Lead Without Title

At a recent visit to a NYC jazz club, I witnessed a near disaster averted only by another’s selfless act.  The vocalist (the leader in this instance), instructed the musicians to begin a classic jazz standard in a specific key.  Once she began to sing, however, the highly trained musicians cringed with fearful anticipation.  The singer had selected a key too high for her range; it would clearly botch the song’s big finish.

The musicians were hired by the vocalist to be “side men.”  To do what they were told.  If the singer crashed, it wouldn’t be their fault.  They were just playing what they were supposed to.  And the un-flashy guitar player could have easily done just that. But instead, he decided to lead without title.

Realizing the gaff, the guitarist quickly got the attention of the other musicians.  He held up three fingers, which is a musician code to change to the key of E-flat.  The other musicians gave a quiet nod and waited for the guitarist’s cue.  Next, he discretely signaled his plan to the singer, as a look of relief and joy swept across her face.  At just the right time after a drum solo (so the key change wouldn’t sound awkward to the audience), our guitar hero gave the subtle nod and the band changed key with precision.  The number ended with a stunning vocal finale and was met with boisterous cheers from the crowd.  Our understated sideman had saved the day.

In author Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title, Robin shares the importance of fostering leadership skills and embracing new thinking from your entire organization, not just the top brass.  He encourages all people, irrespective of their job title or position, to seize the opportunity to lead on a daily basis.  Don’t wait for a new business card — start leading now and you will end up with the title you seek.

In your current role, how are you leading?  Whether you’re the CEO or an intern, there are always opportunities to leave your creative fingerprint and advance your organization.  Sometimes little improvements don’t get noticed right away, but if you continue to lead, you’ll become indispensible.  Opportunities to make a difference are abundant.  The real question is, will you seize them?

The pass-the-buck, not-my-job, just-doing-what-I’m-told mentality helps no one.  On the other hand, those that don’t wait for the authority to make a difference will never miss a meal.

The unassuming guitarist gave a small, all-knowing smile as the singer took credit for her big finish.  He knew he’d contributed to the whole beyond his own individual requirements.  He took pride knowing they won as a team.  He also knew exactly whom that singer would call the next time she needed to hire guitar player.