Friday, April 3, 2009

The Blues Brothers and Executive Management

In a couple of weeks it will be the 31st anniversary of the debut of the Blues Brothers Band on Saturday Night Live. How do I know this? Thank God for Wikipedia. In case you don’t remember, the band was started by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as a comedy skit. I’m not sure if they ever anticipated that it would take on a life of its own, but it did, and the band cut an album, was the subject of two movies, and was nominated for a Grammy. While I didn’t know the anniversary date before I looked it up, I frequently use the band to illustrate a point.

Perhaps the thing I most remember about the band is how bad the lead vocals were. Aykroyd and Belushi couldn’t carry a tune if their lives depended on it. However, look at the band. Over its life, many talented musicians did stints with the band. Notably, it included jazz luminaries like Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn, both formerly of Booker T. and the MGs, Willie Hall of the Bar-Kays and the Isaac Hayes band, and remarkably, the legendary Matt "Guitar" Murphy.

My point here is: know your strengths. And weaknesses. Aykroyd and Belushi were comedic geniuses. They just couldn’t sing. But they were smart enough to know that they could never have pulled off the concept for the band with a weak backup. They surrounded themselves with the best talent available, and nobody paid much attention to the “singing.”

As a senior executive, you didn’t get to where you are by being a lousy singer. You got there because of a certain set of skills; that doesn’t mean you are great at everything. If you came up on the finance side, maybe you’re not a marketing genius. You get the picture. Be honest with yourself and do a deep dive into your strengths and weaknesses, and get the best back-up band money can buy, with a particular focus on your area(s) of weakness. See it as an opportunity to improve your own skills in that area. One of your key responsibilities is to be an effective delegator. But you need to be able to count on your lieutenants, and that means that in addition to being trustworthy, they better be able to shore up the areas where you need support.

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