All Hail, Queen!
Updated: Nov 15, 2018
4 Leadership Lessons Learned From a Rock Icon
As you sit there watching the Queen biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the story of one of the greatest bands and icons in rock history will impact you with a vengeance—if you let it. It’s a story of love, unapologetic grace, and individualism. For me, as the theatre lights came back up, a fuse was ignited. Freddie Mercury understood what he was supposed to bring to the world. And he wanted to bring it constantly.
What can we learn from a legendary band like Queen? Here are a few insights we can apply to building our teams and businesses in a less-glamorous world.
Don’t Go With the Flow
Flow is great for your Zen but not for building a dynamic business and team.
Your business will thrive just when you decide to not fall in line. Do you recall what many people thought when tech companies told us we’d be able to purchase things from our computers one day? That strangers we hail from an app on our phones would drive us around?
The very best ideas may first be considered crazy by the masses. The song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” for instance, was the laughingstock of critics and producers at first. In fact, it caused Queen to break from its original label because the song was considered too long, too different and too ridiculous. Opera? That’s not rock and roll.
Even if you are not looking to rocket to the top of the charts, your organization should always be looking for an edge over the competition. Think big, punch fear in the face, and offer up something unique.
Queen wasn’t consumed by the idea of giving people what they wanted; they gave people what they didn’t yet know they wanted.
Trust Your Bandmates
Mercury had an incredible team. He found that out the hard way when he and his bandmates attempted to go after solo careers—only to realize that the magic was in the unique combination of the team’s songwriting and musical talents. The rewrites, chemistry, and creativity are what cultivated the overall unique sound that we’ve all come to know—and love—about Queen.
As other people infiltrated the inner circle, the band fragmented and the results were lackluster solo efforts (the current movie only focuses on Mercury’s relative solo flameout. But, IRL, his bandmates also pursued mediocre independent recording opportunities only to realize they were much better together).
Knowing the individual strengths of your team, cultivating trust, and recognizing that 1+1+1+1 can equal 100 are how teams become exceptionally high-performing. Cultivating and maintaining that trust is essential. For everyone to be firing on all cylinders—and to have the courage to offer-up creative solutions—a deep trust in one another is essential.
Believe in Yourself
In the film, lover and life-partner Jim Hutton comes into Mercury’s life late in the game. When they first meet, the Queen frontman is surrounded by empty people and a vacuous lifestyle—and Hutton turns away from his advances saying:
“I like you too, Freddie. Come and find me when you decide you like yourself.”
As leaders, to be great leaders, we must first really like ourselves—and trust that we’re nourishing our souls. Too often, however, there’s a hole inside many of us that we try to fill with our vices, obsessions, and material things. They’re like “empty calories,” and they keep us from being our best. You will never be truly authentic in life if you strive to fill your soul through dysfunctional behavior. Worse, this dysfunction can spill over to the team around you and have a ripple effect deep into the organization.
To be a great leader in the workplace takes work from the inside-out. It’s a personal journey—and no one can do that kind of work but YOU. Start by understanding what motivates your own actions and behaviors. Spend a day alone—no phones, no meetings, no relationships. You may learn that sitting inside your head for a while can be the loudest exercise of all. And what you may hear, and come to realize, are your own gifts. Allow yourself to find comfort in your own skin (or not) and learn to like yourself.
To “do you,” you have to believe in YOU.
Will Your Legacy Have Rock-Star-Quality Impact?
Any body of work is only part of what we leave behind. The real legacy is the people who are impacted by our work. Think about the art and persona of Freddie Mercury and consider the millions of lives he touched with his gift. The outcasts that felt like they were finally being heard.
Queen was known to make music for the misfits, and the bandmates often said they just didn’t belong together. But they understood that their legacy was in producing music that could move people.
In 1991, just after Mercury’s death, my volleyball coach put on “We Will Rock You” during our game warmup. It wasn’t the first I had heard the iconic anthem. But it was the first time I understood it, felt it, and let it move me. I think about just how many people have had this same experience with Queen’s music. It’s a legacy of motivation and deep emotional connection.
What legacy are you leaving? It is not how others view you, but how you make them feel.
At Live Aid ’85, Queen put on the performance of a lifetime. Voted one of the best rock performances in history, it’s obvious there was no holding back. After seeing the film’s version of the concert, I got online and watched the real deal on YouTube.
Every move, strut, note established his legacy for generations to come. Freddie Mercury was ALL-IN.
He has inspired me to always be all-in, too.