Bringing out the greatness in others.

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Now’s the time to bring 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 reminded of this recently when watching a documentary about George Martin. A gifted musician, producer and composer, Martin was better known 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 mostly self-taught. But ten years or so older than Paul, John, Ringo and George, he 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 never before 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,”

Martin, and the Beatles were stretching the boundaries of sound recording almost every time they entered the studio. Martin’s contribution was to guide, extend, 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 leadership?
Most of us will never possess the insight and talent of George Martin. But we can still be great leaders. We just need to look for the talents in our people and think about how we can grow and complement them.

Some useful approaches are to:

Seek greatness at every level
Look beyond traditional structures and reporting lines. Talent exists in everyone at every ‘level’.

Be generous

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 10 in the much larger US market. Fundamental to this unparalleled success was continuing musical evolution. The Beatles were the disrupters of their age.


We too should encourage our people (and ourselves) to look for answers in unfamiliar places.


Embrace failure

A frequent theme of mine, but so vital in liberating both ourselves and our teams. 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 worthwhile. 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.


Greatness is relative

You may not feel that your team are doing ‘great’ work. That does not excuse you from the responsibility to bring out their greatness. It’s all relative.


I spent three years leading a team of 200 people across Australia in a business turn around. Numbers, culture and morale were all terrible when I started. My focus was to build a leadership team and enable them to remove the barriers to their people’s success. By the end, we’d transformed the numbers.


I am most proud though of the new talents we identified. There’s nothing more powerful and humbling than helping someone to realise their potential and to watch that self-belief grow. It is, literally, life-changing.


Leadership is a gift

Every day you are fortunate enough to lead a team is a gift (yes, really!). You are in a position to bring out the greatness in another human being.


That’s a rare privilege.


Do not squander it.

You never know, like George Martin, you may be just about to start something extraordinary.



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