To millions of people worldwide who have read his books, attended his seminars or sat in his classroom over the past three decades, Dr. Ken Blanchard is an iconic thought leader in the fields of leadership and management, a sophisticated storyteller who deftly uses sports metaphors and allegory to entertain, rivet attention and drive home lessons about life in all of its dimensions. Whatever the venue, Ken Blanchard is a consummate teacher.
But to his grandchildren Ken is not an international celebrity. He is simply Grampy, who’s been married to Nana (a.k.a. Margie) for 47 years-two extraordinary grands who enjoy sharing with purpose their myriad interests and life experiences with their grandkids: Alec Medina, 4; Kurtis Blanchard, 13; Kyle Blanchard, 11; Atticus Hickok, 17; and Hannah Hickok, 20.
GRAND recently spent an enjoyable 90 minutes with Ken and Margie in their San Diego home. We wanted to get their thoughts on the role of grandparents as teachers and exemplars. Below are excerpts from the interview.
GRAND: What do your grandchildren think about having two celebrity grandparents?
Margie: They seem to think it’s cool. Kyle, the 11-year-old, told us not long ago that he was surprised that so many of his classmates’ parents know of Ken’s reputation, have read many of his books and hope to meet him some day. Kyle said that makes him feel good. Kurtis, on the other hand, isn’t terribly impressed but would like to meet other celebrities his grandfather can introduce him to.
Ken: I wrote a book with Don Shula, you know, and Kurtis was born on Don’s birthday. So a few days after he was born, Kurtis got a football signed “To my birthday buddy. Best wishes, Don Shula.” It’s nice to be known and to have friends who are well known, but we don’t want the kids to think of us in those terms. We want them to think about what we do with them and what we share with them, because we love them. That’s what lasts.
GRAND: Have you devised a special mentoring program for your grandchildren based on the counsel you give others in your books?
Ken: Not really. We focus on what interests them. Kurtis loves sports, so for the past four years I’ve taken him to Cooperstown, New York, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We also share an interest in collecting players’ autographs, so we do that together. Kyle is creative, so a few years ago I suggested that we publish the Kyle Blanchard Family Series together. He decided the first one we should write about would be Margie’s father, Red McKee.
Kyle really got involved in the project, interviewed family members and published the first in the series. On the cover, it read in big bold letters, “Kyle Blanchard,” and in smaller letters, “and Ken Blanchard.” In everything we do with the kids, we try to teach them lessons while we’re with them. That whatever they do, they should give it their all, give it their best.
GRAND: If you could leave your grandchildren a single word that sums up your life philosophy, what would that word be?
Margie: Two words: perspective and appreciation-of the wonderful things that we’re blessed to be able to do with them. I’m an amateur photographer, and for the past eight or nine summers I’ve taken lots of pictures of family when they’re with us at the lake. I use the photos to make up stories about things that happen during the summer, a summer story book that’s taken on a life of its own.
Every time I take a picture now, the kids ask me, “Is it going to be in the summer story book, Nana?” My idea is to create rituals so that the children have language to remember things and to know what’s important-sometimes by writing it down in a story, especially when they’re young. Even now, they appreciate and remember what’s important.
Ken: Margie has other rituals, too, like camping out, telling ghost stories around a fire, going to interesting places with the kids. A few years ago, she started a family ritual for Christmas dinner. You know how hard it is to keep kids at the table when they’d rather be doing something else. To get them involved, Margie asked everybody to come up with a little presentation-a poem or story or a song-between dinner and dessert.
The first year we did it, our newest grandson talked about what it was like being in a new school. Now, everybody looks forward to hearing about what’s been going on in the family. The point is, rituals help families to connect. That’s what we all want.
GRAND: What do you enjoy most about spending time with your grandchildren?
Ken: Just being in the moment with them. They grow up so fast, it’s important to be intentional, focused with each of them. The 4-year old is a hoot, with a wonderful imagination, so we play all sorts of games. Sometimes we sit in the car and pretend we’re rescuing people. When we’re with the kids, I adopt my “zoo mentality.”
I don’t understand parents and grandparents who scold their youngsters for acting up when they take them to the zoo or some other fun place. If a kid wants to put an ice cream cone on his forehead, let him do it and enjoy the moment. If they want to jump in a puddle, jump in with them. Let them do it, as long as they’re not in any danger. Enjoy the moment.
Margie: I think sometimes we try too hard with our kids and give them the idea that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t get with every program we have. When we’re with our grandchildren, we focus on them and on having fun with them. We want to create happy memories of their time with us. That’s one of the great joys of being a grandparent.
We don’t have the heavy responsibility of shaping them the way their parents do. We shower them with unconditional love. And that creates a wonderful sense of freedom for them and opens them up to the lessons we try to teach them without being heavy-handed about it.
GRAND: If it were possible to mobilize 73 million grandparents in this country, is there a cause you would like to see them take on?
Margie: For me, it would be education. I have this “each one, help one” idea. If each grandparent, with their grandchild, could help someone with reading, and you get 73 million people doing that, it could make a huge difference in our world-helping other people feel better about themselves.
Ken: I agree with Marge. It gets to the question, I guess, of what we want to be remembered for. For our grandkids, I would like them to have the perspective that it’s not about them-that as they become adults, they realize that they are here to serve, not to be served. To give, not get. And that by giving and serving, they’ll be amazed at what comes back to them. I think you make a difference in the world by the moment-to-moment decisions you make about how you interact with other people.
GRAND: How do you know the approach you have taken towards your grandkids is working?
Ken: Last year, I wrote a book titled Helping People Win at Work. It’s based on a business philosophy: Don’t mark my paper-help me get an A. A while back, I asked Kurtis and Kyle, “What would it take for Grampy to get an A as a grandfather?” Well, they were nice and said I already had an A. So I asked them how I got it, and they started telling me about different memories they had of things we’d done together and some of the stories Nana and I had told them. I think the goal of all grandmothers and grandfathers is to get an A from their grandkids.
The man behind the manager
Dr. Ken Blanchard is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies [https://www.kenblanchard.com/], an international management training and consulting firm that he and his wife, Margie, began in 1979 in San Diego, California.
Best known for The One Minute Manager, published with Spencer Johnson in 1982, Dr. Ken Blanchard has more than 50 book titles to his name on subjects ranging from leadership and management to parenting, spirituality and entrepreneurship. His books have combined sales of over 18 million copies in more than 25 languages [https://www.blanchardlearning.com/templates/group.asp?group=11].
Born in New Jersey and raised in New York, Ken received a master’s degree from Colgate University, and a bachelor’s and Ph.D. from Cornell University.
Reflecting on his career, Ken says: “I’ve been a participant observer in life. I love looking at others and saying, ‘Isn’t that interesting! I wonder what the truth is in that?’ I wasn’t supposed to be able to write. My professors said I should go into college administration because I couldn’t write. As it turned out, I was a lousy administrator, but discovered that I was a pretty fair writer.”