Igniting Enthusiasm – Six Lessons From a Zydeco Concert

It was late Sunday afternoon when my husband reminded me that we had tickets to see a show that night, Buckwheat Zydeco.  It was one of “those” Sundays – the kind where you never take off your pajamas, or brush your hair, let alone think about leaving the house.  My brain screamed, “Nooooo!  You can’t make me! I don’t want go!”  But, sounding like Eeyore, I said, “OK, what time?”

So reluctantly I got dressed (even brushed my hair) and drove to the show.  I yawned and grumbled on the way, trying to decide if it was too late to say I was “sick” and couldn’t go.  Then twenty minutes into the show, my husband looks at me and says, “What happened to you?”  The reluctant concert-goer was now standing up, dancing, singing along, and woohoo-ing at max volume.  What happened indeed?  How did that complete transformation occur in a mere twenty minutes?  Then, strangely enough, it occurred to me that leaders could learn a lot about enthusiasm from a good concert.

  1. Be positive – When the lead singer, Buckwheat, came to the stage he had no idea what the audience would be like.  It was Sunday night, the room wasn’t completely full and it was pretty quiet.  Would this be a fun night or an hour and a half of slow pain?  Buckwheat opened the show by saying, “I know we’re gonna have some fun tonight!  I can feel it in my bones. Can’t you?”  With an infectious smile and hearty laugh, it was impossible not to smile back.  How different would your weekly staff meeting look if you started with real enthusiasm?
  2. Encourage participation – After Buckwheat told the audience that he was ready to have some fun, he asked the audience if we were ready to have some fun.  When the reply wasn’t loud enough he asked again.  Of course it helped that he flashed that enormous smile again.  Not only did he lead by example but he knew that some people need to be asked a second time before they believe that it really is OK to join in.  So next time you sense hesitation from your team, check your tone and try again.
  3. Hire talented people with complementary skills – every one of the musicians on stage was talented in their own right, the trumpet player, the bass player, even the guy playing the washboard was amazing (it’s Cajun music, they really do use a washboard for percussion!).  Even more amazing was how they worked together.  The whole performance was definitely greater than the sum of the individual parts.  But I can’t imagine many situations where an exceptional washboard player would fit in with an eighty member orchestra.  Make sure that you hire people who are not only great at what they do but also have the skills that fit within your team.  A new hire with exceptional skills that you don’t need is still a bad hire.
  4. Give your employees a chance to shine – while Buckwheat was definitely large and in charge, in every song there were solos from other band members.  Each one was introduced individually and given the time and space to demonstrate their unique talent.  When was the last time you set the stage for your employees to showcase their skills?
  5. Celebrate success and give credit where credit is due – when each solo was finished, Buckwheat would reintroduce the player, complement their performance, and ask the audience to applaud and applaud loudly!  The players would smile and take a little bow, obviously enjoying the accolades.  Buckwheat may have written the song and arranged the performance but he knew the power of celebrating the results and sharing the spotlight.  When was the last time you publicly highlighted the performances of individual team members?
  6. Say “thank you” to everyone – Throughout the entire show, Buckwheat took the time to thank everyone involved – and I mean everyone.  He thanked the band members for their great solos.  He thanked the venue for bringing them back.  He thanked the audience for showing up.  He thanked people dancing for having fun.  He even thanked the heckler for making him laugh.  At the end of the night, there wasn’t one person who was ignored.  When you experience success, make sure you thank everyone who was involved, no matter how small the part.  And recognize that even those that made life a little difficult may actually have contributed to a more positive outcome.

A Zydeco band may not be your style, but close your eyes and think of the best concert you ever attended.  Think about how it made you felt during the show, in the hours afterward, and even now when you think back on the event.  Now think about what the band did to inspire your enthusiasm for the show.  I’m sure there are many more leadership lessons to be learned from different genres.  So the next time you are trying to think of ways to inspire your team, relive a fun experience and bring on “da funk”!

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