Music and Influence
Twenty years ago the musical Rent hit Broadway to critical acclaim. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Rent was written and composed by Jonathan Larson, who died the night before the opening of the show. Its signature song, Seasons of Love, starts with an ostinato piano motif, which provides the harmonic framework for the cast to sing “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes”. The lyrics ask how to quantify the value of a year of human life – in daylight, in laughter, in cups of coffee, or –
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
It seems that already this year – 2016 – a significant number of musicians, actors and writers have died, before we were ready to say to goodbye to them. And most recently Prince. An artist who defied genres, he created music that was innovative and new. His sudden death at 57, inevitably causes us to feel that his life is unfinished.
Prince – Influence Beyond His Musical Talents
His impact on other musicians is notable, particularly how he mixed music styles and was no respecter of musical boundaries. However he was also an artist whose influence went beyond his music, particularly in fashion and more controversially in race and gender. So whilst we may miss his musical contribution for years to come, he has already left his imprint on our culture – like David Bowie – but in a way other musicians haven’t.
Another musician to hit the headlines recently, far beyond her musical talent, is Beyonce. Gifted in song-writing, producing, and – it has to be said – PR and communication, Beyonce has stepped out of her field. Her Superbowl performance and release of the video for ‘Formation’ caused controversy over issues of racism, sexism and police brutality. This is a long way from the Destiny’s Child anthems of relationships and sisterhood. However her songs continue to speak powerfully, with her latest album ‘Lemonade‘ resonating deeply with those she’s writing for.
Whilst their music might be mainstream, they demonstrate leadership beyond their musical talents
So whilst their music might be mainstream, both Prince and Beyonce – and Jonathan Larson – have used it to reach beyond ‘just’ producing albums and musicals. Their lyrics are punchy and rarely comfortable. They are far more likely to be provocative and challenging, demonstrating a desire to break boundaries and what we might consider leadership beyond their musical talents.
Leadership Isn’t Always What We Expect
Musicians and artists are not the leaders we expect. Not the leaders we see in a leadership profile or conference brochure. But they are leaders in their fields. And beyond that.
In business, Jay-Z, Beyonce’s husband launched Tidal, the first artist-owning subscription-based music streaming service. Tidal claims to pay the highest percentage of royalties to music artists and songwriters within the music streaming market, boosted by his wife’s latest album launch, by-passing other music services to re-claim the benefits for themselves.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Kobe Bryant plays basketball. He doesn’t look like a CEO or Silicon Valley Billionaire but he has played basketball for 20 years, winning 5 NBA Championships and he knows what it means to lead others –
“You want them to be the best versions of themselves, and a leader has to drive for that. And in the moment there’ll be times when they don’t see that. You have to be able to be uncomfortable with that.“
Leadership is Culture Changing
If leadership is influence, influence is measured by how well that person understands and mobilises their formal or informal networks to effect change.
Bill Gates is the richest man on earth – again! His networth is $87 billion. Despite stepping down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 he is still making money faster than he can give it away.
Whilst he can afford to say, “Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point”, he and his wife Melinda run one of the most powerful charitable organisations in the world, controlling an endowment of more than $40 billion, using their influence to effect change. Their Foundation regularly donates millions to causes in agricultural development, emergency relief, urban poverty, global health, and education.
Leadership is Authentic
This past week saw the 90th birthday celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen, whose reign has experienced extraordinary changes. She has seen 12 Prime Ministers come and go, and has met every US President but one since 1950. Whilst her dominion may have shrunk geographically during that time, her stature and influence have only grown and it would be impossible to separate the women from the role she has inherited.
Authentic leaders lead out of who they are, acting consistently in line with their values. Rather than being swayed by changing events or difficult circumstances, clear and consistent values provide leaders with a strong foundation and a definitive response to whatever challenges they face.
Whether it’s such diverse individuals as Prince, Beyonce or Her Majesty The Queen, a strong commitment to the values that matter to you, drives you forward, energising your creativity and your responsibilities.
Whilst musicians continue to have a powerful influence on our culture, leadership is a powerful influence anywhere. Leaders are not just those with a job title but those whose values are beneficial to the organisation or community they serve and who recognise that their influence can empower others to effect change and achieve success for the benefit of everyone.