Finding Meaning

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After a experiencing a recent concert performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, I starting thinking about applying aspects of his approach to how we conduct business. The more I considered the idea, the more value I found in it.

August 01, 2000

After a experiencing a recent concert performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, I starting thinking about applying aspects of his approach to how we conduct business. The more I considered the idea, the more value I found in it. Numerous business books focus on utilizing historic figures as a means for obtaining current business insights, so why not Springsteen?


  • Managing a team for excellence. Springsteen shows last more than three hours, requiring his band to perform beyond the usual requirements with stamina, charisma and complete precision. While he dances around the stage, singing, playing guitar, it is their job to equal the level of energy and be so finely tuned as a group that they can respond -- together -- to any unexpected turn in the show. In fact, their level of confidence seems to breed a desire for the unexpected so their skills can be tested.

  • All team members are significant, but some qualities place one in the spotlight more. The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, gets special attention and is beloved not only because of the mandatory level of his musicianship but because of his presence and his powerful personification of the team’s friendship and trust.

  • When you are the boss, it is your responsibility to guarantee all members of the team meet all expectations. In the 1980s Springsteen recognized that Mighty Max Weinberg’s rhythm was off. He talked with Max about his value to the band and him personally, but also gave him a deadline to overcome the problem. Max responded to the performance review by talking to numerous skilled drummers and practicing the lessons they taught him -- he even wrote a book about the experience. It wasn’t Springsteen’s job to teach Weinberg how to play; that was Max’s individual responsibility because he was hired as "the drummer," but it was Springsteen’s job to ensure the best possible performance for and from his team.

  • Know your market and what you represent. Springsteen’s connection to his audience has become legendary. However, during a period during the 1990s he lost a large share of his audience. Why? He had a tabloid affair with his female backup singer, dropped his wife, dropped the E Street Band, formed a no-name band and then married the backup singer. It wasn’t the behavior expected of him. Despite some outstanding music produced during that time, it took the reformation of the E Street Band to regain the loyalty he had inspired in the past.

  • Manage expectations. After the concert, my friends and I were discussing its rank among his other shows. We decided it was arguably his best. But it wasn’t our favorite concert of all time. Why? We expect a great performance from Springsteen. Our favorite concerts were ones that never achieved this level of performance but were full of unexpected treats. Though his shows are examples of A+ scores, Springsteen established an expectation so high no one else but him has to live up to it.

  • Care for society’s weakest but have a place for only the strongest in your team. Springsteen sings a variation of a Woody Guthrie song about an all-inclusive train for sinners, losers, etc. Listening, you know that to ride with them you didn’t have to live a perfect life. The unspoken part is he wouldn’t tolerate less than a flawless performance from himself or his band. It is the team's standards that allow them to accomplish great things for others.

  • Live dreams. Springsteen wanted to be a rocker from the time he was a teenager. He didn’t fit in at school, socially or academically, so the dream gave him the goal and from the goal the path and from the path the elements he needed for the journey. Knowing he is living the dream inspires everyone on the team and in the audience.

In a pre-show conversation, an HVAC subcontractor told me he isn’t a Springsteen fan but he learned two things from him. Pick a job that means something to you, and then give a damn about it. Can anything be said more accurately? Don’t you want him as a sub?

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