leading peopleI wanted our sound to be some sort of strange combination of Stevie Wonder and Jane’s Addiction. Our drummer thought our vibe should be more in The Red Hot Chili Peppers vein. The guitar player (and the band co-founder with me) was aiming for a fusion of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Phish. Our singer definitely felt we had a Cracker sound. And our bass player just wanted to bring the funk of old school Parliament with George Clinton but really just didn’t want any conflict whatsoever. So he happily got stoned and just played to whatever weird combination of influences made their way into the songs that day. So there you have it. Who wouldn’t want to come to a show featuring a band that proclaimed its sound to be as clearly defined as “Stevie Wonder meets Jane’s addiction who meets The Red Hot Chili Peppers around the corner and Phish was also there and almost ran into Cracker while meeting Parliament somewhere!” What does that sound like?

Looking back on it and being brutally honest with myself, it should have come as no surprise to us that we played a few shows where the venue management turned off the sound on the stage before our “unique” set was finished much to the chagrin of our fan (yes I stress singular) in the audience – the drunk guy who was there anyway. In retrospect this was actually a group of five great guys, and we were all pretty good at the instrument we each brought to the band. The whole was definitely not greater than the sum of our parts, though. So what happened? In a few words, gaps in leadership and communication were at the heart of our underachievement.

I’ve taken a lot of leadership and communications courses throughout my years in the corporate world, but I think I may have learned more about leading people from what I did wrong in my band experience than any of those seminars. Here are the five things I learned about what I should have been doing when leading people that I can and do apply every day now in my corporate leadership roles:

  1. Be very clear about what you are aiming for; and don’t allow for “close fits” or “ya that kind of works” because in the end “kind of works” doesn’t ever work
  2. Be direct about what is working and not working – but be nice about it. Being direct doesn’t mean being a jerk. Being nice doesn’t mean you are a wimp.
  3. Act quickly about hard decisions and course corrections – belaboring them doesn’t help anyone
  4. Ask people for their ideas…and listen to what they say. If you don’t use their ideas, tell them why but keep the ideas coming.
  5. Get the right people in the right roles: Right vision + wrong people = poor outcomes. Right strategy + wrong people = poor outcomes. Right process + wrong people = poor outcomes.

Sometimes I reminisce and listen to our old 3 song demo. It always makes me smile. We certainly could have amounted to much more than we did had I done even a few of the five things. Maybe that’s why I have so diligently applied them in leadership positions I have had subsequent to my band moonlighting days or when consulting with my clients today. It’s never too late. Who knows, maybe now that I’m a bit smarter about this leadership and communication stuff we’ll have a band reunion, I’ll do those five things right, and we’ll all get signed to a major record deal. Until then, I’ll keep writing this blog.

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