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Leadership Lessons are in All Kinds of Places

By Karen Delk, PCC, and MSc

Credit: Yvette de Wit

As an executive coach and management consultant, I always look for examples of outstanding leadership in ordinary places and everyday life experiences. I love the performing arts in all forms, and when I can experience it, I jump at the chance.

Last month, I saw two great guitarists with longevity in the music business, often looking for the next great musical act that takes the world by storm. These well-known artists have recorded great music in different genres and collaborated with other musicians. Their music catalog has some of our favorite songs.

It was my first time seeing these artists. Hence, my curiosity and anticipation were high about what they would play and how listening to the songs would transport me back to a familiar place where I may have first heard the music or remind me of what I was doing the last time I heard it.

The first concert was in an elegant concert hall to a full-capacity crowd seated on five floors. When the house lights dimmed, the 80-year-old George Benson came out in a hot pink blazer smiling, getting right down to playing his hits; I settled in for what would be a great evening of wonderful music.

I noticed he surrounded himself with experienced musicians in the industry and an emerging talented musician still early in her career. He highlighted each person musically, and for the emerging talent, he sang with her and gave her an opportunity to sing a song by another vocalist, Chaka Khan, which was not part of his repertoire. The leadership lessons included:

George Benson
George Benson / Credit: Karen Delk
  • Mentorship – working together, showing someone how the craft is done

  • Showcasing – providing space for someone to demonstrate what they know

  • Supporting – encouraging someone to do and show their talent with confidence

  • Sponsorship – taking the person above and beyond where they currently see themselves

  • Sustainability – creating a next generation to appreciate the work already created to build upon

  • Enjoyment – creating experiences for yourself and others that you enjoy and find fulfillment

I was so energized after that concert. I loved hearing the tunes I knew well and those I had forgotten. I realized what an immense talent George Benson is and to see him still going doing a three-hour concert, singing more than he played his guitar. Standing firm and looking great and handsome made me appreciate doing what I love as a leader and continuing to produce and bring others along.

The second concert, later in the month, was to see another prolific guitarist. This great collaborator got his big break in 1969 at Woodstock, Carlos Santana. He mixes Latin and African music to create iconic songs that we love. The venue he played in was a large arena that sold out. At 75 years old, he opened and played for three hours pulling from his early songbook and playing his latest music as well. His wife was the drummer, and we swayed to the music with other singers and horn players. The audience was essentially his contemporaries and younger.

Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana / Credit: Karen Delk

Like Benson, Carlos introduced experienced musical talent and offered the same leadership lessons as Benson did. The other leadership lesson that Carlos shared through visual video displays throughout his performance is the importance of multiple forms of communication to articulate a message:

  • Communicate frequently and well so your messages are consistent and clear

  • Connectedness we all share in song and dance across many cultures, no matter what we look like

  • Be willing to share credit for success with others, understanding it is a team effort

  • Work with enthusiasm and passion to increase the engagement of your audience

  • Visuals help to reinforce messages and are tools of communication and displays of inclusion

An unexpected lesson I learned is that 80 is the new 50. Continue to do what you love, and seek opportunities to share what you know with capacity crowds. Sustain the lessons of the past with emerging talent for them to build upon a better future. Leadership is not only perfecting your craft but also bringing others along to learn from you and for them to teach you other ways of doing your craft by enhancing it. We are an intergenerational society, and our most outstanding achievements are harnessing our collective knowledge to move forward.

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