Many of my business associates are quite surprised when I tell them about my background in music.  It’s almost as if they’re thinking, “I can’t see you as one of those long-haired musicians.”  At the same time, my music friends whom I’ve not seen for several years are quite surprised to hear about my success in leading businesses. I hear them saying, “I can’t believe you’re one of those suits downtown.” They’re both right. But I have now come to discover how my love for performing music has taught me so much about being a Rare Leader, and why I have a passion to instill it in others.

When I was a music student and was more active as a performer, I realize now, I should appreciate the rigors of being a musician. I realize how it crossed over in helping me to become a successful leader and business advisor.

Personal dedication and discipline stand out as required competencies of both musicians and business leaders. As I was studying to be a musician, I needed to learn the basics of playing not only my principal instrument (the string bass, and later the bass guitar), but I was also required to study different secondary instrument, as well as vocal training every semester in college.

With each instrument came weekly lessons, as well as practice, rehearsals and performances within several performing groups. Additionally, I had my full class load in general studies, music theory, history, composition; not to mention two part-time jobs while in school. Needless to say, it required a great deal of discipline and dedication to manage it all. I didn’t know at the time how much it would help me on my path in the future world of business.

My studies eventually led me to concert halls, smoky bars, and busking on the street. Through the hard work, I came to understand what it meant to be a good contributing member of a band in addition to a strong individual performer. Some that follow such rigorous paths of excellence in music may go on to composing, or becoming conductors or leaders of groups by virtue of their musical vision. It stems from a desire to continuously create and learn, and to lead others.

Great musicians don’t learn just one instrument, they learn several. They may not master each instrument but they need to be able understand how each instrument contributes to the musical experience. By learning the mechanics of the orchestra, the conductor can then understand how it needs to function as a whole, similar to how a healthy team functions in business. While in rehearsals, a talented conductor can pick out one of 80 musicians in a symphony and tell them they were flat or sharp, or too fast or too slow.  Understanding the entire process is a unique skill enjoyed by few musicians.

By having a firm understanding of what needs to be accomplished in each area of your company or your group, you strengthen your respect as a leader.  When something needs to be addressed, you speak to the matter with confidence because you know what it takes to make that adjustment. It’s about understanding the overall mechanics of the organization you lead as well as the individual details that make the difference in delivering to a particular high standard.

Conductors and bandleaders know how to get the best out of the musicians by playing to their strengths. One of the greatest skills of an effective leader in any organization or band is finding people who can perform supremely in their roles, and can be relied upon to do so consistently.

Great organizations develop as a result of leaders and team members that understand the need for systems and how each part plays a role in the success of the organization.  It boils down to delegating to your team members and trusting them to perform.

It’s that last part about trusting your team to perform that can be the most challenging. I see leaders who can delegate with ease but stay awake at night worrying if they can trust the person with whom they delegated to. Ernest Hemingway was right when he said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to begin to trust them.”


Your turn: How do you develop your own skill set and expertise throughout your organization?

Be bold!