Lessons in Leadership, as demonstrated by The Boss, By Kurt Larsson

Last Night I got yet another chance to see Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band play. It was an inspiring spectacle behold from an entertainment standpoint and also from a leadership standpoint. Again citing Grace Hopper, ”You manage things and you lead people”. Last night it was a pleasure to feel served, to follow someone you respect and enjoy.

Being a fan since 1972 it didn’t matter so much that we sat in the Nose-Bleed Section but still paid an historically outrageous price for the seats. Yet we, along with over 56,000 of our closest and mostly middle age friends, seemed very satisfied with the result. An evening of good music and fun was had by all. That was just the entertainment part. The bonus was experiencing and appreciating a really well-oiled team work its magic supported and empowered by its Boss.

It’s not about him
”We are still on a mission” Proclaimed Springsteen in a bit of a semi-sermon after the first few songs. ”We are here to serve you; but we can’t do it alone. We need your help” and with that he and the band ”disappeared” into pure service, forgot about themselves and set the tone for the rest of the over three hours of non-stop entertainment. One of the things that makes Springsteen so endearing to his fans is his ability to become “one of them”. To do this it seems he has developed an uncanny ability to check his ego in at the door and focus totally on those there to enjoy. And those there to enjoy are, of course, his fans yet, it also seems to always include his band and, most of all, himself. He leads by having fun and his level of fun is very contagious. His smile repeatedly sent ripples of joy through all on the Stage and then out to all of us watching.

The best talent
Everybody manning the stage was a true professional. Their technical abilities were top notch, their feeling for what they played could be sensed and they seemed to have the freedom and trust to fully express themselves. There was a rainbow of skin colors and cultures in the 17 Musicians on stage and they all were obviously enjoying themselves. They were all united in their drive to be the best and serve us, their paying customers. Each one of them was given room to demonstrate those talents and excel, as long as they kept their ”mission” of service in focus.

A tested structure
As Springsteen’s fame has reached all corners of the globe, his songs and their lyrics are known by heart to most concertgoers. Therefore, careful attention seems to be paid to keeping within their range of expectations. Fans enjoy ”coming home” to the music they grew up with and The Boss seems to understand that. This seems especially true with the structure of each song, usually starting with a guitar solo and ending up with a sax solo. It was interesting to see how seamless the replacement of Bruce’s “big man”, Clarence Clemmons went with his nephew Jake. This was the one exception in the band members’ ability to express themselves as Jake seemed to effortlessly repeat his uncles famous riffs, yet his body language seemed to be held back by a tacit requirement to honor the established ”sax solo code” and not break free to demonstrate his own (probably amazing) capabilities. It will be interesting to see how the career of this young and promising musician develops. But for now, he served the public well with what they had come to expect and did so effortlessly and marvelously.

Product, delivery and a “stand”
Other than an almost typical and obligatory light show there were no special props to dazzle us. Then again, none were needed. The music and the talent providing it were the only components necessary to deliver their requested product. The product was a set of songs, yet not just any songs, each one crafted to tell a story, many to deliver a deeper message. Bruce Springsteen’s song writing ability is legendary. He is a wordsmith, par-excellence and for those listening closely to their meaning will be rewarded with a “moving” message. Messages range from simple love ballads with imagery that puts you right in the ”sheets damp with sweat” up to powerful protest songs designed to make you think about injustices from police brutality to the emptying out of American values, wealth and pride. It seems the Stage is one of the few places left where freedom of speech can still be practiced (permitted?) and last night, those that listened got a taste of what it is like when someone powerful demonstrates his stand for something.

The delivery was masterful
What set those lyrics alight was the ability of each member of the band to work together, build tension and deliver powerful resolutions (refrains) that were easy to comprehend and sing along with. Even though English was a second language most present in this Swedish concert it was evident from everyone singing along that language was not a barrier. There were also no complicated formulas to unravel, no “quantitative easing”, “sequestration”, “rehypothecation” to ponder or “negative real interest rates” to decode, just simple words painting pictures with handles everyone present could easily, boldly and joyously grasp.

One of the beauties of music is that when combined with simple but powerful lyrics the message is very easily received and understood by all listening. Music opens up the right side of the brain and simple text massages the left side, causing both hemispheres to work in harmony to efficiently process that message. This is the theory, the practice was witnessed once again by anyone observing as 50,000 people stood up, clapped and danced while singing to Bruce’s lyrics in a foreign language. The message seemed to go deep into each listener’s cells and become embodied in a way that will probably influence them for some time to come.

The Boss, the ultimate showman
Bruce Springsteen is a gifted man. What makes him so great is that he has taken his natural gifts and developed them into the art and practice of professional showmanship. Yet, with his accurate timing and sense for the dramatic he still puts his heart before his intellect and remains true to his mission of serving each listener. His body language is elegantly clear and when he is enjoying himself it radiates from his every pore. No mixed messages or hidden agendas here. He is constantly working the crowd, shaking hands, letting people strum his guitar and even dancing with one lucky birthday girl. Everyone watching seems to connect with those special few with whom he interacts. Everyone seemed to act as if they were too “on-stage” dancing with the Boss through the senses of that lucky birthday girl.

Handling Obstacles
With so many lyrics written over more than a forty year period it would be almost natural for him to forget a few words. Who wouldn’t?! And for the first time I have ever witnessed, last night he did. In one of the oldest songs he played, he threw up his arms and with a big smile, proclaimed ”I forgot the words” chuckled a bit and then picked up with the lyrics afresh from where the song had now progressed. That was the end of it.; back to the show. For those of you that forget a prepared line in your presentation next time, remember how the Boss just kept going and all was fixed and forgiven.

