Here’s something a lot of people don’t know about me. I’m not just the strait-laced CEO of an agriculture technology company; I’m also the lead guitarist of a rock band called Kickdrive. Music has always been a release for me, but it’s also taught me a lot about how to be a better business leader.
As we’re locked in for the fourth wave of this pandemic, I find myself thinking back to a festival we played before the world turned upside down. It was our fourth set in a single day; my fingers were aching, my voice was hoarse and my cheeks hurt from putting on a game face for the crowd. But we leaned into the music and got through it.
These days, we all feel a bit like we’re at the end of a fourth set. Across many industries, burnout has reached new highs and people have been quitting in record numbers. Never have the lessons learned from those musical experiences been more relevant than today.
The Secret to Leading When All Eyes Are on You
Whether you’re taking the stage or presenting to investors, great leaders bring a level of energy and confidence that doesn’t come naturally to most people.
The hardest-working bands in the world often tour upwards of 200 days a year. No matter how they are feeling, they have to get out there in front of people who paid to see them and put on a show. It’s the same in business. Leaders know that people are watching them closely, and even when they are tired or not feeling excited, it’s so crucial that they dig deep to find the passion within themselves and place it front and center. This is especially important for CEOs of public companies, where not only is your team looking to you for leadership, but shareholders are also looking to you for confidence.
Whether it’s helping my company crest the fourth wave or helping my band nail the fourth set, I must bring a consistent and positive energy every time I take center stage.
Get Creative in Times of Crisis
One of the most important skills to be learned from performing on stage is improvising when things go a little bit sideways. No two performances are the same, and you need to be able to adapt at a moment’s notice.
Similarly, when my company switched to a hybrid work model during the early days of the pandemic, the situation was not perfect, but we made the best of it. We had to find ways to work toward our key goal—localizing food production—while managing the unexpected challenges of operating through a crisis.
One of my first aha moments during which I realized the potential of remote work actually came through music. As the pandemic took hold across the globe, I started sketching out a song called Bill Gates Was Right—a nod to the Microsoft founder predicting that the next global disaster would be an infectious disease. All five of us in the band jumped on a video call and started working out different parts of the song. Within a very short timeframe, we wrote the song, recorded it and shot a music video entirely by distance.
Was it perfect? No. But our creative approach pushed the limits of what we thought we could do remotely. That’s a lesson that persists today. Eighteen months later, we still don’t know when the crisis will end, but we know the businesses that prioritized creativity and innovation have been the ones to excel so far.
Check Your Ego at the Door
In 2017, a team of researchers identified four crucial skills that make a person an excellent CEO. The first is the ability to make swift decisions. That’s complemented by the second trait, which is engaging everyone in the room, whether they like your idea or not.
In a workplace, there’s hierarchy. Big ideas may get pushback, but ultimately one person is designated to make the final call. In a band, it’s a group of equals. Every voice matters, so there is no room for ego. Instead, collaboration and respectful criticism must shine.
Those are also crucial skills to develop right now in the workplace. Feeling respected has always been a key indicator of job satisfaction, but it might be more important now than ever before. Businesses around the world are dealing with a steep increase in resignations—one of the biggest reasons is people don’t feel connected to their company or the direction it’s headed. Now is the time to ditch the one-size-fits-all approach to things like return-to-work policies. Engage your employees to make sure they feel respected and connected. Set any ego aside and really listen to their concerns and criticisms. When bands fall apart, it’s often because of “creative differences.” As a CEO, I understand swift decisions are important, but collaborating before making those calls can help avoid potential splits.
I’m not sure I’d be the leader I am today if it wasn’t for my experience playing in bands. The lessons have been vital for my career. The thing I love most? When you apply these techniques, the result will be a joyful experience. In music, it makes people dance. At work, it helps people feel empowered and creative. Apply these lessons yourself and see what happens. You just might find the energy to get through your next tough gig.