Life sure can deliver a lesson in the unlikeliest of places.
What I learned about leadership from
Patti LaBelle was totally unexpected.
It’s sort of a sickness. Well, not really, but I tend to see team dynamics everywhere I look – even in my “down” time. Remember that little boy in that creepy movie who whispered “I see dead people”? Well, thank God, I don’t see the undead, but I am very attuned to team dynamics and am always “observing” them. Recently, my all-time favorite singer, Patti LaBelle, came to’ Kansas City’s Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts I don’t mind telling you, going was one of the high points of my month…ok…my year! I was super excited to hear her sing; but I got much more. Patti LaBelle taught me a few things about leadership that night.
While sitting inside the beautifully majestic Kauffman Center, I was eagerly awaiting her 8:00 p.m.start time. My heart was beating frantically. I’m such a dork, but I’m an unabashed HUGE Patti fan! Like a 10 year old, I was practically counting down the seconds from 7:59 to 8:00.
Then,I heard that baritone voice bellow:
“Introducing…… PATTI LAAAAAABELLLE!”
I was geeked! She walked onto stage with her usual swagger and commenced doing what she does better than anyone else (in my opinion)! As I bobbed my head (mostly offbeat) to one funky tune after the next, I discovered a new reason to love Patti and it had nothing to do with her music.
It began when she said something like: “my team works hard with me … not for me, but with me”.
Not long after, I noticed how intensely responsive the crew was to her needs and requests. It was more than just the run-of-the-mill “she’s the boss” type responses. It was as though they cared about her happiness. You got the feeling they each had some sort of relationship with her.
Also, half-way through the performance, she allowed each of her band members time to shine. The bass, the drummer, the piano player, every one of the background singers all had a chance in the spotlight. I know that’s no big deal and a lot of artists do it, but it was different with these people.
The way she stepped to the right of the stage – completely out of the spotlight was more than her just taking a breather. It was her body language, the expression on her face, her overall demeanor that depicted her complete support of every one of them. As each one spotlighted their skills, you could tell she was genuinely engaged in their “moments” and actually enjoying the show herself. I’ll never forget her dancing on the side of the stage. She was dancing to their success. It really was something special to see.
She’s a good leader…
A confident leader is always able to celebrate her team. Good leaders, like Patti LaBelle, know who they are and what they bring to the table. Therefore, they don’t feel the need to usurp anyone else’s power or spotlight. Instead, they freely and voluntarily give it away so others can step out and shine.
Let’s talk about a traditional workplace
Some managers are so intensely threatened by their talented staff they can’t share the limelight for two minutes. These people find themselves attending every meeting (whether or not they need to be there). They delegate and then quickly snatch back the reins because they’re too insecure to trust someone else to accomplish the tasks.
Could you imagine what the stage would have looked like if Patti had told someone to take front and center only to jump back into the spotlight and sing over them? It would have been chaos on the stage. Sadly, that’s actually what a lot of work teams look like – sheer and utter chaos.
Can insecurity be contagious?
It’s like insecurity is contagious. Maybe, it’s not the insecurity that is “catching” as much as it is the mistrust. Say,for example, a leader doesn’t trust his team because he fears they want his job (or will steal some of his attention). Eventually, the team members reciprocate that mistrust. This dynamic is a hot, chaotic mess. It diminishes creativity and produces an atmosphere of uncertainty and defensiveness. No one brings their best ideas to this type of work culture.
Am I talking about you?
If you find yourself to be that type of leader, please stop it – NOW! I hate to sound preachy, but you’re hurting your own team and your own success as a leader.
“I’m going to work hard and make you look good”.
Those were the words a self-assured staff member told her much younger, less experienced supervisor. She sensed her leader was a bit insecure and those words put his insecurities to rest. Once the leader understood the staff member was not out to get him, their relationship grew to be quite productive. The employee retired years ago, but I’ll never forget that scenario she shared with me over lunch. Her hard work made the team stronger and more productive. Plus, I’ll bet that manager ultimately appeared more proficient to his supervisor. That was a win-win.
Maybe I’m talking about YOUR manager…
If you happen to work for one of those “thunder-stealing” leaders, I encourage you to just shine. You can’t go around dulling your life’s light to make insecure people feel better. I tried that and it simply doesn’t work. Be you. Do you and bring your best self to work every day.
My night with Patti was simply magical. I had a blast. It was a “feel good” evening I’ll never forget. Only Patti could have had me dancing (mostly offbeat) and singing from the balcony like a complete idiot. Doesn’t my face say it all in the pic below?
Definitely a night to remember and I learned something valuable about leadership to boot. Thanks, Patti-Patti!