It’s no secret that I’m a huge Green Day fan. Have been for decades.
There’s something about their ability to be relevant, on point, and to sound good even as the world spins wildly in different directions. It’s like they find our collective pulse and play to it.
They released ‘Minority’ in 2000.
‘Warning’ in the same year, as we stared down the political rhetoric of living in fear.
‘American Idiot’ in 2004, during a questionable war.
‘21 Guns’ in 2009, as we let war go.
Even, ‘Oh Yeah’ in 2020 as we locked down in Covid, and thought about connection and having higher expectations of each other.
Glancing briefly, everyone can name Billie Joe Armstrong as the powerhouse singer out the front. Distinctive. Loud. Cool.
But for any Green Day fan, we well know that it’s a trio.
Billie Joe may be the well-known frontman, but in the ebbs and flows of a career that spans decades, he could never have done that alone.
On Armstrong’s left is another Californian, Mike Dirnt, the world’s most reliable bassist, and up the back behind him is Tre Cool, a German-born dude known as the best drummer in his genre, many times over, but who on being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, gave credit to every other drummer from every other cool band in the previous 20 years.
So, what has a three-person punk band (albeit an exceptionally good one) got to do with leadership? Or careers?
Everything! Just everything!
People in business, like in rock and roll, always want to talk about the guy out front. Their story. Their details. Their best quotes. Their life lessons.
But the biggest lessons they have are often silent.
Their biggest lessons are who stands alongside them. For that will determine everything else.
- What songs they can play.
- How long they’ll play for.
- Whether they can tour.
5 Lessons from Rock and Roll to Business
There are a million lessons, but let’s just look at five to consider:
Picking the leader, picks the team.
‘Succession’ is picking the next person to lead a business or a big team.
Whenever someone wants to talk about ‘succession’, they almost always want to look at the assessment of a single individual. Reference checking the individual. Comparing individuals. All good, but not enough.
The biggest thing to think about when picking a leader, is that in doing so, you’re actually determining the whole team. So, the questions in your selection process should not just be about the person individually, but also about who usually stands behind them. What sort of people come with them? Who do they normally attract? Who stays with them? How do they impact each other?
A team of Singers is a mistake
There’s this stupid idea of a war for talent. It’s this thought, there’s one ‘best person’ and when you get them, you win. You have THE leader. And if you get more than one of THE ‘best’, you are even better. Companies stack their top teams with individual greatness.
But that’s not how the world works.
If the CEO is out front, then behind them you want possibilities and options, not more of the same. You want a hundred different areas of capability and possibility. Then, on top of that, times will change, contexts will change, customers will change, everything will change.
Behind your CEO you want an awesome CFO, an equally fabulous marketeer, a person who thinks and speaks fluent technology, and a person who will die for the best interest of the customer. You want people who can challenge the CEO to think better, do better, be better, and that complement not compete with each other.
And when the CEO steps away, you don’t have five more singers grabbing for the microphone. Instead, you want five members of an awesome band, and whichever one steps forward, the others will be thrilled to play behind them. Every time you see a team built without balance and possibility when you lose the CEO, you lose the whole team. If there are five singers behind the singer, four will leave when you pick ‘the next one’.
You have to love the same music
Really good leaders know the band’s capability and potential. They play the music that brings everyone together, galvanises people to the beat, and makes space for every individual to be great in their own right.
And a great team plays the same music. Different instruments, different experiences and history, different perspectives, and ideas, but they come together when they play. For the good of the band and overall sound, not themselves.
Anyone can stand-alone until they can’t
Even the best leader has that patch of life when they can’t hold the show. They stumble or make a mistake. But a great band behind them makes the stumble seamless or even invisible. There’s no drama or pressure on the leader when they stumble. There’s no expectation that perfect every day is expected, just support to get back up again.
When Green Day sang ‘I’m still breathing’, it was an acknowledgement that in Armstrong’s worst days, Dirnt and Cool had held him up.
I’m yet to meet a leader that gets it right every day, or every year, but great leaders know that the cred they’ve earned with the band in the good times, will hold the music when they fumble a little.
Band can change, but the relationships remain
The thing about really great leadership is that they build a great band all the time and let every person grow at their pace and to their full potential. It’s a never-ending quest to make space for everyone where and when they need it.
Kurt Cobain was the front of Nirvana, but Nirvana built Dave Grohl, and Grohl built Foo Fighters. Green Day was founded by Armstrong, Dirnt, and White. Dirnt continues to play bass (hopefully forever), but Jason White went on to found Adeline Records with Armstrong instead.
Great leaders hold the relationships for the longest time. People don’t ‘leave the band’, as much as move to new spots just off stage or on another stage. They become linked to the ecosystem of the leader and stay in touch with the music, the plans, and supporting possibilities.
So, what can Green Day teach us about Leadership?
To look to the left and right shoulder of every leader to decide how good they really are …and will be.
Leadership is not a one-person show. To mix metaphors, it’s a team sport.
How do you know you’ve found a great leader?
Look to their left and right shoulder, and see who they choose to make their music with. Ask them who else has been in their band and where are they now? Chances are, if you’re talking to a great leader, they’ll not only know exactly where they are, but they probably spoke to them just last week.