Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rock'N Role Models: Leadership lessons from unexpected sources.

This post was adapted from "We Are...not all we should be." from my blog Unemployed But Organized for the 21st Century on April 26, 2011.


The world of popular music and it's stars provide a multitude of abject lessons for us "commoners". Most of those lessons usually begin with "How not to..." or "Don't..." Once in a while, however, rock musicians go beyond the mantra of sex, drugs and rock and roll to lead by example.


I drove my daughter to school the other day. We were listening to the radio. The local "I play whatever I want" station was doing a Top 9 at 9 countdown. The year was 1985 and the #1 song was "We Are The World". For those too young to remember, "We Are The World" was recorded the night of the 1985 American Music Awards, after the show. The group of artists WAS POPULAR MUSIC in 1985, with some legends thrown in because they are legends. 26 years later, what lessons about leadership can we learn from "We Are The World".

Lesson 1: It's not about the time required to complete the project, it's about the longevity and continued relevance of the finished product.

"We Are The World" was recorded over the course of a week, primarily in one night. Post production ran about 5 weeks for a March 7, 1985 release, an incredibly short time in the world of popular music. Despite some negative reviews from critics (maudlin, over the top, complete plagiarism of "Do They Know It's Christmas") "We Are The World" still resonates today. "We Are The World 25 for Haiti" is a remake by today's pop stars in response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake disaster.

Acceptable leaders obsess over path, resources and length of time to completion without much concern for the product's legacy. Exceptional leaders recognize value lies not in how much time went into the project, but how in how long the product remains relevant.

Lesson 2: Leaders lead, even when following

You've probably heard the phrase "Check your egos at the door." This was the message producer Quincy Jones taped to the door as artists entered the studio to record "We Are The World". Superstars were willing to suppress their ego and work together to execute a plan. By following directions, their leadership by following made great things happen in a very short time frame. Sometimes the best way to lead is to show everyone how well you can follow someone else's plan. That's not very easy for those used to being in control, almost impossible for those with fragile egos.

Acceptable leaders are concerned with being in charge. Exceptional leaders lead, even when following.

Lesson 3: Leaders set (un)realisitic goals

"We Are The World" is a great lesson in setting (un)realistic goals. "We Are The World(s)" was successful at raising awareness of ongoing tragedy in the World. "We Are The World(s)" was also successful at raising funds for the cause(s). Still, there is hunger in Africa 26 years later and Haiti is still a disaster. The hunger and devastation that remain isn't the fault of the "We Are The World(s)" teams. There is only so much anyone or any group can accomplish. Still, I bet the recording artists wished they had done more, even with the understanding that it was impossible to correct all the bad in those regions. Sometimes results fall short even with outstanding effort. Establishing (un)realistic goals insures desired results when things fall short and "over the moon" results when goals are reached.

Acceptable leaders set moderate goals in order to protect their role as leaders. Exceptional leaders set (un)realistic goals to occasionally reach the moon but always reach the sky.

Finding inspiration where you expect inspiration isn't inspiring, it's mundane.

Disclaimer: My intent is not to self-classify as an exceptional leader, acceptable leader or for that matter, any type of leader. I apologize to anyone offended by my apparent auto-anointment as an exceptional leader.
This entire article evolved from hearing "We Are The World" on the rare occasion of driving my daughter to school. I wasn't planning on writing about leadership. I hadn't thought about "We Are The World". I didn't even know there was a remake of "We Are The World" until "We Are The World 25 for Haiti" showed up in the search engine results. Still, this post is now published and I'm proud to have my name on it.

Acceptable leaders consider mimicking another's success inspiring, usually during business hours. Exceptional leaders find inspiration from unintended sources at unexpected times.


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