To Quack or to Soar?

by Ken Blanchard

The world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model – not just an organizational model, but a life role model.

We’ve all seen what has happened with leaders who are self-serving in business, in churches, in running countries. As I travel, I see problems with leaders who think leadership is all about them, all about the accumulation of wealth for them and their friends and family, about power and status and moving up the hierarchy.

But, as Paulo Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, once the oppressed throw off the leader, unfortunately the only leadership role model they have is that of the oppressor. So the oppressed then become the oppressor.

I went on safari three years ago, and I was with my wife at a party a few weeks before. They asked the guests who they would like to have dinner with. For me it was a really easy choice. I said Nelson Mandela, because I would like to have dinner with a man who was jailed for 28 years, mistreated and abused, and he comes out of there full of love, reconciliation and compassion. Then we visited Robben Island, where they held him for most of the time. You wouldn’t believe the conditions that guy lived in. I got a copy of Long Walk to Freedom, about his life, and I was reading it as I was heading to Africa. And then we get out to the jungle.

We’ve been on safari a number of times. But when I compare it to Nelson Mandela, I realize how vicious the jungle is, how territorial the jungle is, how violent the jungle is, and how self-oriented the jungle is. The lion’s roar can put a chill up your back. Our guide on safari says when the lion roars he is shouting, “It’s mine! It’s mine! It’s mine! Baby, this is MY territory and if you mess around with this, you’re in trouble!” A lion will kill his sons if they challenge his territory.

We are animals, although we don’t like to think so. We are intelligent animals. We have the opportunity to make choices that the animals don’t make. The choice is between the flesh and the spirit, between being self-serving and serving. A rhino can’t get up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll go over and make friends with the lions today.” It’s not in his nature. But we can. Every day, when we get up, we can make a choice. Do we want to serve or be served? Do we want it to be all about us or all about the greater good? We have all seen what has happened with leaders who are self-serving.

There are life leaders, and there are organizational leaders. Very seldom do people mention a boss when you ask them who their role model was. They mention their mother, their father, their uncle, teacher or coach. When I became a Christian in 1988, I went right to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts because I am a behavioral scientist. I wanted to see what the man did. I find that the guys that did everything that I ever taught or wrote about were 12 incompetent guys. They were slow. You would never have hired that lot.

It’s very interesting; they were all businesspeople, no clergymen. Henry Blackerby and I agree on this: He says the great spiritual revolution will come from businesspeople by demonstration, not proclamation. It will not come from evangelism.

I pray every morning, “Lord, protect me from your people.” I have never met such vicious people as Christians. They want to be right. My big disillusionment since I’ve become a Christian is that we’ve got the worst business model in the world. I was in suburban Chicago and asked a guy there, “How many churches here have Jesus central to them?” He said about 1,200. I said, “Do you think Jesus is a good product?” He said, “Yeah, the best.” So I said, “What if I wanted to franchise Him?”

Think of it. Twelve hundred franchises, none of them talk to teach other, all of them compete with each other, and all of them bad-mouth each other. We’ve got to get a life as Christians and stop arguing about each others’ rituals. Who cares? The important thing is do you love Jesus, and do you use him as a role model in your life? We’ve got to look at the way Jesus said we need to lead. He said, “Even I have come to serve, not to be served.” He said we are supposed to be servant leaders.

A lot of people say “How can you lead and serve at the same time?” You can if you understand leadership. There are two parts.

Part 1: Where are you going?

The first part is vision and direction. At Baylor you have Vision 2012. You’ve got to have somewhere you’re going. Otherwise your leadership doesn’t matter.

A vision is made up of several parts. Do you know what business you’re in? What’s your picture of the future if you do a great job, and what values are going to guide your journey? If you have a really clear sense of that, then people who work there know what to do.

Let me tell you about Walt Disney’s vision. Why have the Disney parks lasted for so long? I asked Walt. He said he was in the “happiness” business, not the theme park business. Here’s what he said: “My picture of the future is that everyone leaving the parks will have the same smile on their faces that they had coming in.”

Now, there are values that guide our journey, and some people have too many values. Three or four is the most we need, and they have to be ranked in order, because life is about values conflict. You can’t do two things at the same time. The first two values are the most important. If you believe in them, the rest will take care of themselves.

