Last week I went to a Cake show here in Dallas. It was as awesome as I expected, but hilariously, and somewhat pathetically, the lead singer threatened to cancel the second half of the show when he was experiencing some pretty menial difficulties. It got me thinking of all the characters I’ve encountered in music. I’ve played in several hobby bands over the years, generally either put together by inviting friends to join, or recruiting through Craigslist. These bands made next to no money, and we generally played dive bars or small festivals for the fun of it, and therefore there was no real “head” of the band. We were all there for the sake of getting to play in front of people, and it was run as a democracy.
This created some interesting dynamics. These bands usually consisted of people from radically different backgrounds, income brackets, ages, and family situations. It was not uncommon for shouting matches to break out over silly things, and auditions were sometimes unbelievable, as we’d encounter the craziest people Craigslist had to offer.
Over time it became apparent that it was more important to like the person in the band than to judge them on their musical ability, something which easily translates into hiring an employee for their attitude, not based on what they know. The more important skill I had to develop though was trying to convert others to my point of view, whether it be on which gig to play, or which song to add or remove from the setlist, or who should be in the band, without having any authority to make that decision on my own. So looking back, here are some of the traits I was able to put into practice during those times, which are equally important in management.
Humility – Without authority, or the desire to use intimidation, you’ll have zero chance of successfully winning people over unless you take a very humble approach. Humility is always something you must carry with you, and work to expand. The male ego knows no bounds in a band. However, being in a volunteer organization forces you to become more adept at using it when you’re trying to win over others.
Listening – Being equal to all others in a band means you have to hear the others out. This is something we all too often neglect in management. Some of the best ideas I’ve ever heard though came from taking the time to listen to others in the company.
Compromise – Often in management, you don’t have to reach compromises if you don’t feel like it. Working with equals will teach you how to become more flexible and more willing to be accommodating. You might even realize compromises are superior because you end up with more buy-in!
Disagreeing and committing – Often in bands, there will be screaming matches over the most absurd things. Hopefully, your office isn’t like this, but learning to not take disagreements personally and be willing to move on without being offended once a resolution is decided on, will make your life dramatically more enjoyable.
Resolving heated conflicts – As I’ve alluded to multiple times already, most hobby musicians are not trying to act “professional”, so you will get a good dose of drama in any band. This means you’re taking an intensive course in conflict resolution, and probably gaining experience at five times the level of a normal manager. Fun!
Of course, you may be saying you don’t play music, so this doesn’t apply to you, but there are tons of similar organizations you can replicate these experiences with. Basically, anything volunteer-based will help you refine these skills. Volunteer organizations usually can’t afford to boss around its members insensitively. Meetups are the same. They all require a kind of leadership style that sells the vision, as opposed to relying on authority. The more you can manage with this style, as opposed to brute force, the more effective your efforts and your team will be. Time to start browsing new guitars!