“An Embarrassing Moment In Cricket Taught Me How To Lead,” Says WD-40 CEO Steve Brass

The memory still makes Steve Brass squirm. Raised in Yorkshire, England, where Brass says ‘men outnumbered sheep two to one’, Brass was made captain of his school cricket team. At just 15 and with no leadership experience to speak of, Brass believed that the captain should play the starring role on the field, so he placed himself as a starter in the most coveted positions. At some point in the game, an adult snuck up on Brass and suggested that maybe he should let some of his teammates “try.”

Hence the wind.

However, he has come a long way since that embarrassing foray into leadership and can now claim to be President and CEO of the legendary global brand WD-40, a company he joined as a salesman in 1991. The psychic cleverness of his early cricket lesson still guides his leadership approach. “I realized that leadership is about putting others first and taking more of a helicopter perspective,” Brass said in a recent interview. “The point of leadership is to be sure that everyone lets go.”

What Brass saw from the perspective of his helicopter view is that companies with a strong learning and people-first orientation — two sides of the same coin, Brass would argue — have the best chance of building loyalty and engaging their teams over the long term. WD-40 describes itself as a “people development and learning organization” that seeks to create an environment where people thrive. Brass sees the key to corporate success in the right perspective.

Read  How To Find The Right Influencer To Boost Your Brand

“I’m a big fan of the inverted pyramid where the CEO is at the bottom supporting the rest of the team,” Brass said. “This is my version of servant leadership, where it’s the leader’s job to develop everyone on their team.”

Brass says he lives up to his responsibilities as a leader by using a variety of methods to involve his people not only in their own development, but also in strategic decision-making, which used to be the only domain of the C-suite, but through design has become more inclusive. At WD-40, learning and development go hand-in-hand through such practices as:

  • Co-Creation: Brass believes in putting as many heads as possible in the organization’s strategic direction. “There’s an old saying, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” There is power in involving as many people as possible in helping shape the strategy. People will accept it because they feel like they contributed to it.”
  • Development suggests succession: Brass prefers to focus on the broad development of his team rather than building a succession plan around a few high-profile stars. Much like his role model as a football coach and executive, legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Brass focuses on training young recruits. “When you give young people a chance, you only create longer life for your team,” Brass noted. “They also encourage loyalty. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that.”
  • Let yourself be influenced: When Brass became President and CEO last year, he embarked on a “global listening tour,” framing his conversations with team members around two key questions that were also sent out in a survey. “First, we asked what each team member would change if they were promoted to CEO,” Brass said. “Then we asked each person to provide an example of a barrier that stood in their way of being more effective.”
Read  Google Pixel Watch: price, release day, how to buy

The “tour” was not an exercise to cool off or even get to know your team. When the answers to those two questions came in, Brass and his leadership team didn’t just file them away or just discuss them; They used the feedback to make some concrete changes to WD-40 to demonstrate how a true learning organization behaves.

“Formally and informally, by asking questions, you’ll get a picture of what’s really going on in your organization,” Brass said.

follow me Twitter or LinkedIn. Cash my website or some of my other work here.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button