Management Today

Motivational speaker L Vaughan Spencer is inspired by the Laotian guru Sooti-n-Tsu. Now back in Britain, the so-called Warrior of Watford has hit the road with his tribal drums and his unique management creed. Is he for real? asks Neil Mullarkey.

by Neil Mullarkey

These days, the motivational speaker circuit is jam-packed with runners and riders, all jostling for position. Every Arctic, jungle or desert explorer, the odd First Division football manager and a smattering of ex-England rugby captains have all created a sideline in addressing business audiences on the short route to success. But who are these people at the sharp end of the motivation game? Those who actually do it for a living rather than as an after-dinner speaking moonlighter?

One relatively new practitioner on the British circuit is L Vaughan Spencer.

Spencer may be freshly arrived in the UK but he is well known in North America, where he spent 10 years building a motivational business that even included a late-night TV chat show. A couple of years ago after some personal and business problems across the pond, Spencer returned to his roots and he now holds his weekend workshops regularly at the Ramada Jarvis hotel in Watford, with its Sebastian Coe Health Club.

Vaughan's is a high-energy performance with the air of a preacher commanding an old-style revivalist meeting. Indeed, with his unfashionable ponytail and gold waistcoat, there is much about Spencer that is curiously old-school. He comes onto the stage to Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer and declares: 'I'm already sensing that something very special is going to happen tonight ... I sense a lot of energy here tonight.

Psychic energy ... Breathe it in. Mmmm. Always remember to breathe. Sometimes we forget, don't we?' Some members of the audience laugh nervously.

Every motivator needs a catchphrase and Spencer's is the direct and childishly simple: 'Don't be needy, be succeedy.' His whole pitch is built around The Succeeder persona, which comes complete with a web site, www.the

'What about the Romans?' asks Spencer, by now in full flow. 'Julius Caesar was an early Succeeder. Remember his catch phrase? Veni, vidi, succeedi ... I came, I saw, I succeeded. So I'm a Succeeder in a long line of Succeeders. Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Tim Henman and Phil Collins - all of whom undoubtedly used my methods.'

Along the way, Spencer has gathered many admirers, mostly from across the Atlantic; one American fan, Chuck Schneider, has described Spencer as 'the Tom Peters of the Britney generation'. And that is not all Spencer claims to be. He is also variously the Angel of Change, the Barefoot Motivator, the Bad Boy of Business, even the Warrior of Watford.

Like many, Spencer draws heavily on Eastern philosophy and custom in his repertoire. He is especially influenced by the writings of the ancient Laotian military leader and philosopher Sooti-n-Tsu. 'That guy had some true insights into the way it is. It was Tsu who said: 'To make your people scale the mountain, lead them down the hill - from behind.''

It is not just the East that inspires him. L Vaughan Spencer is awesomely eclectic in his influences, drawing on tribal drumming, Shamanism, Native American consciousness and even colour therapy. Not that he is content simply with the alternative portfolio of his repertoire. Spencer is also into Western management theory and how to improve it. For example, he has patented the concept of 720-degree feedback - 'Like 360-degree feedback only more' is how he explains it.

He has read the complete works of Daniel Goleman, too, but is not sure the American is on the right track. 'I think you'll find that Daniel still has some way to go before he discovers the real truth: it's not EQ but SQ - the Succeeder Quotient.'

Spencer has a particular beef with failure - a concept with which he has no truck, although he is coy when asked about his own setbacks.

'Let me tell you a story,' he urges. 'There was once a young man. He had set up seven highly successful businesses. But he felt that there was more to life. He went and lived with a tribe in Borneo and discovered that they have no word for failure. And, for these people, there is indeed no such thing as failure.

'He then went to live in the Andes with the mountain tribes of Peru and found that they have no translation for 'logistics' or 'trading while insolvent'. But they do have 16 words for chopping wood and five words for making love. Those mountain people of Peru have a simple philosophy concerning hunting which I now apply to business strategy and to personal relationships. Their motto is that you need a big arrow to kill a big donkey.'

But does all this actually work? Where is the proof? There may be a buzz of enthusiasm among a workforce while the speaker is on the platform, but by the time they are all back at work all they have left is a warm, fuzzy feeling that will not change anything.

This kind of scepticism is uneasily received by Spencer, who abhors all negativity. 'Look. A couple of years ago I worked with a logging company in Vancouver. I took them into the wild on a team-building weekend. There was deep bonding - we embraced bushes and we made motivational muffins. Then I spent two days alone with the CEO - without sleep or food or clothes. We wrapped ourselves in seaweed. We role-played dozens of Succeeder scenarios around a camp fire. Well, that man e-mailed me this morning. And you know what? Turnover is up 76%. Profits are up 15%. Staff turnover is way down to minus 11%. People who left are asking to come back. Now that is proof. What I do is powerful stuff.'