When he stood there in front of us, all the way up to the edge of the stage and beckoned us to ”Raise your hand, when you want something”, everyone responded. At least 50,000 Hands flew up tall and straight. Even while fans were holding his legs and struggling to get his attention in all types of ways, he still remained focused on serving, standing firm even though very close to the edge of danger. He could have easily lost his balance and fallen into the crowd. Yet, he didn’t… Again. He believes in his music and his message in a way that seems to attract people to his cause and still keep him safe in an uncertain world in the midst of turbulent times.

A bigger than life target
We were way back from the stage. The musicians looked like ants from our perspective, yet due to the video system and an amazing sound system these ants transformed themselves into a force that moved 50,000 onlookers into action. They could hold a note and let the tension build. They could then pause, stop the song dead in its tracks, focusing everyones’ attention back on stage to see what would happen next. They crafted the songs and worked with the feelings of their audience for maximum effect. With these powerful media tools to help, they consciously became a bigger than life target to focus on and with that power helped guide us through all the emotions unleashed in each song. Never did the media take over the show. I found myself constantly being drawn back to those wonderful ants to make sure I was not missing anything. Being a target can, of course, be dangerous especially if ego and hidden agendas are involved. But when it is done for pure service, the power and effect can be extremely effective as well as relatively safe and supportive for all involved

Everyone needs a good brainwashing from time to time.
One could easily make a case that the way these musical story tellers manipulated the emotions of their audience could be considered brainwashing. Yet, what if washing out our brains, from time to time, is not the hazard? What if the hazard comes from reloading it with unwanted or manipulative stuff? Everyone seemed to consent to letting Bruce and The Band guide them around on this emotional roller coaster. After a careful washing, new simple and clean messages were presented as invitations, not requirements or law. It was fun, accepted and has yet to produce any unwanted side-effects.

Lessons from the Boss on Leadership:
Not a word was mentioned about the following lessons during the performance. I am pretty sure Bruce has not been to any ”Rock School” where leadership is taught. The following are just observations from this observer of what The Boss has mastered with experience when it comes to being a real leader of the people.

  • Stand for something you believe in and be ready to take the consequences. When Bruce Sang ”41 shots” highlighting the murder of an unarmed young man in New York the City’s Police force turned on him for quite some time. He rode it out.
  • Keep your message simple. If you have to complicate something it is probably to hide an inconvenient truth. Simplicity attracts complexity confuses.
  • Use music to make your message even more easy to receive. The combination of music with a simple words allows both brain halves to work in harmony making the message that more easily digestable.
  • Serve others and ask for their help to serve. Then leave your ego at home and focus on the task at hand. Any nervousness will probably disappear as what you are doing is no longer about you and your performance.
  • Create a structure to support you and relax into. The more everyone knows the rules the more room you have to experiment around that framework as well as injecting your own personal and emotional charge into the message.
  • Surround yourself with competent people and let them flourish. A major difference between leading and managing may just be that a leader understands that by empowering others makes you more attractive to follow. Managers may be more concerned with keeping all flows, processes (things perhaps !) in balance and not rocking the boat with unnecessary individual achievment.
  • Use your intellect, but let your heart lead. We humans are emotional. The more we are encouraged to feel the more we will realize there is more to living and enjoying life than a smartphone.
  • Dare to be a bigger-than-life target. As long as it is done with heartfelt service that allows everyone involved to be a little better, happier, richer and/or healthier, then you have nothing to fear and everything to gain.
  • Have fun! It is not as serious as you think. If it starts to feel real serious, then you are probably beginning to obsess over something. With obsession any aspect of service to others you may have had is either diluted or lost all together.

So what can we learn from The Boss and the E Street Band.
Everything functioned like it was supposed to, once again.  Talent was nurtured and allowed to blossom before the eyes and ears of a consenting public. 50,000 people got along, sang, clapped and danced together without any sign of friction or trouble. All was done without coercion and everyone left satisfied, receiving a nights worth of world class entertainment plus the invitation to contemplate some messages that not everything is currently OK in this world of ours. Finally, from the looks of it (an extra, and yet again, sold out show in Stockholm) Bruce and The Band do not need to finance a deficit to pack an arena every evening. Moreover, they also have no need to print extra tickets or money to convince people to support the Band’s economy. Maybe those currently in power and using all kinds of complex explanations about why everything is really OK should come take some lessons from a real Boss.

If you are interested in discovering how leadership and cooperation works on a cellular level in your body then you are warmly urged to check out the Body Harmony Workshop being held in Stockholm 15-18 June. Should you want to learn how to implement these basic leadership skills into your organization in a powerful and service minded way, then contact us at info@expandingu.com or call +46 708 736 375.

About The Author


I am fascinated with what makes us humans ”tick”, especially when it comes to how we consciously communicate and express ourselves with our body language. My business background is in international sales and sales management, selling everything from automobile tires in Houston, Tx, to retail banking delivery systems in 20 countries. I have graduated from CoachU’s 3 year Coach Training program, been certified as an Extended DISC consultant and become a Certified International Body Harmony Teacher with over 20 years of ”hands-on” experience in bodywork. This rich and varied background combined with over 20 years of being an entrepreneur has blessed me with insights and experiences I never would have noticed in the corporate world. Mainstream business now seems to be waking up to the riches available from more conscious and responsible business practices. Expanding Understanding’s Sensational Soft Skills Toolbox , the books I have written and training I have developed now provide savvy decision makers and their colleagues measurable results and a more restful night's sleep. These tools provide an edge in consciously understanding, deliberately using and profiting from the most powerful communication tool available, our bodies. I look forward to meeting you on this path to mastery in non verbal communication.

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