I went to a concert this past Saturday in Washington DC and I saw a principle of leadership so beautifully exhibited that I have to describe it to you.
The concert was by Phil Collins. You have certainly heard his music. He was with a band called Genesis decades ago and then went off on a stellar solo career. I’ll let you look up his music rather than describe it here, but suffice it to say that his songs and voice form the soundtrack of much of the last fifty years.
Now, what impressed me beyond his music was how he was positioned in this concert. You see Phil is ailing now. He was once the spunky, long-haired, British rocker with attitude. He is now in his late sixties and is suffering from a number of ailments. He walks with a cane, sits in a chair during the entire concert, and can no longer play the drums, once his trademark skill.
Yet he can still sing and, man, does he. He rocked the house in DC and had all 20,000 fans roaring their approval.
So what does any of this have to do with leadership? Well, this was a rock and roll concert. How does a near seventy year-old shine when he limps in and sits in a chair the whole time?
It all has to do with setting. He was surrounded by gifted musicians and backup singers. They moved around him from time to time, joked with him, sang duets with him, and even teased him—all while he sat in his chair. Gigantic screens brought it all into full view. Video clips of the Genesis days and the Phil Collins of old reminded us of who he had been and made us love him all the more. These same screens gave us tight shots of the musicians and put us inside the genius of every song.
It was a thrilling night and it was also the most unusual concert I have ever attended. Why did it work? Setting. Remember this: Everyone stars when they are in the right setting. In the wrong setting, even the most gifted fail. It is the role of leaders to make sure everyone on their team is in the right setting, surrounded by the right people, provided with the right tools, and positioned so their talents produce and shine.
Let me say it insultingly. Phil Collins is, by his own admission, old, bald, limp, ailing, unsteady, and physically unengaging. He was even dressed in a warm-up suit of the kind you’d expect to find on an elderly man in a nursing home. This is my only complaint about the evening. Yet Phil Collins owned the night. His voice, his music, his spirit, and his career shown. The audience didn’t want to leave. All of this was true because smart people knew how to put Phil in the right setting.
That’s your job, my dear leader. Everyone on your team can shine if you place them in the right setting. Make it happen or make a change. That’s your challenge.