Leadership Legacy Lessons from a Rock Band

If we have ever had a conversation about music for more than 3 seconds, it’s very likely that the Canadian power-trio Rush has been mentioned. I’ve been hooked as a fan of theirs since the early 80’s, mostly because of their musicianship, incredible arrangements, and the fact that they stuck to their guns and created the music they wanted to create.

In the early days of their career, they were dogged by critics and record companies alike because they were different. They didn’t conform to the cookie-cutter mold that created instant stardom. What they did do over the years is create a legion of loyal fans who appreciate a great live show with incredible, technically complex rock music… And along the way manage to rank #3 all time in consecutive gold and platinum album sales behind the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Their music and career is now being highlighted in a new movie called Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage.

What intrigues me most about their 40 year career (which is almost unheard of in rock ‘n’ roll) was HOW they became such a phenomenon, and what we can learn from their journey as leaders.

First, they stuck to what they believe in, and when something didn’t work, they didn’t give up but worked harder and got better. In the mid 70’s, Rush released an album called “Caress of Steel“. Even for die-hard fans this album is considered to be an acquired taste. It was not well received at the time, and in fact the subsequent tour was nick-named the “Down the Tubes Tour”. It did not go well. However, instead of folding up shop, they got back to work and created what has become one of their greatest works, “2112“.

With all of their accomplishments over the years, it would be easy for the eventual success to go to their heads. While I don’t know the members of the band personally, they have a reputation for being very humble and continually appreciative for the support of their fans. In their 1981 song “Limelight“, they talk about the blurred line of privacy that comes with being a celebrity, and how awkward it can be to try to pretend that a “stranger is a long-awaited friend.” To me that shows that they did not get into this business for the fame or money, but for the music. I think that is another thing that their fans have found to be refreshing over the years. You don’t hear about the members of Rush being involved in sex scandals or going to rehab, because they have remained grounded and never forget what’s really important, their fans and the music.

On the flip side, I also think a big part of their success comes from not taking themselves too seriously. They can laugh with and at each other, partly (I believe) because they have such deep-rooted respect for each other as people and musicians. This again helps them stay focused on what’s important.

So stick to what you believe in, stay humble and have fun… it’s a “formula” that’s worked for Rush for 40 years. Just think what it can do for your leadership career!

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