Jerry Nagel and I had a front row seat recently at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis to see and hear Eric Burdon of The Animals fame and his new band. Not only were we entertained, we witnessed a delightful lesson in leadership.
A true test of leadership is how you respond when something goes wrong – in private or on a public stage of some sort (although not always literally a stage). It shows your mettle as a leader – do you give your people someone they can trust? Are you someone who brings out the best in the situation and people involved? Or, are you someone who gets angry and points blame?
At 75 years of age, Eric Burdon has had a long musical career. He is an accomplished painter, author, recording artist and a traveling bluesman for over 50 years. His musical journey began in the coal-mining town of Newcastle, England, where he immersed himself in American blues and jazz. A driving force of the Animals, Burdon helped lead the British Invasion with their first international hit, “House of the Rising Sun.” A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member since 1994 and named one of the 100 Greatest Voices of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, Burdon’s long string of hits includes “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and the Vietnam-era anthem, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
He knows when something is working and when it isn’t. On this night, the sound system was not working well. He was unable to hear himself and nor were we, the audience, able to hear his voice well. He had played the Dakota a few days before and everything had worked in perfect balance. After a couple of requests to the sound guys to fix the problem, when it didn’t get fixed, he walked off the stage shaking his head.
That is when the leadership skill and style of his band leader, Justin Andres, kicked in. First, even as Burdon was walking off the stage, Andres was supporting and reassuring him. Then he looked to the sound guys to work with them on the issue. Burdon came back out, but the issue was not resolved, so he left again. Andres did not show any indication of frustration or irritation but calmly worked again with the sound guys. At one point he looked out into the audience to ascertain reaction. What he saw, in Jerry and me in our front row seat and probably others, was only support. Absolutely get it right. We could see he was reassured. We were willing to wait it out. Generally speaking, an audience wants you to be successful and will work with you. Andres gave Burdon, his band, the sound guys and his audience someone they could trust.
Burdon came back out on stage and all was now well. His voice was projected beautifully into the crowd. By this point, Andres had our attention. We watched and interacted with him and we watched the band and saw that all the band members were taking their cues from Andres. I’m sure this happens every time they play. We might not have really noticed it any other time if not for the graciousness and patience of Andres leadership in a critical moment – when it was important to slow down and stop in order to make sure Burdon and the band could deliver the performance that people showed up for.
Once the issue was resolved, Burdon relaxed into his art and it was noticeable. He began to enjoy himself. He called for a glass of wine as they played familiar hits and by the end of the evening, he was just getting warmed up. A beautiful evening of entertainment in ways we had expected and in ways we did not.