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What Music Teaches Us About Leading With A Growth Mindset

What do the songs Bohemian Rhapsody, With A Little Help From My Friends, and I Will Always Love You teach us about leadership?

I was visiting my mom and stepfather not long ago. My mom and I were chatting on the couch and as always, she showed genuine interest in what I do. I was sharing with her some articles I wrote and my thoughts about coaching leaders and the concept of a growth mindset. I did not even consider at the time how this conversation would have helped me dig deeper into what it means to have a growth mindset.

A bit of background. I grew up just outside of Buffalo, NY with singing being a principal component of my life and one of the many colors of the fabric of our family. Expressing who we are in song and coming together to create beautiful music at church and school was always something that brought me joy. It brought us together as a family and over time I found new and diverse ways to keep that alive and inspire me in all that I set out to do, including how I approach leadership.

While my mom and I were listening to music that evening, I continued to explain how to build a growth mindset – the different components, how it evolves over time, and how it must come with intention. At one point, she stopped me and said, “It is like the melody of a song.” Something clicked for me in that moment, and I thought…there is something to this.

Just maybe, a growth mindset for leadership is like the melody to a song. It is the anchor, it is what you go back to as you affirm a message, it is the thread holding all the pieces together. The melody establishes the groundwork, what makes a song successful. Yet, evolution is necessary to remain relevant and pass along the messages and legacy to future generations. How do musicians build on this groundwork and create even more compelling messages of inspiration through song?

While there are certainly original songs that stand the test of time and the melody may not change, new perspective surfaces over time. It may be revitalized in a movie soundtrack, new lessons may appear when the artist speaks to the song decades later, or our own experiences build on the meaning of the song as we grow and learn.

I believe the same is true with leadership. As songs grow and evolve, so do we. Yet, we keep ourselves grounded on our values, our purpose, and what has centered us – our “melody.” What can we learn from the evolution of a song to how we evolve as growth minded leaders? And how does this help us become even more successful?

I have collaborated with leaders of various backgrounds and experiences for over 20 years and discovered what successful leaders’ ask themselves to build and apply a growth mindset. As you think about these questions, consider how it connects to music.

How can I create more impact tomorrow?

Gain new perspective: Harmony is what gives music the potential for new ideas and variety. It brings different notes and voices, that when played together, delivers a sound that resonates and brings experiences that move us.

This has me thinking about the song Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen. This song pushed boundaries. The voices come together in various key changes and an opera section, and then they stand back during the instrumental piece that has you wanting to head bang as they did in the movie Wayne’s World. When we hear this song, it brings feelings of intensity that has us stop whatever we are doing at the moment to relive what the song means for us and how it brought people together to join in to be part of the experience.

As a growth minded leader, you search for new ways to have impact and engage with those around you to create the potential for new ideas. You focus on how bringing people together to advance your vision and mission is essential to achieving success. You listen to understand (not respond), you lead with curiosity, and you stand back to give space for others to be heard and thrive. It is not just about hearing one voice – it is a blend of all voices.

When reflecting on how you can gain perspective, consider these questions:

  • Who do I involve in the creation and evolution of current projects, initiatives, or ideas?

  • What new voices do I need to add to the conversation to create more impact? Do I take steps to stop and listen to others to further my perspective?

  • How can I communicate my vision to others in a way that is compelling and how can I add new notes to the conversation?

  • How often do I make statements to others vs. being curious about their experiences? How can I be more curious today, so I have a broader perspective tomorrow?

How will I remain relevant tomorrow?

Reimagine what is possible: Over time we have experienced new versions of an original song bringing new life and meaning to its listeners. Let us take the Beatles song, With a Little Help From My Friends, reimagined by Joe Cocker a year later. The revision by Cocker created a new following, at a time where people were coming together to spread unity and peace during Woodstock. It came with more emotion, a different pace, additional voices, and a deeper purpose. All at the right time and in the right place.

As a growth minded leader, you think long term. You seek out the blind spots, courageously turn the corner not knowing what to expect, and examine trends to identify where you need to adjust to shape the future. This positions you to be ready to identify potential challenges or problems for your stakeholders and be ready to help solve them. As a growth minded leader, you reimagine your vision - scan the environment, analyze your impact, and engage a new generation of people to create the future.

When reflecting on how you can reimagine what is possible, consider these questions:

  • What values guide my decisions, and how do I define them? Have they changed?

  • What is my vision, is it clear, does it create a following, and what is next for my vision?

  • When is the last time I researched trends in my industry or profession? What new publications or books can I add to my shelf to raise my awareness?

  • What are the tried-and-true methods that have worked for me in the past? What one or two methods can I examine further and reimagine over the next three months? Who will I engage in the conversation?

What can you do today to be better tomorrow?

Evolve your ideas: Like the Cocker example, artists find ways to bring experiences to new audiences. A notable example of that is I Will Always Love You, originally performed by Dolly Parton and evolved by Whitney Houston almost 20 years later. This was clearly about making a song even more successful by bringing a new tone, range, and meaning. Houston transformed the country ballad into a gospel rendition, bringing soul and deeper meaning of devotion. This rendition set a new standard as it became a popular choice in singing competitions. If one could pull off performing this song, they could sing anything. A high-risk move, with high reward potential.

As a growth minded leader, you look for ways to be even more successful. You achieve a goal and then find ways to further evolve your progress and are intentional in those decisions. You calculate risks and identify what skills you need to build to reap the rewards. Seeking out feedback from those around you is central to how you assess your success. Your stakeholders experience the impact of your decisions, behavior, and outcomes. You demonstrate the courage, humility, and discipline necessary to involve those around you, ask for help, and take structured steps to improve.

When reflecting on how you can be even more successful tomorrow, consider these questions:

  • Who are your stakeholders? Who is impacted by your behavior and results and can provide you feedback and suggestions for improvement?

  • What specific steps can you take to increase self awareness? When is the last time you engaged in a 360-feedback process and what steps will you take to start this process?

  • What have you done differently to help you be successful with new challenges?

  • What new knowledge or information sparked your curiosity recently and what needs to be in place for you to act?

One could argue there are many songs that are timeless and there is no need or desire to change them, like Bohemian Rhapsody. I agree. I will also say, while timeless, they still evolve. Be it through the experience of the listener, the writer and performer, or how it brings people together. Songs grow, and people grow in similar ways.

If the evolution of the melody of a song teaches us anything, it is we must approach our personal and professional lives with a growth mindset if we want to have impact, stay relevant, and be even more successful to realize our vision and create our future.

Keep growing.

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