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“Leadership is about taking care of who is in your charge.”

It’s a simple sentiment, but it’s powerful. It sums up WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge’s approach to leadership and it is one of the reasons he is such as well-respected leader. Random fun fact, we are both Australian! Aside from overseeing nearly 500 employees around the world with an astounding 93% employee engagement, Garry also leads The Learning Moment to share his coaching mentality and has collaborated on multiple leadership books.

As part of the research for my new book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 CEOs around the world. You can learn more and get a copy of the book with all of the insights and research at here. I knew from the beginning that I had to interview Garry to get his insights into coaching, mentoring, and development as a servant-leader. My interview with Garry exceeded my expectations, and I was amazed by the examples and insights he shared.
Here are some of the ways Garry trains future leaders and what he’s doing within WD-40 to develop as an empathetic servant-leader and help others do the same.

Want to see if you have what it takes to lead over the next decade and beyond? Take the assessment based on 140 CEO interviews and find out!

Jacob: What trends do you think will impact the future of leadership?

Garry: I think a trend of being able to be informed will impact leadership. And making sure that we don’t get distracted, so I think focus is going to become even more important.

Jacob: What mindsets do you think are crucial for leaders of the future?

Garry: Collaboration. Global. Inclusivity. A learning mode. Being purpose-driven.

Jacob: What skills should leaders have the coming years?

Garry: The first thing that comes to mind is understanding empathy. Know how to be emotionally intelligent. Know how to continue to learn. Know how to be open. Learn to be more adaptive. It’s no longer, do as I say; it’s really, how do we find the best solution together?

We have to empower, engage, and be accountable ourselves as leaders and hold people accountable. Leadership is not about being in charge; leadership is about taking care of people in your charge.

You can learn competencies around certain things, but it’s really the human side. 66% of people don’t really get engaged in their work. And if you can unleash that … how do you do that? That’s the human side.

Jacob: What differences would you see between a leader of today and a future leader?

Garry: Future leaders will be servant-leaders instead of autocratic leaders. They understand the importance of emotional intelligence. They are always learners. They value the gift of feedback. They are always looking to move forward and are open to change.

Jacob: What will a typical day be like for a future leader?

Garry: They’ll spend more time learning and absorbing. They’ll spend more time generating thinking and diverse conversations.

Jacob: What do you think some of the greatest challenges will be for leaders of the future?

Garry: I’m not sure that the challenges will be much different than they are today, but the way we handle them will be. Today, we live in an uncertain, complex world, and I don’t think it’s been any different than that in 30 years. It just has gotten a lot faster, and I think you’ve just got to be aware of that. Leadership is a contact sport. We’re always in contact with people. People change and environment changes, and we have to be adaptable.
So, you know, he who leads by the crystal ball learns to eat glass, so I can’t see the future.

Jacob: Are you guys thinking about the future of leadership at WD-40 or preparing for it in any way?

Garry: We see ourselves as a learning leadership laboratory. We call ourselves a tribe, not a team. We have coaches, not managers. The reason we call ourselves a tribe is because we believe that tribes have attributes that are very important to long-term enduring businesses. For example, the tribal leader, the responsibility is learning and teaching.

Tribes have values. People want to belong to things. You know, one of the biggest motivators we have as human beings is we don’t feel like we belong. So in a tribe you can create belonging. Tribes are future-focused, because if they’re not, the examples are that they end up not existing any longer.

Tribes understand the power of specialized skills. Although together we’re one, we have specialized skills within the organization that are important. Tribes are warriors. We fight for our place, but we protect each other. We’ve been building this tribal behavior based on people, purpose, and values.

So, we’ve been building this tribal behavior based on people, purpose, values. The other thing that’s really big in our company is we don’t make mistakes; we have learning moments. And a learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation that needs to be openly and freely shared to the benefit of all. And the reason that we call them learning moments is, people don’t like to admit they made a mistake. But they are very comfortable when you translate that into learning. And I think 99% of people who work for our company globally say they love to work at the company. And we have 93% employee engagement, and our goal is 95. And we’ve been working on this for 21 years, to get to this. Now, interestingly enough, along the same period of time, being a public company, we’ve had a compounded annual growth rate of total shareholder return over that period of time of about 14% compounded year on year. And what we do is sell oil, really. But if you ask us why we exist, we exit to create positive, lasting memories in everything we do. We solve problems, we make things work smoothly, and we create opportunities. So we say we’re in the memories business, because if you can create memories, they’re one of the things that will last a long time past all of us.

Jacob: Have you thought about skills that you yourself will need as a leader in the future?

Garry: I just need to continue to learn. I was fortunate enough back in 2000, I went back to school and got a master’s in leadership. I’m not sure what skills I’ll have to learn, but I’m on the lookout for them.

Jacob: How do you define leadership?

Garry: Leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about taking care of people in your charge.

Jacob: Are there any leadership hacks that you’ve used over the course of your career that you think help make you a more effective leader?

Garry: Every morning, wherever I am in the world, I send a daily inspirational quote out to the tribe. It helps keep me connecting. I do it seven days a week at about 4 a.m. every morning. It’s my way of reaching out a little bit.

I do other stuff, like I make sure that I recognize people for sincere work; I write personal notes. I get in really early in the morning because by the time the tribe is here, wherever I am, at any office in the world, I want to spend time with them.

So that’s something that I try to really work on. I also goof off. I really do intentionally show my vulnerability. The three most powerful words I’ve ever learned in my life are “I don’t know.” And I’ve been really happy being the dumb guy. And then most of the time I am; I often say I’m consciously incompetent. And I think that does help people feel comfortable.

Have any stories of great leaders you want to share? Please leave a comment below and let me know.

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.

2.Grab a copy of The Future Leader and learn all the skills and mindsets that future leaders must possess to be successful. It has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith.

3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did. You can subscribe to that here.

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