Saturday night, as I was surfing through channels after a long day, I landed on the 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The music was amazing and the trip down memory lane moving. What was unexpected, however, was the life-defining leadership moment that Bruce Springsteen stepped up and in to. It was up there with Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University and Princess Diana’s brother Charles’ eulogy at her funeral.
You have heard me say that leadership happens in the conversation. Leadership is not limited to government or large corporations. It’s about everyday people who step up to the moments in their journey on behalf of themselves and others.
Bruce talked about his 40-year run with the E Street Band, his backing group. He shared the ups and the downs, his missteps and his reconciliations. Like many of us Springsteen fans, I marveled at his talent, energy and passion. His ability to stay relevant over four decades places him and his music ahead of the life cycle of many mega-brands.
What I realized Saturday night was what I know to be true: artistry and talent get you there, but leadership keeps you there.
There are times throughout a career that are magical. Times when everything is working, when there is a rhythm and a flow that culminates into something bigger than you ever anticipated.
Here is an excerpt from Bruce’s address. If you replace the word band with company, organization, or team, it will resonate. It is certainly my story, my journey over the same 40 years.
It is about leading bittersweet change and transformation. It is about one’s brilliance and muddy shoes.
So, real bands — real bands are made primarily from the neighborhood. From a real time and real place that exists for a little while, then changes and is gone forever. They’re made from the same circumstances, the same needs, the same hungers, culture. They’re forged in the search of something more promising than what you were born into. These are the elements, the tools, and these are the people who built the place called E Street.
Now, E Street was a dance; was an idea; was a wish; was a refuge; was a home; was a destination; was a gutter dream; and finally, it was a band. We struggled together, and sometimes, we struggled with one another. We bathed in the glory, and often, the heartbreaking confusion of our rewards together. We’ve enjoyed health, and we’ve suffered illness and aging and death together. We took care of one another when trouble knocked, and we hurt one another in big and small ways.
But in the end, we kept faith in each other. And one thing is for certain: As I said before in reference to Clarence Clemons — I told a story with the E Street Band that was, and is, bigger than I ever could have told on my own. And I believe that settles that question.
But that is the hallmark of a rock and roll band — the narrative you tell together is bigger than anyone could have told on your own.
That’s the hallmark of a well-run business, organization, agency, or start-up. It is the narrative we tell together and it is bigger than anyone could tell on their own.
Leadership is about bringing out the best in the people under your direction. It’s giving others a reason to follow. Each individual contributor from the E Street Band spoke about their leader.
“When we are called into the studio we’re not handed a piece of paper with music to play,” said keyboardist Roy Bittan. “We are entrusted with the responsibility to use our musical instincts and our particular vision to create a record.”
“The opportunity to work for, and uniquely alongside an artist like Bruce is so special,” said drummer Max Weinberg, “…his dedication, his discipline, and his desire to always, as he said, ‘Give the people more than their money’s worth.’”
Now I know at a much deeper level why they call him “The Boss”…
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