Leadership… Metallica Style!

February 22, 2010 3 Comments

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any amount of time, you already know I’m a metal head. While listening to that driving double bass drum and the fury of the rhythm guitar can be invigorating, there’s also the matter of the wisdom of the lyrics. Contrary to popular belief, metal bands don’t always sing about demons and blood. Many times there are lessons in the lyrics that can be applied to your everyday life.

Today I’ll explore some great leadership lessons embedded in the lyrics of one of my favorite bands: Metallica. I’ve listened to those guys for over 20 years and I’ve been to many of their shows (which are absolutely amazing).

They put a lot of thought into their lyrics and in a certain context you can apply many of those thoughts to your own leadership style. So here goes – I’ll offer up the song and lyrics then a quick lesson or interpretation of how you can apply them. As an added bonus, I’ll provide a link to the track when available.

So limber up your necks, turn up the volume, and get ready to rock out… here we go!

Jump in the Fire: “There is a job to be done and I’m the one”

This one seems pretty obvious. People expect their leaders to be doers. Sitting on high in the ivory tower and refusing to get your hands dirty is a surefire way to lose their respect. We’re all doing “more with less” these days (I hate that term but it’s true). Your team is probably strapped. There’s no shortage of work to be done.

Take a look around and see if there are tasks you can pick up and run with. They’ll appreciate it not to mention respect you a lot more if you work side by side with them. I’ve hammered on this point before when I talked about crawling under a tank. And you can be sure this won’t be the last time you hear this message from me.

Metal Militia: “We are as one as we all are the same; fighting for one cause”

Team alignment is difficult to do but that’s your job as the leader. That alignment starts with recognition of everyone’s talents and the contributions they can make. There is a sense of egalitarianism embedded in this lyric. “We all are the same” – translation: no one is better than anyone else.

When you treat the team members as equals (not necessarily in skills or performance but in respect for them as individuals) you’re setting a solid foundation for your work. From there, pointing them in one direction and galvanizing them against a common enemy (the recession, maybe?) can create an unstoppable team.

…And Justice For All: “Rolls of red tape seal your lips; Now you’re done in”

Bureaucracy is the death of creativity. I recognize organizations need to have policies, processes, and procedures and you as a leader must uphold those standards. You also have a responsibility to recognize when process or policy is getting in the way of the right decision. You sometimes have to be the human crapshield.

How many times have you seen companies lose customers because they appeal to policy instead of doing what’s right? How many employees have you frustrated (or even lost) over the years because your processes stifled their ability to do their work? At that point you are done in. I want you to go out today and find a stupid policy or bad decision and right that wrong. Your organization will be better for it.

Holier Than Thou: Little whispers circle around your head; Why don’t you worry about yourself instead”

Gossip kills. It kills productivity. It destroys morale. It has no place in the organization. Everyone is looking to you (their leader) for cues on how to handle such talk. If you participate, you’re in a horrible place. If you let it happen and don’t correct it, you’re just as complicit as the person spreading it.

The only appropriate response when you hear it is to pointedly correct it and set the tone. It doesn’t have to be an over-the-top correction. A simple yet firm “we don’t gossip in this organization” should send a strong enough message. If folks don’t get that, it’s time for a more emotionally significant event to get the point across. Go forth and squash a rumor. Please.

Sanitarium: ”Welcome to where time stands still; No one leaves and no one will”


Ride the Lightning: “Time moving slow; The minutes seem like hours”

You’ve been there – watching the clock, waiting for the sweet release of cutting out at the end of the day. Those minutes can be eternal. Even worse are the “after hours” meetings that drag on endlessly. Do that to your team and you’re essentially creating a sanitarium because they’ll all lose their minds.

Understand when the work is done and get out of there. Have an incredibly good reason to extend a meeting beyond “normal” working hours. Failure to do so *will* drive your team crazy.

So there you have it – leadership wisdom from some of the most prolific metal gods in the history of mankind. See? I told you it wasn’t all about demons and darkness. So what leadership gems do you have that have their basis in song? Please share your favorite lyrics along with a kernel of wisdom in the comments below.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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(No, that’s not HTML.  That’s two hands throwing up the metal horns with full thumb extension).

3 Responses to “Leadership… Metallica Style!”

  1. Guy Martin says:

    Great stuff Mike, as usual.

    I especially liked the sections/lyrics regarding 'no one is better than anyone else'. In the open source world, we have a concept for that – it's called meritocracy.

    Your standing in the project is directly related to the contributions you make – which leads tangentially to another of your points – be a leader not afraid to get their hands dirty.

    Traditional 'command & control' organizations have a very hard time dealing with this sort of mechanism, but usually, the proof is in the pudding. Linux, the Apache Web server, and other open source projects are successful because they practice things like meritocracy.

    Keep up the good work and rock on! 🙂

  2. Dave B. says:

    "Somethings wrong, shut the light
    heavy thoughts tonight"

    Couldn't help but notice the VT ad showing up when reading this blog, so I pulled a line or two from Enter Sandman.

    Go Hokies!

  3. Meeting Boy says:

    Thank God you stuck to the old stuff. The good stuff. Before Hetfield decided he wanted to sing.

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