Bringing out the greatness in others
My favourite definition of leadership is “the role of a leader is to bring out greatness in others”. I was sad to learn of the recent death of George Martin. A gifted musician, producer and composer, Martin was better known to many as ‘the Fifth Beatle’. If anyone could lay claim to bringing out greatness in others, it was Sir George.
Looking beneath the surface
Pitched to him by their manager, Brian Epstein, Martin heard something he liked, even though the aspiring Beatles demo tape “wasn’t very good... in fact it was awful”. It’s now of course ‘rock and roll’ legend that in just a few years, he helped the four young men from Liverpool to create the greatest quantity, quality and diversity of songs in the history of music.
More than the sum of the parts
Martin was largely self-taught but at some ten years older that Paul, John, Ringo and George, was able to complement their raw talent by overlaying his experience of different genres, such as classical and jazz. This resulted in rich, multi-layered hits that had never before been imagined, let alone produced. Just think of the trumpet on ‘Penny Lane’, the harpsichord effect on ‘In My Life’ or the 41 piece orchestral ending to ‘A Day In The Life’. These enhancements were not imposed, but rather suggested. Martin, never claimed to possess the genius of a Lennon or McCartney, but he did know how to help them grow. As he reflected in an interview,
“I realised I had the ability to get the best out of people,”
The reality was Martin and the Beatles were stretching the known boundaries of sound recording almost every time they entered the studio. Martin’s contribution was to guide, stretch, challenge and educate his charges. He enabled their undoubted greatness to emerge and, in the process, changed the world.
How can we emulate this in our own leadership?
Chances are most of us will never possess the insight and talent of George Martin. The good news is that we don’t need to in order to be great leaders. We just need to look for the talents in our people and think how we can grow and complement them. Some useful approaches are to:
Seek greatness at every level
We need to look beyond org structures and reporting lines. Talent exists in everyone and at every ‘level’.
Martin was part of extraordinary success without feeling the need to ‘own it’. Be humble. Celebrate the ideas and accomplishments of the individuals and team you lead.
Challenge the crowd
Between 1962-1969, The Beatles produced 17 chart-topping UK singles and over 10 in the giant US market. A big part of this unparalleled success was their continuing musical evolution. They were the disrupters of their age. We too should encourage our people (and ourselves) to look for answers in unfamiliar places.
A frequent theme of mine, but so vital in liberating both ourselves and our people. The experimental nature of the Martin-inspired Beatles had its share of flops. The safe route would have been to create a stream of purely derivative songs, but this was not what happened. If we aspire to greatness we’ve got to get over this mental handbrake on our growth.
Have fun while you can
Teams that play together stay together – or at least do something worth doing. Nothing lasts forever and the Beatles were no different. Their split was acrimonious. The excellent Beatles Museum in Liverpool (well worth a visit) is a walking timeline of their story. The last room is very poignant. It exhibits just a white grand piano with John Lennon’s picture and wire-rimmed glasses rested on it. The lyrics to ‘Imagine’ decorate the wall. A sad ending, but these boys (with George Martin and Brian Epstein) had a lot of fun on the way. It’s our job as leaders to make sure that our teams also make time to smile and enjoy the ride.