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February 17, 2017

Leadership Tips from Lady Gaga & Adele

I don’t usually turn to the celebrity world for insights on leadership. Not because leadership doesn’t show up in that sphere, but because it’s just not what we see as readily. I respect anyone who’s leading authentically within the entertainment industry, as I imagine it has its unique challenges to staying grounded, vulnerable, and empowered. I’m guessing there are a dizzying number of competing interests, pressures, and intoxicatingly attractive distractions.

All that said, I was struck by a couple of notable performances – Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl and Adele’s tribute to George Michael at the Grammys. These artists embodied a handful of powerful qualities that might serve to strengthen your personal performance as a leader.

Lady Gaga’s performance was…

  • Authentic: Knowing what we do of Gaga, this all-out spectacle was uniquely her. The costumes, of course, were particularly characteristic. No meat dress, but plenty of other visual intrigue. As a leader, the more you can allow your unique qualities and talents show through, the more you’ll create a valued and memorable brand all your own.
  • Risky: If jumping from the rooftop of NRG Stadium isn’t risky, I’m not sure what is. Gaga pushed the limits and it had impact. Sometimes, leadership requires the guts to jump off into new territory, even though risk of failure (hopefully not bodily injury) is at stake.
  • Based on Proven Wins: Gaga combined some of her greatest hits into a montage performance that killed it while still feeling fresh. Instead of always creating something new, leaders could benefit from putting a new spin on what they know already works.
  • Diverse: “Mother Monster”’s Super Bowl performance was both visually and audibly varied, creating a high level of engagement to satisfy our modern attention spans (now less than that of a goldfish, btw). The halftime concert also featured a diverse team of performers, highlighting the strength and beauty of difference. As leaders, we need to be aware of structuring team performance that leads to maximum engagement and benefits from various forms of diversity.
  • A Group Performance: Lady Gaga wasn’t performing alone. The event had additional impact because of the large number of other people on stage, acting in extremely coordinated ways.   Her fellow performers weren’t hidden in the background, but felt integral to the show. What sort of team do you have by your side? Are they fully coordinated? Are they integral, and do they feel that way?
  • Innovative: If you don’t know already, those things that look like moving stars were actually Intel drones! That, in addition to a number of other complicated production elements, proved that this performance was experimental and cutting edge. Innovation for its own sake isn’t a wise investment. In this case, however, it really distinguished Gaga’s performance from previous halftime experiences. As a leader, how is your team integrating innovation in meaningful and differentiating ways?

Adele’s tribute to George Michael at the Grammys was…

  • An Encounter with Failure: About a minute into her performance of George Michael’s “Fastlove” at the 2017 Grammys, Adele had to stop the band and start over. This wasn’t the first time an artist has struggled with sound or pitch issues at a live performance (including for Adele at the 2016 Grammys), but it must always feel like a gut-wrenching encounter with failure. After all, artists of this level are performing on a global stage. And, at the Grammys, they’re performing in front of other colleagues of incredible talent. It’s a great reminder that no leader is immune to mistakes and missteps, no matter how successful they are. It’s not whether we’ll fail, but how we’ll respond when we do so.
  • Vulnerable & Humble: Did Adele just push through the song and try to cover up the mistake? No. She was a powerful witness to honesty and vulnerability by admitting the mistake and starting over. Did she blame or get furious at others? No. She owned it and humbly began again. The end result was even greater respect and admiration from others. Some of the best leaders in history had the vulnerability and humility to admit a mistake and humbly move forward.
  • Courageous: What does it take to move through a mistake and still show-up with full engagement and effort? Chutzpah. Adele demonstrated an incredible amount of courage by letting go of what just happened and beginning the song again, with a seemingly high level of concentration and passion. Amazing. As a leader, do you let mistakes stop you in your tracks? Lean into a courageous stance when recovering from failure, and muster the resolve to move forward.
  • An Example of Excellence, Not Perfection: In this situation, Adele showed us that she was willing to place more value on the excellence of the outcome (and, in this case, the importance of honoring George Michael), rather than her own ego. At one point she said “I’m sorry, I can’t mess this up for him.” Effective leaders also put more emphasis on the impact of the team’s work, rather than trying to save their own reputation or deflect criticism or failure.

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