Music has had such a profound impact on my life. It can chill me out after a long week of business travel or pump me up right before I am heading into an important meeting. I’ve also been known to kick off a dance party to connect with my kids after a holiday meal, jam with millennials over the latest single from The Chainsmokers or geek out about the last Phish concert with other fans. Whether in my personal or professional world, music is one of my favorite ways to initiate a meaningful connection and is one of the few universal things that can bond people, transcending generations, cultures and even language barriers.
Once I became a CEO, it was important to infuse music into our company culture as it can unite teams, break down silos and get creative juices flowing. From the collaboration rooms named after our favorite bands to the tunes we play during our off-site meetings to the guitars decorating my office, today, music runs deep in our organization’s blood. And, we’ve seen real benefits from this: Music truly helps connect employees when building a global company. But, beyond that, I’ve found that I’ve been able to translate my passion for music into valuable learnings in my career.
Here are a few leadership lessons I’ve taken away as a music lover.
1. Be willing to try new things.
The music industry is chock-full of artists who’ve succeeded by abandoning their original genres or even starting new categories or movements — whether it’s Calvin Harris, who was one of the first electronic DJs to write and sing his own lyrics, bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who that pioneered rock n’ roll concerts, or the Grateful Dead starting the entire jam band scene. These musicians faced skepticism from fans and naysayers alike, but it was their willingness to experiment, adapt and take risks that made them successful.
Taking inspiration from these musical greats who took calculated risks, I’ve also forged a career path that has strayed from the expected — jumping from a large established corporation to a startup, then leading it to fill a huge gap in the cybersecurity landscape via pioneering a new category in the space. While taking a risk isn’t always easy, it is these leaps of faith that translate into the biggest successes.
2. Embrace new business models.
Artists used to make most of their money through selling albums or CDs, but as music migrated online, people could quickly and freely download music (often illegally — remember Napster?), so the industry had to adapt. That’s why music artists now rely so heavily on elaborately produced tours, concerts and festivals to maintain their livelihood.
Today in the business world, we are seeing a similar disruption in the bread-and-butter business models that behemoths have thrived on for decades. For example, sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb have disrupted industries through platform business models that enable a collaborative ecosystem yet have no ownership over infrastructure or workers; and companies like Snap have envisioned new social media formats now embraced by industry competitors. Meanwhile, Amazon is a prime example of a company adapting to change, having started out from modest roots as an online bookstore to now selling everything under the sun. And, here at ForeScout, we’ve had a front-row seat in witnessing how the shift from on-premise computing to the cloud is driving digital transformation — and threatening those who refuse to embrace it.
As the world changes, it’s incredibly important to evolve with your customers’ tastes and needs, as well as stay ahead of the curve — even if that means imagining new ways of working or anticipating what the customer wants before they know it (just as Steve Jobs did with the iPod). You might just find that soon enough, your competitors are struggling to keep up.
3. Don’t judge an album by its cover.
It often comes as a surprise to most to hear that as a 50-something father, I am a fan of EDM — a genre most often associated with neon-clad teens and 20-somethings. But, even with my eccentric music tastes — encompassing everything from Kaskade to Taylor Swift to Phish — I’m often surprised myself at how diverse other people’s tastes are. These experiences drive home the fact that you can’t judge a book (or album) by its cover — a maxim I apply every day to my leadership style.
This is important when it comes to hiring the right talent and making sure you don’t form opinions solely based on a person’s resume. Just because someone went to an Ivy League school, doesn’t mean they’re the best person for the job, and just because a person has worked at a company you admire, doesn’t mean they’re going to be a great employee. To learn about whether someone is the right cultural fit for your organization and the role, you need to take the time to get to know them face-to-face and find out what lies beyond the paper during the interview journey. You’ll be surprised what you can learn about someone once you delve beyond the surface and look for the unexpected.
4. Learn to inspire.
U2, Coldplay, The Beatles, Phish — these artists built cult-like followings of fans who are so obsessed with them they see them in concert time and time again. In some cases, they’ve even made widely successful comeback tours after decades away from their fans. Why? These artists learned to inspire people through their music and appreciate and bond with their fans.
Similarly, leaders like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Bill Gates built strong followings with their customers, employees and partners by understanding the value of connections. Mentorship and inspiring people with a common goal and purpose is what ultimately nurtures loyalty, passion and hard work. That’s why as a leader, it’s important to carve out time to nurture important relationships and mentor your teams — this is the best way of driving collective success.
5. Actively listen.
Some music lovers fall in love with songs for the lyrics and what they mean, while others might latch onto the melody or beat. But, one thing they can agree on is that actively listening enhances the entire experience. Through truly tuning in, you’re able to get so much more out of a song than when it’s just background white noise.
This practice of actively listening is something that I’ve learned can make a huge impact in one’s interactions as a leader. When someone has your time, it is easy to lose focus on what’s in front of you by instead worrying about the mountain of tasks waiting in your inbox, or worse, multitasking and addressing the chat notifications popping up in real-time. But, it’s vital to recognize the importance of tuning into the person in front of you — for some, this might be the only opportunity they get to speak to you live, while others may have carefully prepped in the weeks before. Giving everyone equal airtime and respect is key to gaining trust, inspiring your team and understanding other perspectives. And, when you truly listen, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.