Shawn Parr: The 10 Most Important Traits Of A Leader

Shawn Parr: The 10 Most Important Traits Of A Leader
Arts & Culture

Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40, is a bold Australian and the steward of one of the world’s most iconic and unusual brands.

Shawn Parr, Bulldog Drummond
  • 3 november 2011

Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40, is a bold Australian and the steward of one of the world’s most iconic and unusual brands. Garry is the proud and attentive guardian of the WD-40 brand, and of a tribal culture he’s nurtured. He leads the WD-40 “tribe,” as he calls them, with a Global Tribal Council, comprised of country leaders from around the world. Garry’s a leader who feeds his entire organization with values and emphasizes them with companywide messaging, daily quotes from leaders in history and from insights from people he meets. He believes that effective leaders have a clear, teachable leadership point of view and are willing to share it with, and teach it to others. Following are ten leadership traits, as told to me by Garry:

1. Do what you say you’re going to do:
Organizations don’t pay much attention to what we say. Organizations pay intense attention to what we do and the examples we set, particularly if the actions are inconsistent with the words. Any inconsistency is corrosive.

2. You are expected to be competent:
Organizations expect their leaders to be competent and act with integrity. (I mean integrity in the broadest sense of the word to include team play and respect shown to subordinates.

3. Have high self-esteem and self worth:
Leaders need to have a strong sense of self worth. This means the ability to accept failures and criticism, but without being so egotistical and hubristic that the person is not open to opinions of others. I’ve heard it said that good leaders have a level of self confidence that is slightly more than what is justified by the facts.

4. Leaders move forward:
Leaders are not afraid to act with a sense of urgency. They pay attention to the details (not by micromanaging but by taking the occasional deep dive to test what they’re hearing.

5. Good judgment comes from healthy learning moments:
Leaders exercise good judgment, usually a result of learning from mistakes. Our successes normally don’t bring with them the introspection that mistakes do. Good judgment is also a result of a wide variety of, e.g. international, experiences. Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.

6. Leaders are connected, aware and tuned in:
They outwardly act and display what they believe internally. Leaders are particularly tuned in to the people around them and to subtle behavioral clues. They read a room well. This is akin to a good sixth sense about how to act in foreign cultures. They listen well. They have high EQ.

7. Leaders value the gift of contrarians and resistors:
Good leaders don’t like yes men and sycophants. They know these people will cause them to fail. They are not afraid of surrounding themselves with strong people.

8. Be a leader of hope:
Leaders of hope have a belief that “this too will pass.” They keep the passion of their people and they exercise patience against panic. They gather the facts in a sense of calm.

9. Involve your people:
Involve the people. The best ideas and greatest support will come when people are involved and contributing. In the end, every decision will be made by the person who can make the decision – an informed decision-maker has the people involved.

10. Always stay in servant leadership mode:
Remember leaders are there to serve. The shepherd is there on behalf of the sheep – the sheep are not there on behalf of the shepherd. Note how in most of these a good quality, such as self confidence, becomes fatal when carried to excess.

I’m reminded through my conversations with Garry to practice the advice and philosophies we lay out. It’s a privilege, not a right, to be in a position of leadership. One of the most important characteristics of a transformational leader is inspiring and building trust. Impactful leaders earn it with those in their care by practicing a careful blend of humility and courage. A CEO’s role is part teacher, challenger and protector. A CEO must lead by example, practicing courageous acts of inspiration, nurturing with understandable and meaningful values and creating safe environments for people to grow.

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