Leadership Lessons from Country Music


I like country music.

I don’t listen to country music, but I like it.

I grew up in a musical family. My mother and father both played the piano. My siblings and I each played a musical instrument. My brother, the youngest of the bunch, was even a finalist on American Idol! And while I learned how to play the trumpet in the 4th grade band at St. Mary’s, my contribution to the world of music is being the great appreciator!

I can keep time with the best of them, but I have the dickens of a time hearing and understanding the lyrics of most songs. Sure, who hasn’t butchered the lyrics to Dan Seals, I Really Wanna See You Tonight? But my wife almost choked when she first heard me proudly belt out, “…move out to the alps…” in lieu of the correct lyrics of Zapp and Roger’s, More Bounce to the Ounce. (I always wondered what the draw was to the Swiss mountainside!?)

There are three reasons why I like country music and many leaders would do well to adopt these principles:

  1. Easy lyrics
  2. Simple harmonies
  3. Learnable rhythms

Easy Lyrics
Can people understand what you’re saying? I worked for a manager once who had uncanny business acumen; however, his communication was unrefined, brash, and crude. He had difficulty clearly communicating to the team where we were headed, why we were going there, and what we were going to do when we got there. Needless to say, no one liked the song he sang and certainly no one wanted to “buy the album.”

Simple Harmonies
Few things are more aurally appealing than a tightly harmonized vocal group. Harmonizing is about blending differences in a unique way so that while each individual note supports the whole, no one note can be distinguished apart from another. Leadership invariably finds ways to blend the group into a single, harmonious unit, while maximizing its diversity. Success is birthed in simplicity, not in complexity. Intricate, abstract plans rarely provide enough “surface area” for people to grab onto and hang on. Simple, well-defined plans can help everyone stay in step and in tune.

Learnable Rhythms
Life is more than motion, it is rhythm. There is a choreography to our day to day existence, even in business. The ebb and flow of communication, the give and take of teamwork, the wins and losses of sales, all contribute to the rhythms of the organization. Leaders who establish a learning environment create better outcomes for both their people and the organization. What is a learning environment? One in which mistakes and errors are not treated as failures, but as opportunities to grow and evolve.

Whether you’re a fan of country music or not, it’s hard to deny that the insights it offers on leadership are worth exploring. So grab your boots, tune up the ol’ slide guitar, and go make some music. Yee haw!

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About mwgrigs

I have three great loves in my life: learning, being useful, and my family. Sometimes I blow it royally in all three areas, other times I'm a rock star. I plan on spending the rest of my life exploring the possibilities of making each of those areas truly awesome!

2 responses to “Leadership Lessons from Country Music”

  1. Ramona Grigsby says :

    Are you the guitar player in the pic? ☺

    Ramona Grigsby
    Program Officer

    Community Foundation of Lorain County
    9080 Leavitt Road
    Elyria, OH 44035

    Phone: 440.984.7390
    Fax: 440.984.7399

    Online: http://www.peoplewhocare.org
    E-mail: rgrigsby@peoplewhocare.org

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