The First Secret: One Minute Goals

Can a company be managed in a simpler way? We continue our Leadership Hall of Fame series, a year-long look at the top business books and authors, with an excerpt from The One Minute Manager (1982) by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. What does this revered business fable tell us about setting up goals at your job?

The One Minute Manager

“One of my One Minute Goals was this: Identify performance problems and come up with solutions which, when implemented, will turn the situation around.


“When I first came to work here I spotted a problem that needed to be solved, but I didn’t know what to do. So I called the One Minute Manager. When he answered the phone, I said, Sir, I have a problem. Before I could get another word out, he said, Good! That’s what you’ve been hired to solve. Then there was a dead silence on the other end of the phone.

“I didn’t know what to do. The silence was deafening. I eventually stuttered out, But, but, Sir, I don’t know how to solve this problem.

“Trenell, he said, one of your goals for the future is for you to identify and solve your own problems. But since you are new, come on up and we’ll talk.


“When I got up there, he said, Tell me, Trenell, what your problem is–but put it in behavioral terms.

“Behavioral terms? I echoed. What do you mean by behavioral terms?

“I mean, the manager explained to me, that I do not want to hear about only attitudes or feelings. Tell me what is happening in observable, measurable terms.


“I described the problem the best I could.

“He said, That’s good, Trenell! Now tell me what you would like to be happening in behavioral terms.

“I don’t know, I said.


“Then don’t waste my time, he snapped.

“I just froze in amazement for a few seconds. I didn’t know what to do. He mercifully broke the dead silence.

“If you can’t tell me what you’d like to be happening, he said, you don’t have a problem yet. You’re just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.


“Being a quick learner, I suddenly realized I knew what I wanted to be happening. After I told him, he asked me to talk about what may have caused the discrepancy between the actual and the desired.

“After that the One Minute Manager said, Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Well, I could do A, I said.


“If you did A, would what you want to happen actually happen? he asked.

“No, I said.

“Then you have a lousy solution. What else could you do? he asked.


“I could do B, I said.

“But if you do B, will what you want to happen really happen? he countered again.

“No, I realized.


“Then, that’s also a bad solution, he said. What else can you do?

“I thought about it for a couple of minutes and said, I could do C. But if I do C, what I want to happen won’t happen, so that is a bad solution, isn’t it?

“Right. You’re starting to come around, the manager then said, with a smile on his face. Is there anything else you could do? he asked.


“Maybe I could combine some of these solutions,” I said.

“That sounds worth trying, he reacted.

“In fact, if I do A this week, B next week and C in two weeks, I’ll have it solved. That’s fantastic. Thanks so much. You solved my problem for me.


“He got very annoyed. I did not, he interrupted, you solved it yourself. I just asked you questions–questions you are able to ask yourself. Now get out of here and start solving your own problems on your time, not mine.

“I knew what he had done, of course. He’d shown me how to solve problems so that I could do it on my own in the future.

“Then he stood, looked me straight in the eye and said, You’re good, Trenell. Remember that the next time you have a problem.


“I remember smiling as I left his office.”

Trenell leaned back in his chair and looked as if he were reliving his first encounter with the One Minute Manager.

“So,” the young man began, reflecting on what he had just heard. . . .

  1. Agree on your goals.
  2. See what good behavior looks like.
  3. Write out each of your goals on a single sheet of paper using less than 250 words.
  4. Read and re-read each goal, which requires only a minute or so each time you do it.
  5. Take a minute every once in a while out of your day to look at your performance, and
  6. See whether or not your behavior matches your goal.

Reprinted with permission from The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Published by William Morrow.

Read more about The One Minute Manager or our Leadership Hall of Fame.