At Disney, the number one value is safety, because Walt Disney knew that if someone got carried out of one of the parks on a stretcher, he wouldn’t have the same smile on his face leaving as when he entered.

The second value for his parks was courtesy. But you have to rank them because you don’t deal with courtesy when the number one value calls you. The third value is the show, the entertainment. And the fourth is success or efficiency, which helps ensure a profitable organization.

A lot of places don’t place financial security as a value. If you don’t, everyone then knows that your values are a joke because if there are financial problems, you spend all of your time looking at the financials. But when it’s the number four goal, you know you’re not going to do anything to save money that will put people in danger. Why? Because safety is a higher value. Your values must drive your behavior. If you have a clear vision and put your goals under that, now you have a sense of where you are going.

That’s the “lead” part of servant leadership. Was Jesus clear on this? Yes. He said, “I’m going to make you fishers of men.” Was he clear on his picture of the future? Yes. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He didn’t say “Go evangelize,” he said “Make disciples.” What is a disciple? It’s somebody who behaves like he’s trying to teach.

You have to be a follower of the Lord first to be a disciple, but we forget that it’s about our behavior, and not just signing up for a one-time deal, and then behaving completely inconsistently with what we’ve pledged to do. These values are love God with all your heart, and love thy neighbor as thyself. You are number three – it’s God first, your neighbor second, and you third.

Remember, he said, “Even I have come to serve, not to be served. So the vision part of leadership has got to be the responsibility to hierarchy. This doesn’t mean you don’t involve other people. The responsibility to say, “This is where we are going” comes from the leadership. It’s the visionary direction part.

Part 2: How do we accomplish the goals?

The second part of leadership is implementation. How do we accomplish the goals? We turn the pyramid upside down, and now the people in charge of the vision are at the bottom of the pyramid, cheerleading, supporting and encouraging everybody to live according to the vision.

What happens to mess organizations up is that we get egocentric and once we set a vision, then we still want to keep the hierarchy alive and well, and make sure everybody knows who is in charge. What this creates is a whole bunch of ducks. Everybody’s quacking, and nobody is soaring like eagles. When you’ve got a lot of quacking going on in your environment, you had better recheck your vision. Because you haven’t got a vision that people buy into.

If you’ve got a clear vision and you get a lot of static in the system that is irrelevant to that vision but self-serving to different groups, you’ve got to call them on it. You have to ask, “Where is what you are doing consistent with that vision?”

Let me give you an example from my son. He asked me, “How would like to be the ‘one-minute son’?” When he was growing up he used to hope that he’d be punished like the other kids – sent to his room, or even spanked. Instead, he had to show up at the dinner table and talk about how his behavior was inconsistent with family values. That’s what we called the kids on. You have to set a vision, whether it’s your family or your organization.

You cannot serve anything if you don’t have a vision. My father, who was an admiral in the Navy, quit early because he liked the wartime Navy better than the peacetime Navy. Not that he liked to fight, but during wartime, they were really clear on what they were doing. They had a vision during wartime. In the peacetime Navy, no one knew what they were supposed to be doing. As a result, too many leaders believed their job was making others feel unimportant. We spend so much time pushing and shoving for hierarchical positions, when it comes time to implement a vision, we don’t let those go. Our role should become encouraging, supporting.

When I look at organizations that are doing different things, one of them is Chick-fil-A, which outstrips everybody in the fast food business. They have less than three percent turnover in restaurant managers out of 1,200 restaurants. That’s unheard of. Why? Their mission statement says, “We will use the talent the Lord gave us to have a positive influence on everyone who comes in contact with Chick-fil-A.” Truett Cathy and his son Dan are the head cheerleaders.

There are other examples of leaders that love to cheerlead. There is a grocery store that kills the competition because it’s driven by values. I know of a bank run by guys who have written about servant leadership. Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines – that’s a complete servant leadership model.

I have something I call a “geezer pack,” which includes my driver’s license, my passport, and other necessary things that I put in a packet around my neck when I travel. One day I was going to the airport in San Diego and I realized I’d forgotten my geezer pack. It was a few years after 9/11 and everyone’s uptight about identification. I didn’t have time to go back and get it. So I went to the airport bookstore and they had one of my books with the picture of me with Don Shula, the Miami Dolphins’ coach.

