How Bruce Springsteen Can Make You a Better Boss

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There’s nothing quite like seeing a world-class team operating at the highest level, is there? For example, let’s take Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The video below shows Bruce (“The Boss”) and his team working out an audience-requested song—not one of Bruce’s—live, in front of 45,000 people. Watch the entire video (it’s about 8 minutes—and turn it up as loud as you can!), and then read on for my thoughts on how what “The Boss” does with his team relates to what you, as the boss, do with your team.

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Okay, now let’s talk about what just happened. In particular, let’s talk about three specific things Bruce did with his team that you need to be doing with your team.

1. He was crystal clear about the goal.

There was no ambiguity whatsoever. No misunderstandings. From among all the options (all the audience requests), Bruce had chosen the song. So every member of the team knows: we’re going to play You Never Can Tell. Then, Bruce decided on the key (since he was the guy who would be singing it). So now the band has all the information they need: we’re playing You Never Can Tell in the key of G. No ambiguity. No misunderstanding. Every member of the team is on the same page, and knows what the goal is. Your team needs the same clarity—and you, as the boss, have to give them that clarity the same way “The Boss” gave it to his team.

2. He gave them the “What,” but not the “How.”

Did you notice how Bruce guided his team, in real time, with specific instructions. At 4:03: “Come on, Roy!” Musician shorthand for, “Roy, I’d like you to take a one verse piano solo now.” That’s the “What.” But Bruce didn’t micromanage. He didn’t tell Roy how to play that solo. He trusted his team member to come up with his own “How.” Was it the exact same solo Bruce would have come up with if he were the piano player? Probably not. But you can see, at 4:11, the delight on Bruce’s face as Roy improvises a rocking solo! The same thing happens with the horns, starting at 4:24. “The Boss” calls his horn players down, one by one, and lets them surprise him—and us—with their genius. Do you trust your team like Bruce trusts his? Do you trust them enough to give them the “What,” and then let them surprise you with the “How”?

3. He gave them continuous communication.

Watch Bruce and his team closely. There is continuous communication—both verbal and non-verbal—going on throughout the entire process—before and during the performance. Look at the communication between Bruce and Steve van Zandt at 0:31 as they decide on the key. We’ve already talked about the verbal communication during the song as Bruce called out each solo, one by one. And then there’s the non-verbal communication as Bruce and the band watch each other for performance cues. At 5:29, Bruce suggests a dance move to the sax player, who is in the middle of his solo. But even as he’s playing, his eyes are on Bruce, and so he falls in to the dance move seamlessly. Watch “The Boss’s” non-verbals at 6:59, as he guides his brass section. There’s more communication happening at 7:36, 7:46, 7:49 (look at how the trumpet player’s eyes are locked onto Bruce), and my favorite moment, at 7:55, when “The Boss” calls out, “Horns, let’s jam around one more time!!!” and counts them in a rousing, “A one, two, three!” Bruce and his team were giving and getting continuous feedback throughout the entire performance. Do you and your team have continuous feedback throughout your projects?

Bruce Springsteen isn’t called “The Boss” for nothing. He’s a great leader! And great leaders learn from other great leaders. So crank your speakers, play the video one more time, and learn how to be a great boss by emulating The Boss!


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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