Hidden Lessons in Leadership #28

In a New York Times interview, Kenny Chesney, the country music singer, offers a glimpse of his approach to managing.  Although Kenny Chesney Inc. employs about 150 people, 120 of which are on the road with him everyday, the insights we can gain from his way of thinking about managing/leading apply to any size organization.


In setting the overarching theme of his approach—and in effect his organization—Kenny said, “It’s important to me to be sure that everybody knows what every body else is doing. I want there to be a level of respect between everybody.” It is one thing to wish for this, it is quite another to enact it!  So how is this theme actualized?


Most will respond with, you get it through leadership!  Yes that concept, so universally misunderstood, is usually the answer to most of the challenging aspects of management.


Probably a far more helpful concept is partnership, which implies equal not subservient status.  This is reflected in Kenny’s assertion “there’s this idea that somebody’s job could be more important than somebody else’s, and to me, that’s not true.”  It appears Kenny does not want his employees to relate to each other as leader versus follower or boss versus subordinate or the essential versus the less essential.  As Kenny said, “I want all the people out there who work with me to feel as appreciated as possible….” The operative word in his statement is people who work with me, as opposed to working for me.  Because Kenny is ultimately responsible, and not that he is still the boss, he understands that it is his responsibility to embody (in words and actions) the respect for and value of people.  Every job, every task is essential and thus every person is essential and should be related to as such.


So what has Kenny created?  Apparently he has created an organization (and culture) wherein leadership is experienced through out.  However these experiences are not from Kenny interacting with each of the 150 employees—though this may occur—it is from 150 people respecting and relating to each other as partners.  As illustration Kenny relayed the practice of (what they refer to as) a “merch” lottery for the concert set-up and breakdown crew.  In this practice, Kenny places “everybody’s name in a huge sombrero and whoever’s name I pull out gets all of the money from merchandise sales for that night.”  This could amount to as much as $300,000.  The fact that it is a lottery (that everyone has an equal opportunity) and not given to the one person Kenny (or anyone else) deems most deserving—which would say to all others they are not—communicates to the crew that nobody’s job is more important than everyone else’s job.  Indicative of the partnership culture, what the crew did was wait until the end of the year and evenly divided up all lottery winnings.


Of course Kenny is very involved and does this because as he said, “my name is on everything.” Many might say, yeah and his is a small organization of just 150 people, you can’t run a large organization this way!


While everyone doesn’t have a bus and a bass drum with his/her name written clearly across them for all to see, everyone does have his/her name on the very relationships/experiences they develop and provide others.  If you care about your true self, then you will care enough to make sure that those relationships/experiences reflect the respect you have for people, yourself included.   After all, this is the essence of leadership.


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