Interview With Garry Ridge – CEO Of WD-40: Cultivating A Culture Of Servant Leadership

Garry Ridge is the CEO of the WD-40 Company. He is also the co-author of Helping People Win At Work: A Business Philosophy Called ‘Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A,’ with Ken Blanchard and a contributor in Servant Leadership In Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results, with Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell.

Learn about servant leadership with Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Garry his thoughts about servant leadership and changes in the leadership landscape. He was gracious enough to allow me to share his answers with you! I’m excited to let you have a peak at our discussion and what servant leadership looks like.

Interview With Garry Ridge – CEO of WD-40

1. How would you define servant leadership?

I really like Simon Sinek’s quote on Leadership – “Leadership is not about being in charge it’s about taking care of those in your charge” – Servant Leadership is a balance, leading is about Purpose, Values, Strategy, Execution – serving having empathy eat ego so your main purpose is to help those you lead step into the best version of themselves.

2. How have you exemplified servant leadership?

In the book I wrote with Ken Blanchard – Helping People Win at Work I share that it’s the responsibility of the “coach” (leader) to help the tribe members, through serving them is a focused and deliberate way reach their potential.

3. When you became CEO of WD-40, did WD-40 have a culture of servant leadership? What did that culture look like?

WD-40 Company has a long history of great leadership that was “right for the time” – servant leadership was not a strong part of the culture 25 years ago at WD-40 Company and at many companies. The leadership was more autocratic than democratic.

leadership is about serving. Cover of Leadership In Action4. You’d mentioned in the book, Servant Leadership In Action, that when things go wrong at WD-40, you don’t call those things mistakes. Instead, they’re called learning moments. Can you tell me more about that?

Fear of failure is a huge demotivation. It also reduces the opportunity to learn and improve as people don’t share the learning – The Learning Moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation that is freely and openly shared to benefit all.

5. How does this work and what does it do for your organization?

It’s simple, we don’t make mistakes we have learning moments, that reduces the fear & embarrassment effect and people are encouraged to share – outcome is we learn more and share more.

6. Another change you mentioned in the book was using the term tribe instead of team. What was the reasoning behind this? How did this change the culture of WD-40?

As humans, we have a need to belong. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows belonging as the third need on the journey to self-actualization.

You belong to a tribe, you play on a team. History shows that a key responsibility of a tribal leader is a learner and teacher & that is a key attribute of a leader.

7. How do you get new leaders to buy into the culture?

It’s their choice, we empathize on a careers page that our culture is about care, candor, accountability & responsibility and heavily influenced by our values and if that is an environment that you’re not comfortable with don’t apply.

8. Have you seen any struggles bringing people who aren’t used to this type of culture?

If we do our job in the interviewing and selection process we catch that before they join the tribe.

9. What happens if someone begins to struggle within your organization?

Our credo “we are not here to mark your paper we are here to help you get an A” runs deep and strong. It is the coach’s job to help those they lead succeed. That said sometimes our culture is not a good fit and being in it is the only way people know that, if it doesn’t fit we help people move on, treating them with respect & dignity.

10. I noticed you also love to continue your education, whether it’s formally or informally. What are some of the ways you’re learning today?

I teach at USD, USCD, SDSU – teaching is a wonderful way of learning. I am in the Marshall Goldsmith MG100 leadership group which gives me the opportunity to meet, share and learn from some great people from industry and academia.

11. Can you share something you’ve learned recently?

We are & I am learning a lot about the changing would of E-Commerce.

12. How have you seen leadership change over the years?

Evidence is that it hasn’t changed much for the good. I am ashamed to see that the employee engagement global has been static at near 30% for many years, we can do better than that!

13. A lot of leaders have trouble disconnecting from work and enjoying life outside of their title. Do you? And what do you do for fun?

My work is my hobby, it’s my “game of golf” I love my tribe and I love what I do. I get to wake up every day to do something that I love. I get to inspire people to create positive lasting memories. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world. The best part is trying to figure out all the different ways I can do that.

14. Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

Read my article – Accidental Soul-Sucking CEO

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