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Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager

Self-Leadership and the One-Minute Manager is written by Ken Blanchard, Susan Fowler, and Lawrence Hawkins. Complete the trilogy that began with Leadership and the One Minute Manager and was followed by The One Minute Manager Builds High-Performance Teams.

Unlike most business textbooks, the One Minute Manager series is told through parables, making it much more like reading a story. Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager follows Steve, a young account executive who is about to lose a large company account and probably his job. This book is a quick and easy read, and the lessons are laid out in front of you in large, bold text, so you’re sure not to miss them.

Essentially, Steve is promoted to account executive from a position in budget and finance. On her first project on his behalf, he’s dealing with one of the company’s largest accounts, and his initial pitch fails miserably. While drafting his resignation letter in a coffee shop, Steve meets Cayla, the understudy for the famous “One Minute Manager” guru. Talking to Cayla, Steve decides to follow her self-leadership guide in an attempt to save his account and his job. Ultimately, there are five lessons to learn:

1: Accept responsibility for getting what you need

When Steve initially failed with his proposal, he immediately started blaming. His manager gave him too much responsibility too soon with too little guidance and his ad creative team didn’t support him to the level he expected. But upon reflection, Steve realized that he didn’t ask his manager for help or give his creative team the direction and guidance they needed from him, his manager. People don’t read minds and they can’t be expected to know what you want or need if you don’t explain it to them. He must take responsibility for creating the situation he finds himself in (be it good or bad).

2: Assumed Challenge Restrictions

An assumed constraint is a belief you have, based on past experiences, that limits your current and future experiences. In the book, this is also known as “elephant thinking.”

When a circus first takes in a baby elephant, they wrap a chain around its leg and secure it to a large stake deep in the ground. The baby elephant will tug and tug and try to escape, but he won’t be strong enough to lift the peg or break the chain. The elephant learns this lesson and becomes an assumed constraint. Years later, the elephant has grown and yet cannot escape. This 6-ton beast has learned from past experience that it can’t escape and therefore doesn’t even try. Circus trainers claim that a mature elephant could be restrained with a piece of rope once this lesson has been learned.

This lesson is pretty obvious. There’s a quote that goes something like “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”

3: Power Points

Steve initially believed that the only form of power that existed in the business world was the “Position of Power”; his manager had power over him and he had power over those below him. What he failed to understand were the other forms of power that surrounded him within his organization. The book identifies four other forms of power: knowledge, task, relationship, and personal, but surely there are more.

Let’s examine the structure of many of today’s organizations. Fifteen years ago, managers managed between 4 and 10 people and thus were able to stay in touch with most events and operations occurring in the workplace. But with the streamlining of organizations and the empowerment of teams, managers now oversee literally hundreds of employees. These managers still have position power, but lack any form of organizational power.

These people will generally have very little knowledge about how many specific projects work. Therefore, there is someone else who has the power of knowledge. They will also have little understanding of who the suppliers, distributors and support staff are. Then someone else will have the power of the relationship. The manager is also unlikely to know what needs to be done, in what order, and when. Therefore, someone else will have the power of the task.

Steve had to learn that even though he had standing power, he still lacked many of the pieces needed to put the whole puzzle together. He had to work as part of a team and maximize the different powers that each individual had to offer.

4: The development continuum

Ken Blanchard has developed a continuum that he believes most people walk every time they start a new initiative. I believe this continuum is true in both business and personal endeavors. There are four stages in this continuum and each stage is factored by a level of competence and commitment. Ken goes further by stating that different types of support are required for each stage.

Instead of using an example from the book, let me use my own example of how to learn to play the guitar. Where do I start?

In D1. This stage is defined by a high level of commitment but a low level of competence. I hear someone playing the guitar around the campfire and I say to myself, “I’m going to learn how to do that.” I’m very excited and fired up and I’m going to buy myself a guitar. But then I sit down with my guitar and chord book and immediately jump into:

D2. This stage is defined by low competence and low commitment. When I strum that first chord on the instrument all that comes out is noise. There is no music there. So I try again with the same results. Playing the guitar is going to be a lot harder than I thought. I may never be good at this!

It is at this stage that many people give up and give up. This is when it’s important to have someone there who is highly directive and supportive. I not only need someone who can teach me how to play the guitar, but someone who motivates me to keep going. At stage D1, I didn’t need anyone to motivate me (I had enough motivation on my own), but it may have helped to have a strong direction. It would have been nice to know what to expect and to know which chord was easiest to start with.

If I am able to stick it out and follow my lessons, I will move on to D3. At this stage I will have risen to a moderate level of proficiency and will have a variable level of commitment. There will be days when I can see myself playing guitar in front of a rapt audience over a campfire, but other days I’ll realize I’m still not as good as the person I heard play the previous summer. Maybe I’m not cut out for playing guitar and maybe I should focus on something else?

At this stage I won’t need as much direction. I’ll be good enough on the guitar to be able to teach myself most things, but I’ll need a lot of support. Someone has to convince me that I’m not that far from the light at the end of the tunnel. I just need to hold on and the rewards are coming soon.

If I can hold out, I’ll move on to D4. I will have a high level of competence and a high level of commitment. I’ll learn new songs on my own, easier than I’ve ever learned them before and as soon as the sun goes down people will ask me to pull out my guitar to play a song. I will need very little direction or support training and will be able to provide that training to someone else.

5: The Power of Collaboration and “I Need”

Steve needed to stop making excuses, identify what power points he had, where he lacked, and where he was in Continuing Development. From there he was able to assess his needs and admit them to those around him. Steve recognized that he was at the D2 level of account management. He needed a lot of direction AND support. Admitting these needs to his manager and his team, he found that everyone was more than willing to help. They were all working towards the same goal and they all wanted to be successful. Steve simply needed to pitch in and fill in the gaps for his needs.

Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager is a fun, quick read with some poignant lessons that can help people in many aspects of their lives. In a nutshell, Blanchard asserts that self-leaders “challenge assumed limitations. They celebrate their points of power. And they collaborate for success” and that a “leader is anyone who can give you the support and direction you need to achieve your goal.”

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