3 Surprising Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Kanye West
In the early 2000s, I attended a Talib Kweli concert at Irving Plaza in New York City. At the time, he was my favorite rap artist, and I was eagerly anticipating his performance. In the back of my mind, I was hoping that his Black Star partner in crime, Mos Def, would make a guest appearance. What wasn't on my mind was who his opening act would be.
Like most concertgoers, I tend to ignore opening acts, focusing instead on conversations (and libations). But that night, something happened that I couldn't ignore. Kweli himself actually came out to introduce his opening act--which is extremely rare for a headlining act. Yet there was Kweli, asking his audience to show some love to an artist that many of us had never heard of.
That artist's name was Kanye West.
For nearly all of West's set, the majority of concertgoers didn't pay a lick of attention--myself included. That was until the future multiple Grammy Award-winner demanded my attention. By the end of his performance, he made me want to turn up the volume and listen again (and again).
Though I wasn't familiar with any of the tracks that West performed that night, many would find their way onto his 2004 triple-platinum album, The College Dropout. Today, West is in the limelight for a whole lot more than just his music. But the perseverance and leadership he displayed that night stay with me. Here's what we all can learn from how West handled a tough crowd:
1. Some opportunities come only once.
Even though the audience was hardly paying attention and many concertgoers were still trickling into the venue, I remember West giving absolutely everything in his performance. It was as if he was already performing on the MTV Music Awards, Saturday Night Live, or the Watch The Throne tour.
He knew what very few of us know until it's too late: Some opportunities come only once. Sometimes you get only one take. And when your moment comes, you have to deliver. If you aren't prepared for this moment, it passes you by. Kanye West was more than prepared.
2. What you accomplished yesterday doesn't matter.
At this stage of his career, West was already a successful producer. He had a strong track record producing songs for top artists, including Jay Z, Alicia Keys, and Ludacris, to name a few.
Even with these credentials, he didn't rest on his laurels. He couldn't. He wanted more. West knew what many top leaders know instinctively--what you accomplished yesterday doesn't matter much today. While some wait for pats on their backs for past successes, West forged ahead. He put the same conviction and energy that made him a successful producer into becoming an award-winning artist who has sold over 20 million albums.
3. Know what you stand for. Believe in yourself.
Call it arrogance, call it confidence, or call it conviction. But on the Irving Plaza stage that night, one thing was clear above all else: West fundamentally believed in himself. He wasn't there to ask for permission and or even ask for you to like his music--he expected you to. His performance demanded it. There was no hoping involved.
West displayed an almost delusional optimism that I've seen many top entrepreneurs harness. In short, Kanye West believed in Kanye West. The classic axiom holds true--if you don't believe in yourself, good luck getting others to do it.
That evening, I didn't know if I'd ever hear about Kanye West again. But it always stuck with me that while almost no one was watching, Kanye West gave everything. He knew that we would hear from him again.
What do you do when no one is watching?
ANTONIO NEVES | Columnist
Antonio Neves is an executive coach, speaker, and award-winning business journalist. He’s the founder of the leadership consultancy THINQACTION and he spent 10 years in the television industry, serving as correspondent, host, and producer with top networks including NBC, PBS, BET, Nickelodeon, and more.