Friday, April 16, 2010

5 Minutes With Leo Lee, Founder of "Leadership Builder"

(Leo Lee is the founder of Leadership Builder, a non-profit group based in San Diego, CA whose mission is to develop leadership skills among its members. The organization sponsors bi-monthly networking events with featured speakers. Below are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Lee in April, 2010.)

What purpose does your group serve that is not met by other organizations?

Mr. Lee: The group is a networking group for mid-level executives that focuses on leadership development to help members become better leaders to achieve a positive impact on their working environment.

What's your vision for the group?

Mr. Lee: Helping managers create a good working environment where people are engaged, respected, encouraged and excel.

What's the biggest obstacle you face in achieving the goals?

Mr. Lee: Transforming people. We're trying to change managers from a technical focus to a leadership focus. Leadership is not reserved exclusively for a few charismatic men and women. It is about you and me bringing forth the best from ourselves and others. When the leader in everyone is liberated extraordinary achievement happens.

What's the most interesting or surprising thing you've seen from your involvement with the group?

Mr. Lee: At our last meeting, a number of community leaders and company executives attended. What surprised me was the whole senior management team from one company attended. The CEO, the CFO and the COO. That was an encouraging sign about the value of our program.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

Mr. Lee: I'm a trained scientist. I used to compete in the annual ballroom dancing competition in Las Vegas with 5 other couples and performed at charity events.

(The next meeting of the group is June 15 and will feature Greg Lucier, CEO of Life Technology, speaking on "Developing Executive Leadership: What It Takes to Take the Lead.")

Friday, April 2, 2010

Management Wisdom From Ken Blanchard & Garry Ridge: "You Have to Have Heart"

Management guru Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge, President & CEO of WD-40 Corporation, who teamed together to write Helping People Win at Work, shared some of their management wisdom to a leadership forum in San Diego on Thursday evening. Reflecting on the recession's dark times, Blanchard advised the audience, "As the leader you need to be the bearer of hope."

According to Ridge, at most companies only 29% of the staff are engaged in their work. Observed Blanchard, "Without your people, you're nothing." Blanchard said he'd like to see a "Fortunate 500" list off of companies that are financially sound, have a great relationship with their people and care for the community.

Blanchard recalled the darkest times of the recession at his own company as demand for consulting services dropped in 2008. The company met with employees to look for ways to reduce expenses without layoffs. "You have to view your people as your business partner," Blanchard said, noting that a good leader has to be a "servant leader." On this Maundy Thursday evening, the night Jesus washed his apostles' feet, Blanchard said Jesus was an example of a servant leader.

"None of us is as smart as all of us," said Blanchard, noting that subordinate staff are capable of coming up with better ideas than the boss, adding that he enjoyed watching the new TV show "Undercover Boss."

"There are a lot of CEOs out there with no guts," Blanchard said. "You have to have heart." He acknowledged there may be a time when a reduction in force is necessary; if so, it should only be done once (as Machiavelli advised) and the CEO needs to wrap his or her arms around those who remain.

Blanchard said he's the "Chief Spiritual Officer" of The Ken Blanchard Companies and leaves a three-part daily message for his employees:

1) Who to pray for. Blanchard said he believes in the power of prayer and he'll remind his staff to pray for sick and recovering employees.

2) Praise for someone. Blanchard said it's important to accent the positive and to reinforce the power of positive thinking.

3) Inspirational message, sharing with others something he learned.

On the power of positive thinking, Blanchard recalled at a golf school the predictable results when a student hit the ball into a bunker and said, "I can't hit it out of the sand." He suggested with practice and a positive attitude of "I love sand traps!" that a golfer can learn to hit good shots from the bunker. It's the same way when you tell people "they're fabulous" and when you greet someone as if they're the most important person in the world. Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative.

At WD-40, Ridge said the company refers to employees as "the tribe" which implies continuity. He outlined an effective way of doing "performance evaluations" by having each tribe member write down what they do and reviewing the list monthly with their manager. That way, there are never any surprises, and people understand what they need to do. "As a manager, my job is to help you get an A, not to grade your paper," Ridge said.

WD-40, the maker of lubricants, Lava Soap and a dozen other products, also avoided layoffs during the recession and has positioned itself for one of its strongest years ever. In stark contrast to the average company, Ridge said 93% of the WD-40 tribe are "engaged" and passionate about their work and 99% say "I'm treated with respect and dignity."

The speakers suggested those interested in studying leadership could attend a monthly public lecture at the University of San Diego School of Business or consider enrolling in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) program, which uses a curriculum developed by The Ken Blanchard Companies. Ridge was one of the first graduates of the MSEL program 10 years ago and several WD-40 tribe members have attended for continuing education. "The program changes lives," said Blanchard.

The discussion was sponsored by Leadership Builder, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspire, nurture and enhance members' leadership capacity to serve their family, organization, and communities, according to Leo Lee the group's founder.

"The essence of this book is," said Ridge holding up a copy of Helping People Win At Work, "Talk to your people." The WD-40 CEO suggested executives behave like the TV character Detective Columbo: "Always ask questions."

(Readers, what do you think: Is it a senior manager's role to lead with "heart" and "inspiration"? Or, to strictly manage processes, numbers and the bottom line?)