Fortunately the first airline I went to was Southwest Airlines. When the guy checking my baggage asked for my identification, I told him I had left it at home, but will this do, and I showed him my book. The guy started yelling, “This man knows Don Shula!” Everybody started high-fiving me. Then a guy in line said he knew the security guards and he thought they could help me, and he got me in.

The next day at another airport I still had no passport or license because there hadn’t been time to overnight it to me. I was flying on an airline that was always in financial trouble. I showed my book and the ducks jumped out. “Quack, quack, quack quack!” Pretty soon I’m up five levels talking to a guy in a suit about my identification. I said, “Could you get a life? Do you really think I superimposed my picture on this book just to get by you?”

What we’ve got to do in leadership is create an environment where people can soar like eagles, not quack like ducks. The way you do that is to set a vision so people know where you’re going and what you stand for, and then turn the hierarchy upside down. When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, he was symbolizing moving from vision to implementation. He said, “This is the way I want us to spread the word. Not from a hierarchy standpoint, and not from an ego standpoint.”

If we want people to be interested in our religion, we ought to behave differently. In my company, we have 300 people and partnerships in 32 nations. I deal with every faith in the world. I don’t beat people up with Jesus, but they know where I stand. They get really fascinated watching how I behave, and they say, “Ken, tell me more, because I have watched you in good times and in bad times, and you seem to hang in there in the way that you treat people.” That’s what you’ve got to do, and then you can tell people where you got it from. That book, the Bible, is a pretty good book.

What would Jesus do about ethics?

I wrote a book with Norman Vincent Peale about ethics. I wasn’t even a believer at the time, but I was open. That’s when I became a Christian. We decided there were two problems with being ethical and leading like Jesus. The first was knowing the right thing to do. I think most people know the right thing to do. The biggest problem is doing what you know.

We developed an ethics test and told people to ask themselves three questions related to ethics:

1. Is it legal?

2. Is it fair to all involved?

3. How would you like for your family to see it if it were published in the local newspaper?

Something can be legal and unfair, and you wouldn’t want your kids to know.

We developed five principles of ethical power. The first is “p” for purpose in life. We all need to develop a personal mission statement. Mine is to be a loving teacher, an example of simple truth that helps me and others to awaken the presence of God in our lives.

The second is pride. That’s when you think more of your self than you should. The counter to that is fear, where you think less of yourself than you should. Both edge God out, because you’re putting your performance or the opinion of others as the label for your self-worth and forgetting that you are unconditionally loved. If you can get that you are unconditionally loved, you can get your pride out of the way and can listen to feedback.

The third and fourth go together. The third is patience. You want results quicker than you deserve them, and God is on a different timetable. But you have to keep moving, so the fourth is persistence. You’re still doing what you need to do, but you don’t try to short-cut the deal. You’ve got to keep moving but you’ve got to be patient.

The fifth is perspective. We get this from prayer, solitude, the study of Scripture, a small accountability group. You take a helicopter to the ceiling and get a distance from what you’re about to do. A lot of us don’t take that time, and don’t have people in our lives that give us feedback.

One of the problems we have in this country is that a lot of people are pushing for success, and success is defined by how much money you make, how much recognition you get, and how much power and status you have in your job. There is nothing wrong with making money, and nothing wrong with power and status unless that’s who you think you are. People like that miss significance.

Do you know the game Monopoly? I have a friend who used to play it with his grandmother when she came to visit. She was a tough competitor. They’d play for hours, and at the end she would always own everything.

When he was about 12, a kid moved in next door, and his new neighbor loved Monopoly. They played every day. The next time the boy’s grandmother came to visit, he asked, “How about a game of Monopoly?” Her eyes lit up. They played their game, and this time, the boy had everything at the end. He said it was the greatest day of his life!

“That’s great,” his grandmother said, “but let me teach you a lesson about life: it all goes back in the box.” The only thing you get to save in the end is your soul.

I have been married 45 years to Margie, who once told someone who asked her to define leadership, that “leadership is love, it’s not ‘about’ love. It’s loving your mission, loving your customers, loving your people, and loving yourself enough to get out of the way so that other people can be magnificent.”

Go out and spread love.

© 2007 Ken Blanchard. All rights reserved. Reprinting of the Article not permitted.
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Baylor Business Review, Spring 2007

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