3 Lessons from the Beatles on LEADERSHIP

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There are people out there who don’t like the Beatles. No, really, there are. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know if the brain damage is genetic or the result of an injury, but some people just don’t care for the Fab Four. But here’s the thing: Whether you like them or not, you can’t argue with their success, can you? And because of this, it turns out the Beatles can be pretty effective role models for people who want that kind of success for themselves and their own teams. So here are three things the Beatles can teach us about leadership:

  1. Know where you’re going. Back in the early days, before the Beatles were famous, things didn’t always look rosy. There were times when they had no money, nobody would hire them, and they couldn’t get a recording contract to save their lives. Those were depressing days. But then their leader, John Lennon, would suddenly shout out, “Where are we going, fellas?” And they’d all shout back, “To the top, Johnny!” “Where’s that, fellas?” “To the toppermost of the poppermost!” Now, no matter what you may think of this exchange (and, personally, I think it sounds pretty corny), the point is that they knew where they were going. They may not have known, at the time, how they were going to get there, but they had a target. A leader has to have a destination. Call it a vision, a goal, a mission—or even just a gleam in the eye—a leader has to know the ultimate desired outcome. I could be wrong (I’ll pause while you catch your breath), but I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it “leading.” As a leader, you’re “leading” your team to a destination. Otherwise you just happen to be the person in front of a group of people going nowhere.
  2. Trust your gut. When the Beatles wrote a new song, they didn’t run it by a focus group first. (“We have good news and bad news, Mr. McCartney. While 78% of the group liked the melody of Yesterday, 56% said they’d prefer a happier ending.”) If the song sounded good to them, they put it on a record. They trusted their instincts. Now, fortunately their instincts were pretty good. Yes, there were some rare missteps (Revolution #9, from the White Album, comes to mind; still, there are some people who really like Revolution #9—although, candidly, many of these people have serious drug problems), but for the most part, the Beatles’ instincts were right on the mark. Please bear in mind that “trusting your gut” and “listening to your instincts” is not the same as “making a half-assed rash decision without any input or information whatsoever.” The Beatles understood melody, chord structure, and how to write a great hook. They knew what the competition was doing. They were in tune with their audience. In other words, their instincts were educated instincts. “But Bill,” you say, “my instincts aren’t that good. In fact, they’re pretty much universally terrible.” Well then, sorry Bucko, but you might want to step aside and let somebody else lead for awhile.
  3. Make the tough decisions. The Beatles gave their final concert on August 29, 1966, in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. When they stepped on the stage that evening, they’d already made the decision to stop touring. This was not an easy decision, and it certainly wasn’t a popular decision. Some in the music business thought it was a suicidal decision; you couldn’t survive as a rock band without touring. But the Beatles—and all good leaders—know that “easy” and “popular” decisions aren’t necessarily “right” decisions. If you’re making decisions based on how much people will like you, then, no offense intended, but you’re just not a leader. (Okay, offense intended.) By the way, the next thing the Beatles did after making this unpopular, “career-ending” decision was release an album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I hear it did pretty well.

Were the Beatles perfect? Nope. Did they make some mistakes along the way? You bet. Were they criticized when they slipped up? Absolutely. It comes with the territory. If you can deal with that, then welcome to the world of leadership.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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