Leadership and Change

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When people who are looking for a professional keynote speaker call me, one of the questions they frequently ask is, “Can you speak about leadership and change?” Well, yes—that’s pretty much what I do (my primary focuses are on leadership, change, goal setting, and team building), using the Beatles as my model.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leadership and change—specifically, how to lead a team through change. Because of the economy and other factors, we’re currently living and working through a time of great change. The future is uncertain, and leaders don’t know how to react.

And therein lies the problem.

I’ve been studying how leaders deal with change, and I’ve observed that many, if not most, of them deal with it by reacting to it. And that, by itself, is not leadership. In order to be effective in times of change, a true leader has to be both reactive and proactive. To understand what I mean, let’s take a look at the Beatles—with guest appearances by the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones

The 60s were a time of huge changes. Music, fashion, politics, culture—it seemed nearly everything was up in the air. The Beatles, of course, were in the music business, and they were very aware of the changes going on around them. On May 16, 1966, the Beach Boys released their monumental album Pet Sounds. The Beatles, like virtually everybody else, were blown away by this album. The pop music business was, and still is, a highly competitive one, and the Beatles knew they had to react to what was being called the greatest album ever made. So Pet Sounds represented the change, and the Beatle’s first response was reactive: “We’ve got to do something!” That’s where many leaders stop. But the Beatles went further. They went beyond reactive to proactive: “Not only do we have to do something, but we have to top the Beach Boys!” And so the Beatles went to work, and created an album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which then became almost universally known as the greatest album ever made. In fact, Sgt. Pepper raised the bar so high that Brian Wilson, the genius behind Pet Sounds, had a nervous collapse and abandoned his next project for four decades.

So the Beatles reacted to a changing game with a new album, which was proactive in that it took the game to an even higher level. Another rival band, the Rolling Stones, reacted to this new change (the Sgt. Pepper album) by releasing a new album of their own, Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was nothing more than a weak attempt to copy Sgt. Pepper. In other words, the Stones were reactive, but not proactive. The result? Not only has Their Satanic Majesties Request NEVER been called the greatest album ever made, it’s generally regarded as the worst Rolling Stones album ever.

So, let’s recap:

  1. The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds, which changes the game.
  2. The Beatles combine reaction with proaction, releasing Sgt. Pepper, which raises the bar even higher than it was before the change.
  3. Brian Wilson (the competition) despairs and has a breakdown.
  4. The Rolling Stones (the other competition) simply reacts without proacting, and creates a forgettable product that has virtually no impact on anybody.

In the face of change, the Beatles were leaders. The Rolling Stones were merely reactors.

We’re currently living and working through a time of great change. If you’re in a leadership position, you have a choice to make. You can simply react, and make Their Satanic Majesties Request, or you can react and proact…and create Sgt. Pepper.


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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