Book Review: Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi
In this book, the authors explore the role of a leader in what they have trademarked as Situational Leadership. For me, Situational Leadership is best described as another way of stewarding one’s leadership influence and it leans somewhere in between the models of Technical Leadership and Adaptive Leadership. Though the book was updated in 2013, it first was released in 1985, and I think it is fair to say that the type of leadership organizations employ and the type employees desire to see in a workplace have evolved considerably since this book's release and rerelease.
In Patrick Lencioni fashion, the authors write this leadership book through the format of a novel-like story, embedding their insights and ideas into conversations between characters. Though, I would state that I find Lencioni’s narrative a little easier to follow. Blanchard employs the use of trademarked names and trademarked leadership terms in a way that feels clunky. Though, it still reads like a story and is fairly easy to grasp for almost any reader.
Most notable about the model of leadership presented in this book is perhaps the lack of proof or supporting data that the model works. There are no case studies, experiential data, or research presented in this book. Through novel form, this book merely presents an idea and the reader is expected to take the word of the authors, but with little reasoning or evidence. As a leader, and as someone who has served in many senior leadership roles, I expect any presented methodology or paradigm to be backed up with actual and factual takeaways.
The basic approach of Situational Leadership is that you do not have to work closely with all of the people in your organization, only those who need specific direction and support to develop their competence and commitment. This idea of delegation is not only present in Situational Leadership but in other models as well. There are then four quadrants of grading that Situational Leadership uses to identify an employee's level of competence and commitment. In fact, competence and commitment is the only thing Situational Leadership recommends identifying and tracking. From the start of the book, I continually noted that there is a missing understanding of perhaps more important factors of an employee's performance. As a leader, I would find the state of someone's heart or sense of calling to a context more coachable than competency. Competency at some level can be taught.
As a leader, when I coach someone, I always measure through a lens of calling, character, capability, and capacity. It may be that the authors might tie their sense of commitment to my understanding of calling, and in some way develop their idea of competency into what I refer to as capacity. However, dedication and ability are far from enough to make a good employee and the authors fail to name that at any level. The book does a fair job at least mentioning that our self-identified level of leadership (for them - commitment/competency) may be different than the perceptions of fellow employees, those we lead, or those that lead us. This would make a great argument for the use of 360-like review models. I am toying with adjusting my coaching model to include calling, character, capability, capacity, and commitment. I think competence is covered in capability (skill) and capacity (growth possibility).
The book sets up a straw-man of a form of leadership that is overwhelmed and with a singular approach and it’s breaking down the organization (though I have never actually seen a leader act this way). However, the book does an injustice by failing to realize the shortness of its own model. In arguing for a Situational Leadership model, which treats employees differently, they fail to mention that most leaders naturally lead some employees differently, and that isn’t the problem. The problem is when an employer shows unequal favor, trust, investment, and presence in an employee or group of employees. This is not mentioned in any fashion throughout the book. The way we consult and relate to one employee might differentiate or change, but we as leaders cannot fail to see that our capacity for equal relational equity must exist.
The model presented in this book says there are three parts of performance management in which a supervisor talks to an employee about. They present a performance planning conversation, a day-to-day coaching conversation, and a regular performance evaluation. Again, I think this model is good, but overly simplistic and lacks conversations that monitor and grow an employee's sense of calling for the work they do, character on the job, capacity for the responsibilities of the role, and the capability in which they have and how they are growing in it. Additionally, these three suggested meetings alone will not be enough to build relational equity with employees, which is greatly needed in today’s time to be able to speak into the employee's development and any transition in the system. I continue to find it incredible the amount of senior leadership who enacts change on authority alone, and not relational equity with frontline employees. To the authors, I would suggest that there need to be additional meetings - and moments of investment - (1) to help call out new skills and giftings in the employee, (2) as well as to see them encouraged, equipped, and empowered in new ways (personally and corporately). I think there is a much bigger role for encouragement than Situational Leadership allows for.
In trying to move an employee through the four quadrants, at each stage Situational Leadership suggests the employee to have performance evaluations that emerge with three to five goals, but we aren’t given a reason why three to five is the best way. The model argues that traditionally companies set similar goals and then never follow up on them, but I think without a reason behind the number and type of goal, the same historical trespass is possible. What makes goals in this method better than any other? It always comes back to the employee's heart which is missing from this equation. This easily can become another one-time meeting that will not be long-lasting in the mind of an employee. Additionally, I think an alignment conversation must include more than conversations around commitment and competency. In these alignment meetings, we must talk about deeper and more true alignment calling, character, capacity, and competency. The heart of an employee must not be checked only at the door, seasons and situations change employees' hearts and sense of calling. An alignment conversation must analyze both goals that are good for the employee and for his or her fit into the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
The authors continue to maintain that you need to look at just “two factors to determine a person’s development.” Those two factors are - Competency and Commitment. However, a model built around the competency and commitment metric is why we have employers, pastors, and other highly influential leaders falling from grace with issues of character and calling. They were not in alignment with the most important aspects of leadership. For the authors, “commitment is a combination of confidence and motivation,” but they fail to show (what I believe) that it is more on the employer to make sure there is clarity and shared conviction on the responsibility the employee is carrying. I can only be competent and committed to what I fully understand. It would be too easy to lose a possible leader of great capacity because we have only judged their commitment and competence and not their greater investments.
After naming goals and projects for the new year, the employee is to help identify where they fit in the four quadrant model of development models. Though this is at the crux of their model, there is almost no meaningful conversation on how to practically lead and mobilize an employee in each of these levels. There is little to no warning in this book on how identifying an employee in a formulaic stage can create unfair boxing of an employee, or identify some as greater than. Through this model, I am forced to think of leaders who have recently been removed from churches and organizations for naming some people as part of their “A” team and giving them special privileges. It is human nature to use formulas to regulate people into the box we have created for them. However, I think that this behavior will lead to a truly disillusioned employee and work culture.
Lastly, this model also sets some highly irregular expectations. First, there is an underlying belief that becomes evident, that every manager will be able to lead an employee in all four quadrants well, making for a high capacity expectation on leaders. There also seems to be an expectation, silent but evidently on the employee, that every employee will have the capacity to move through all four levels and almost reach a senior leadership-like level of development. This expectation is literally called the performance curve.
In reading this book, I recommend it for those who need to believe it is okay to relate to each employee based on their needs. Perhaps I also recommend it for the leader who has never led an employee, or one who needs to see the importance of commitment to an organization. However, the book as a whole is an unproven model with some weaknesses that cannot be ignored. It is essential leaders look more into the transformative leadership models that have arrived later.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 10.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 21.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 26.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 29.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 35.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 37.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 38.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 39.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 52.
 Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, Leadership and the One Minute Manager (Revised and Updated) (Broadway, NY: Harper Collins, 2013), 87.