?

Personal growth is a daily priority for both of us. We understand that our capacity to grow determines our capacity to lead and practice the four strategies on a regular basis. In the "Gain Knowledge" arena, we read widely, spend time with mentors, attend seminars and the like. We "Reach Out to Others" by teaching and equipping leaders around the world. Mark leads a group that has been studying leadership for 13 years and recently started a blog to serve other leaders, called Great Leaders Serve. The third strategy, "Open Your World," is the most fun for us. In recent months Ken spent time in Australia and Mark took a trip to Antarctica! We "Walk Toward Wisdom" by proactively listening and learning all we can about ourselves and others. For example, Mark recently completed a self-initiated, anonymous survey of friends and associates around the things that he should Stop Doing, Start Doing, and Continue Doing–and learned a lot!

In addition to Mark's Great Leaders Serve blog, check out Ken's blogs at How We Lead.