Learning from The Beatles – “Mixing” your Leadership

In supporting leaders over many years, I love to distil to simplicity, to allow them to focus on their priorities, their message, their context. As Da Vinci said:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”

At the same time, sometimes we need to consider more than ultimate simplicity, we need to consider several dimensions to give depth to our context. By dimensions, I like to envisage sliders on a studio production mixing desk.

Imagine moving them up and down based on what is appropriate for your leadership and what your organisation need. This gives you the choice of moving beyond “either/or”, “yes/no” binary choices, to give some richness and depth to focal areas.

In doing this, to use only one or two “sliders” may be too much, but to have more than (I find) three or four leads to confusion both for the leader and the organisation.

A few examples of dimensions/sliders then I’ll use the story of the Beatles and how they added more and more dimensions to their recordings as technology changed. I leave it to you to decide for yourself whether you preferred the simple or the complex in their music.

Oh, and the last video contains one of my favourite musical moments of all time..

So, some dimensions/sliders I commonly consider with leaders:

Control <> Trust

Short Term <> Long Term

Structure <> Flow

Planning <> Spontaneity

Tactical <> Strategic

Leadership <> Management

Energy <> Numbers

Logic <> Emotion

Agreement <> Alignment

The Beatles and their innovation in recording

The first Beatles album. “Please Please Me” was recorded in one day, thirteen hours, o a  two-track tape recorder, essentially a live stereo recording of a studio performance. The last track recorded that day was one of the great cover versions of all time, “Twist and Shout”.

two track recorder

 

After their first two albums, the Beatles led the way in challenging their studios and producers to do more with the recording process. As Paul McCartney said:

“We were always pushing ahead: Louder, further, longer, more, different.”

By the time they produced their later albums, the complexity and layering of their music was extreme, and sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much. Again, McCartney:

“Try it. Just try it for us. If it sounds crappy, OK, we’ll lose it.”

One of the most complex recordings and a Beatles classic is Strawberry Field Forever, and I share this, and then I encourage you to listen to the John Lennon vocal on this early acoustic recording. His vocal is far richer and more beautiful to me than the final version, and I would have loved to see a studio recording of him with that vocal ra.ther than the studio altered and “thin” vocal on the album recording.

 

After the Beatles, we moved into the digital era, with 24 track recording decks being the minimum. Individual tracks for each instrument laid down independently then mixed by producers who became stars in their own right.

For many years now, technology is such that producers effectively have an infinite complexity to play with, yet I note that, large and complicated as they seem, mixing desks are still physical and have a limited number of sliders for the producers to play with to create the sound.

sliders dimensions

So, music producers are starts in their own right, and the best can create amazing music and sound out of massive complexity to be successful.

A key difference for leaders is that they must communicate their message over and over and over again and in ways that everyone in their organisation can understand. Music, however complex, is experienced in a feeling way, not an intellectual one. Leadership messages can be energetic like that and are more often processed in a thinking rather than feeling way, so we must keep them relatively simple.

Consider for yourself how many sliders you need on your own mixing desk as as leaders. For yourself and your close team, you may perhaps have quite a number. For your core messaging, I encourage you to have one key message of one or a few words only, then expand that into a maximum of four areas to give it depth.

To close, an example of what happens when we have too many sliders, then the majesty of bringing it together with one leader and one key message.

We’ve all seen the sorts of “all-star” concerts where multiple musicians are thrown together on stage to perform. Too many guitars, too many stars, the result being a sound that is too layered and simply too much. This final video is an example that starts that way and even has a session musician look to upstage the stars with the early guitar solos. Keep watching though, as having been in the background for several minutes,  observe as Prince takes over and the other stars gradually and naturally follow his lead and subsume their sound to being in support of his utterly majestic lead guitar. One of the greatest guitar solos ever, and also an example of crystal clear leadership by example.

If you love music, please watch the whole video. Every time I watch it I get #goosebumps.

Oh, and the song is by one of the Beatles.