Byron's Babbles

Are You Leading Like A Rock Star?

Myles Kennedy & I in Nashville

Today, listening to everyone sing hymns, I was struck at how easy it is to follow along with the music. Then I thought of how hard it is to follow along with a rock band. This is particularly hard where the vocals have been removed, like in karaoke. I discovered part of the reason is that at church the pianist is playing the melody for us, and we just follow along. I like this and it is important to the church service. Whereas when listening to a rock band, the lead singer is the melody. This was driven home to me when I was present for Alter Bridge’s sound check last fall in Nashville, Tennessee. When Myles Kennedy was singing it sounded exactly like what we hear on a cd, but when he wasnt it sounded entirely different. He was singing the melody notes without any exact accompaniment. That’s why it is so hard to take his voice out and sing the song the same – I think. Remember, I am not a music expert.

Here is a link to my video of the sound check:  Show Me A Leader Take a listen and I think you will see what I mean. It would be very tough to sing Show Me A Leader without Myles singing with us. Click here to see the in-concert version. 

The catch is that when singing in our vehicle to our favorite rock band, we are always singing along with another singer. We get all our cues from that singer’s voice. When I’ve listened to instrumental versions of songs I know, I recognize them, of course, but don’t always know where the singing part would come in. I mean sometimes I can tell, like for a really obvious chorus or something, but especially for the verses, and especially for songs where there isn’t an instrument playing the singing melody, I can’t automatically hear where to come in when singing.

So, let’s compare this to leadership. As leaders we need to remember that we are singing the lead and need to make sure that everyone in the organization is able to read the sheet music (understand the vision, mission, core values, and strategic plan of the organization). If you read music then it is simple to see where your cues are, or otherwise I suppose it would be listening to music and learning to count measures to determine when your cue is. As leaders, we need to provide the cues and teach our teams to read the music. Better yet, we need to sing along with them.

I am guessing it would be a lot easier if I had the sheet music for Show Me A Leader and learned at least the basics of written music. Like learning about time signatures, keys, tempos, and the various notes and rests. Learning just this much probably wouldn’t take very long, and I’d probably be amazed how useful it would be. So, we need to make sure and provide the personal growth opportunities to those we serve in our organizations to be able to read the “music,” so to speak. 

Having said all of this, however, we need to still be artful leaders. The great rock bands many times abandon traditional musical lyricism, tone, and articulation. Rock singing should be rather ambiguous in rhythm, lyrics, and pitch. That is the essence of hard rock. Just like leading the transformation of an organization may not be so abstract. 

If we think of our organization as a rock band (who wouldn’t want to do that?), then we need to model professionalism. Someone might be a brilliant songwriter (leader) and have lots of great ideas, but a good band member becomes an amazing band member if he or she is also on time, respectful, organized and prepared.

Relationships matter. It appears many rock bands break up over this relationship piece, as is the case on many organizations and teams. Just like in a relationship, each person’s expectations and needs should be discussed. Remember that each musician (team member) brings his or her own expertise, talents, ideas, personal goals and passions, so let that flourish. If someone feels taken for granted, unappreciated or overworked, resentment might build up and affect the music and performances. On the other hand, if members of our organizations believe they are valued and appreciated as individuals, they will be amped up to bring positive energy and ideas to the group.  

I’ve always thought that the great rock bands were not afraid to fail. Being an artist means trying new things, iterating, and sometimes throwing away in order to find the one great thing. The creative process is a vulnerable experience. When we’re working as a group to create new material (products) or learn new songs (processes), there will inevitably be moments of imperfection. As leaders we need to encourage experimentation and the idea of failing quickly, to find out what works, or that next hit song. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the leader(s) (remember, I believe everyone is a leader), in concert (you catching my play on words here) with everyone in the organization to visualize, communicate the concepts and determine what needs to be done to materialize that vision.

Are you leading like a rock star? 

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