Leadership Lessons from Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage a rockin’ focus on goals

Posted July 19, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights, Teamwork

As a woman, I am in an extreme minority when it comes to Canadian rock band Rush’s fan base.  (And although I’m not as fervent a fan as my husband, yes, I have seen them in concert and do own albums other than Moving Pictures).  Rush recently released a new “rock-umentary” Beyond the Lighted Stage charting their lives and times and it is a great watch.  For leaders, the flick offers some interesting lessons in what can happen with a great team and a focus on your long-term goals.

Teams form around the need to achieve a common purpose.  In the case of why most teenage boys form rock bands, it probably breaks down into one of three main goals:

  1. to make great music
  2. to make lots of money
  3. to meet lots of women

Rush is a band that chose goal number one and has been relentless at pursuing it.  This myopic focus on the music (vs. management expectations, groupies, fame, fortune) is demonstrated time after time through the film retrospective.

Watching the film, you can’t help but be impressed with the group’s camaraderie and commitment to each other.  After watching the band in action, I took away a few leadership lessons that I thought I’d share:

  1. Never stop learning and growing… Rush have always been about trying new things that challenge their musicianship and Neil Peart (arguably one of the world’s best drummers) even teamed up with a mentor to challenge his growth.  Leadership lesson: What are you doing to push yourself?
  2. Try new things, but recognize when you’re off track… pushing the envelope musically inevitably led to a few missteps (synthesizer overuse anyone??). But the band recognized when they’d strayed too far and got back to their roots.  Leadership lesson: Taking risks is crucial to growth, but know when you need to step back and re-evaluate.
  3. Overnight sensations are overrated… in an industry where bands implode after their one big hit, Rush’s slow and steady ascent has brought a global allegiance of followers and a forty year career.  Leadership lesson: Careers don’t happen overnight either. Think about how each step you’re taking/move you’re making is bringing you towards your ultimate career/life goals.
  4. Believe in your mission and ignore the critics… Rush were clear on their goals and kept the critics at bay by focusing on creating great music for themselves (and the fans agreed).  Leadership lesson: Sometimes people will try to detract you from following through on your vision.  Don’t let your need for approval get in the way of your goals.
  5. Do what you love and the rest takes care of itself… Rush didn’t start out to make lots of money or add notches to their bedpost and yet, by creating great music, they’ve got the money and the opportunity to add those notches (although according to Gene Simmons of Kiss who toured with Rush in the 70’s, the guys were all in bed reading instead of hanging with the ladies backstage!)  Leadership lesson: Focus on being great at where you are now…not lobbying for the position you’re trying to get to.  Keep doing great work and the promotions and raises will come.
  6. Good hang is key to long-term success… in a previous post we looked at the “gig” triangle and how it affects bands and we regular working types.  Rush has great “hang”… it’s obvious that bandmates genuinely enjoy and respect each other.  Leadership lesson: It’s much easier to weather the ups and downs of life if you have a team that you genuinely enjoy working with.  Strike another mark for the importance of careful recruiting!

Rush are three guys who are doing what they love and enjoying the rewards that comes from being relentlessly focused on your ultimate mission.

So what’s your career mission and how are you pursuing it today?

Happy leading!


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6 Comments

  1. Mark Godenho says:

    Hiya

    Yes Rush are a brilliant band. I recently acquired 2112 on vinyl…but that’s another story. What I really admire about Rush is their persistence. They did what they wanted to do…and eventually they achieved mainstream success (altho some would argue that they were always successful!)
    As leaders we need to be persistent, in our mindset and values. Then we too will be successful.
    Best Regards
    mark

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Hi Mark… you could probably spend hours discussing the superior listening experience that vinyl provides with my husband I’m sure, but back to the leadership lessons. Totally with you on the persistence front. Your comment reminded me of Jim Collins’ “fly wheel” effect from Good to Great. Great talent with a clear vision and the persistence to follow it through… a beautiful combination. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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