What My Favorite Band Taught Me About Leading Well – 5 Lessons from Counting Crows

My wife, Tara, and I recently attended the Counting Crows concert here in Fort Wayne. They’ve been my favorite band for more than twenty years and I’d never seen them. That is until she got me the ultimate anniversary gift…3rd row, VIP tickets. Amazingly, while there I observed five things they do that all great leaders do.

Leadership lessons from the band Counting Crows

During the course of the day and night of the concert, I noticed five things about the band that stood out. I was surprised to find leadership lessons from a rock band, but that is exactly what happened.

5 leadership lessons from Counting Crows

1. Great leaders continue to hone their craft.

Counting Crows released their first album in 1993. Few of you, if any of you, were online back then. It was before smartphones, instant messaging, blogs, and buying music online was unheard of. Even before that, lead singer Adam Duritz and his bandmates were in other bands, writing songs, and developing their skills.

And yet, there they were in the middle of the afternoon practicing and performing a sound check. After more than twenty years, they were still honing their craft.

Great leaders and those who change the world don’t take their skills for granted. They continually invest their time and energy into improving themselves and making sure that they are doing the basics better.

I’m sure they could play all of their songs in their sleep and that sound check could be done in less than ten minutes, but they continued to hone their craft.

2. Great leaders give the spotlight to others.

If you’re familiar with Counting Crows, you instantly think of the lead singer, Adam Duritz. His voice and his hair are instantly recognizable. There is no doubt that he is the leader and most famous figure in the band.

And yet, he consistently gives the spotlight to others. Throughout the show, there were scenes like this:

Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows

From day one, Adam has made it clear that Counting Crows is a band, a group of people who play music together. It’s not about just him, even though he is the one who generally writes most of the songs, does most of the interviews, and is without a doubt the face of the band.

Just because his celebrity is bigger does not mean his ego is. Sure, he could take more of the credit and hog more of the spotlight, but, like a great leader always does, he shares the spotlight with others.

3. Great leaders develop new talent.

Adam and the other members of the band have made it. They’ve made tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, toured the world, been on the covers of magazines, and are adored the world over.

So what do they do? They share the stage with lesser known acts and tour with them. And not just in the traditional sense of having an “opening act.”

Adam not only introduced the band to the delight of the crowd, but he watched their entire set from the side of the stage. And to top it off, he invited them on stage to sing with him later in the show.

Counting Crows didn’t just give the band a platform. They are developing new talent.

4. Great leaders involve the crowd.

Like any experienced band leader, Adam Duritz knows that audience participation is key to an enjoyable concert.

At least thirty times during the show, he stuck out the microphone over the crowd as if to say, “your turn.” And we responded by singing our hearts out.

It didn’t seem obligatory or routine, rather, he wanted to involve us. He wanted to hear us sing louder. He wanted us to feel as if we were a part of the show.

That’s what great leaders do…they involve the crowd. They involve their team members and customers.

5. But they don’t follow the crowd or give in to it.

Lesson from @CountingCrows – Great leaders involve the crowd but don’t follow it.

For twenty years, Counting Crows has maintained a distinct style. They’ve never given in to the current fads. And while that might have prevented them from being more popular among the mainstream audience, they’ve won the loyalty of their core fans.

After the show, Tara told me about an article she’d read about how they select their playlist for the night. It’s simple: they play what they want to play. Sometimes, that leaves a fan disappointed, like I was that they didn’t play my favorite song of theirs. But it allows them to keep it fresh and to stay excited. It works for them.

They involve the crowd, but like all great leaders, they don’t follow it or give into it.

This year, resolve to continue to hone your craft and become the best version of yourself that you can be. Give others the spotlight and develop new talent. Give others more than just a platform, invest in them. And involve the crowd but don’t sacrifice your principles and passion to follow it.

Which of these five traits of great leaders do you need to work on most?

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    Matt, Love this list. As a keynote speaker hanging out with other keynote speakers, I’ve been amazed at how thirsty even the most accomplished speakers are constanty thirsty to learn new techniques and are continually fine-tuning their work. Great leaders never think they’ve got “it handled.” The minute they do, they cease to be effective.

    • So true. Can anyone imagine an elite athlete not practicing and then just showing up for games? And yet so many leaders think that one seminar ten years ago and a few books here and there is enough. Nope.

  • #5 I need to work on the most. It is easy for me to go in to a mode where I am way to concerned about what others think.

    • There is a big difference between caring what they think for purposes such as market research and caring too much what others think because you are trying to please the wrong people. Beware of that difference.

  • This is such a great post, Matt. I love that you were able to take aways these five essential leadership traits after spending a day with the band.

    I agree completely with your list and have seen these traits to be true with effective leaders. The one that seems to be the hardest for most is to be able to share the spotlight. This is especially hard for young leaders who are trying to establish themselves as a leader, but the ones who do this always catapult to the top exponentially quicker than the ones who try to take the credit for themselves.

    Again, great post.

    • I’m such a blogger Adam…I can’t even attend a concert without synthesizing the lessons here :)

  • Jane Tuttle

    Wonderful analogy, Matt! I’ve witnessed the same things at a Mellencamp concert, whom I’ve loved for years. Those five simple truths do seperate the great leaders from the good ones.

    • I’ve never seen him live but imagine it would be a great show :)

  • Great post Matt! I was attracted to the title immediately. You are spot-on with these five leadership traits. Of the five, there is one that is in my radar this year. Actually, it is in my annual goals for 2015. The trait I want to work on a lot this year is #4. It is in the spotlight especially as concerns trusting people more. Sometimes I am overwhelmed because I feel the need to be in control of everything. As a recovering perfectionist, I have my fears that things may fall through the cracks if I’m not hands-on. By George I will involve my tribe more!

    • I never thought about it but there is an analogy…by letting the crowd sing some, he saves his voice a bit. The same is true in leadership. When we let others take off some of the burden, we save our energy a bit.

      • Thanks for this reminder Matt. Over the last 8 months, I have been developing content for my first course. However, I have held the cards close to my chest. i feared that it wasn’t good enough. But in the last couple of weeks, I began to share the details with a few people. The response was amazing. One CEO I shared with wants to go through the coaching. As you put it, I feel my burden has become lighter. I now have more energy and will be starting recording the video segments!

  • Fantastic observations, Matt.

  • Would you believe I’ve never heard of Counting Crows? What is your favorite song? My internet is fixed (again, and for now), so I’d like to buy your favorite song on iTunes to hear it. (and maybe the internet is fixed enough that I can actually listen to your podcast again.)

    And I’m like you – can’t just do a thing without turning it into a blog post. Your readers appreciate that effort, so I assume my own do too.

    Thanks for the good reminders about great leadership!

    • That’s like asking one of the Duggars to pick their favorite child. :-)

      I’d have to say Round Here though, from their first album. The studio version is amazing enough, but their live versions (always different) are out of this world.

    • Okay, bought it! Will try to find a chance to listen tomorrow (no smart phone or iPod, just my laptop) I assume this is the song you referred to in #5, paragraph 2. . .

  • Happy Anniversary!

  • Counting Crows played in the Fort? How did I not hear about that? My summit city kids are slacking!