Management Today - April 2003

Neil Mullarkey as L. Vaughan Spencer - Don't Be Needy, Be Succeedy


1967: Born 9 October in Jacobs Well, near Guildford, Surrey.

1980: First public appearance. East Horsley Rotary Club Competition. Vaughan (then called Leslie) speaks on 'Pocket Money - A Suitable Case for Outsourcing?'.

1985: Studies at University of the Isle of Wight. Reads The Philosophy of Sport and Intermediate French.

1988: Coaches Norwegian Table Tennis team.

1990: Assistant administrator (Level 2), Stevenage Supply Systematics.

1991: Sets off on his 'Journey of Life' ... Welwyn Garden City, Borneo, Peru, California.

1992-3: Takes MBA at Jimmy Connors Institute, San Diego, California. Writes thesis on 'Dolphin Mythology and Discounted Cost Analysis'.

1994: Arrives in Medicine Hat, Canada. Releases first motivational video, 'Go 4 It!'. Meets Betty on Navajo Moisturiser Awareness Retreat.

1995: Marries Betty (now called Butterfly Dancing on Water) in Gualala, Northern California.

1998: Divorces Betty. Begins campaign against California alimony laws.

1999: Forms band with other life coaches, 'U-Reeka!'. Vaughan plays ethnic drums of diameter not less than 14 inches and writes all the songs.

2000: His TV chat show in Canada wins award for 'Best Middle of the Night Cable Talk Show in a Non-Metropolitan Area'.

2001: Leaves Canada. 2002: Founds the L Vaughan Spencer Foundation in Watford. Wins Silver Medal at the Motivational Olympics.

2003: Creates the SQ (Succeeder Quotient(TM)) Test.


- The L Vaughan Spencer bibliography
- Chicken Nuggets for the Soul
- Superfood - Superleader?
- The Road Less Tarmac'd
- Further Along the Road Less Tarmac'd
- The Suburban Book of Living and Dying
- The Tao of Shaving
- The Seven Hobbies of Highly Effective People
- Blokes Who Run with the Wolves
- Men Who Love Too Much
- Irrational Intelligence
- The Little Book of Big Things
- Succeed in Just Seven Days
- Being a Man
- How to Stop the Hurting
- It's Not About the Lettuce
- A Boy Called Vaughan
- A Man Called Vaughan
- Mind Mopping
- The Surrendered Husband


'Vaughan is the inspiration behind our new car park'
- Chris Wilkinson, CEO, Leamington Spa Stationery Supplies

'Vaughan put the Wow factor back into my customer service team. My business has increased its profits, solely due to L Vaughan Spencer'
- Mr Fisher, Huddersfield Electronics

'He is like the inspirational teacher I never had ... he is like a surrogate uncle and auntie rolled into one'
- Chug Briner, writer

'Vaughan unleashed my dragon. He coached me to fulfilment. Now I have a company car and my own parking space'
- Mike, IT engineer.

LETTERS - Management Today May 2003


* I am no longer a needy dreamer but an inspired succeeder ("Release Your Inner Succeeder", MT April). I first saw L Vo six months ago and he encouraged me to throw away my old socks and boxers to kick-off a new lifestyle that I knew would guarantee success.

Your bold decision to spread the word of Vaughan should wake UK business to an important message.

We are all seeking inspiration at a time of rapid and uncertain change, but we should also be having fun even in these difficult times.

Neil Mullarkey is a breath of fresh air for business events, a comedian who is brave enough to craft his material for what remains the most dire of experiences - the corporate event. Praise be to L Vo!

- BRENDAN BARNS, founder, The London Business Forum

* I was delighted to see L Vaughan Spencer getting the recognition he deserves. When I first heard him speak, within a few minutes I could sense his words loosening the corporate constipation that blocked my road to success. He is a speaker who combines the wit and charm of Donald Rumsfeld with the sheer gravitas of Bobby Davro. He doesn't make the mistake of having heavy content: if you want a message, listen to your voicemail.

Spencer has been the inspiration behind my own motivational programmes "Mind over Mattress" and "Drinking Outside the Box".

I am looking forward to his new autobiography "The Ego Has Landed". Spencer is certainly more disturbing than any other motivational speaker. He also talks a lot more sense.

- GRAHAM DAVIES, chief executive, Straight Talking