Leadership Lessons from Eric Burdon and The Animals

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?

eric-burdon

Eric Burdon

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.

justin-andres-of-the-animals

Justin Andres

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.

Advertisements

Challenge of Leadership in the 21st Century: What’s Needed Now?

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. The previous blog post explored the question of what guidelines or, in their words, rules, would I share with leaders today. Another of their questions was: Why does the area of leadership fascinate you? Why indeed?

Leadership and leadership development has had my attention for as long as I can remember. It currently has my attention because the way I was trained, or more accurately indoctrinated, into leadership (as is the case with many of the leaders I meet and work with, even younger leaders) is much different than the leadership skills needed to navigate the complexity of today’s world.

I came into leadership positions at a young age; at a time when leaders were believed to have the answers, were expected to solve problems and fix situations that popped up. This was a time when letters were written on stationary and mailed, when fax machines (which are now almost obsolete) were just new and the idea that everyone would have a computer (much less mobile devices that process as much and more than computers) was a farfetched notion. A very different world, a very different worldview.

The world has grown far more complex, social media has a strong influence and our environments and situations are demanding greater collaboration and collaborative decision making because no one person has the solution.  We need to unlearn and relearn our habitual leadership skills and strategies to be responsive and still make decisions and take actions that move initiatives forward.  We can only unlearn what is habitual by becoming aware of what is right in front of us that we cannot see, because so much of our worldview – as much as 80% – is unconscious.  This is why Jerry Nagel and I are in the exploration of the transformative power of worldview awareness.

This is a balancing act, working with dynamic tensions of collaboration and collaborative leadership – also something we are learning our way into.  Many leaders are uncertain about how to navigate this 21st Century world with skill and ease, how to draw out the collective intelligence or wisdom needed to find our way forward. In partnership with amazing colleagues, I have been using patterns and practices that help leaders make sense of the world, invite our own ‘not knowing’ while engaging the wisdom and collective intelligence of people most impacted by or having the most influence over the particular issues or challenges at hand.

These are the solutions that have staying power.  This is what this new series of programs at Saint Mary’s – but also offerings in other venues in other cities – offers: insights into navigating the 21st Century, particularly as leaders of any age feel a responsibility for the significant challenges of our times.

IMG_0463