Success Leaves Clues

Do you notice them?

Military – Corporate – Sport
Winning has common traits


Florida – Atlanta – San Diego – Dallas – Kentucky.

Military – Corporate – Sport.

It’s been a busy few weeks, but it never ceases to amaze me, how success leaves clues – if you choose to see them of course.


From Performance Flooring to Water Displacing Spray

Regardless of whatever arena you are competing in, there are common principles that apply to all organizations that demonstrate sustainable success. It doesn’t matter whether you’re providing the most sophisticated performance flooring services to the best sports facilities around the world like PLAE, manufacturing one of the world’s most versatile products like WD40, preparing elite athletes to dominate year after year or preparing elite operators to conduct operations in the dark corners of foreign conflicts – a shared vision and empowering leadership is central to sustained success.

Kennedy and the Janitor

During the week, one of my good friends in the military community reminded me of a story I’d long forgotten. President John F. Kennedy was visiting the NASA headquarters in 1961 for the first time. While walking around the facility, he was introduced to a man he didn’t initially recognize as a janitor. Kennedy asked the man what he did at NASA. “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” came the reply. The janitor was part of a shared vision. He understood the NASA vision and his purpose in it.

It reminded me of a visit to Manchester United during the Sir Alex Ferguson era where everyone, from the fitness staff, to receptionists and chauffeurs clearly had a role they prided themselves in and knew their value to the organization.

What’s the greater vision?

Great CEO’s and great coaches have a number of things in common, but two traits stand out – people are the priority (not win:loss ratios, technology, profits) and there is a clear shared vision among the whole organization – everyone has a value to add.

At both Plae and WD40 the clear focus isn’t on what you might expect – simply producing products or a bottom line. Like great coaches, both CEO’s, Brett Waits and Garry Ridge lead by example, taking a holistic approach. Both companies have a vision greater than simply the bottom line.

The staff working for Brett and Garry at Plae and WD40 are clearly aware of their ownership of the vision. Values and goals are not simply loose catch phases scribbled on walls. Working environments are open, healthy, busy and happy.

Winning is a People Business

These companies operate on one simple principle –Look after your people and they will look after the rest. The CEO looks after the employee; the employees look after the customer. As you know, if you (as a customer) is looked after you’ll repeat business with that company.

This has nothing to do with salary. In fact, simply paying more money in the form of salary is ‘buying’ short term loyalty. Buying short term ‘loyalty’ or engagement is myopic and never leads to continuity. Sincerely looking after your staff needs with more flexible working hours, health facilities, open communal spaces or simple amenities that make their work life more enjoyable really cost little in the long term but demonstrate you are interested in them. We as humans respond to this by repaying in kind. Simply asking them about what is really important to them – their family, for example – matters. You can’t fake sincerity.

Pay it forward

In sport the same applies. As a coach, CEO or performance director you can’t micro-manage everything, but you can look after your staff. Look after your staff, empower them and they will look their job responsibilities for the company. They will look after the players. Genuinely care for and look after the players, and they know they are free to take care of their job – on the field.

This is mindset is evident at WD40 even before you join ‘the tribe’. Every potential employee is asked to read the company values before they apply, and should you feel you’re not aligned with the company values you’re encouraged to consider other opportunities. At Plae every employee is seen as an ambassador for the company because the customer experience is central their value system. At WD40 every office is the very same size – even the CEO’s – this is a how leaders demonstrate servant leadership – not lip service. Again, you can’t fake sincerity.

These are just some small examples of why these organizations continuously and relentless improve each year in both market share and revenue. The same reasons are evident in sports teams that are perennially successful and almost boringly dominant each year – they have a shared vision, empowering leaders who put their staff first – not simply pay lip service. Success leaves clues.


Let me leave you with this question –

What would your janitor reply if they were asked by a visitor …

“What do you do?”




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