When you're trying to win in business, sometimes it helps to look at successful people outside your industry for inspiration. I found an unlikely source earlier this month after attending "Kids Night Out", an event that raises money for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City featuring Keith Urban. Keith is talented, personable and (based on the spontaneous well-heeled mosh pit that gathered at the front of the stage) adored by his fans.

But Urban also serves as a great example of someone who embodies some of the key principals necessary for success. Here are three things Urban does that all business leaders should consider adopting.


Urban is a country superstar. He has won four Grammy Awards and sold millions of records, landing 31 top-10 country songs on the Billboard charts. He has collaborated with the Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Steven Tyler.

But hearing Urban speak, you would never have guessed that this was a guy who has a star on Music City's walk of fame.

On stage, kids from the KC Boys & Girls club interviewed Urban. One asked about his success. Urban spent considerable time crediting others. At the event, he acknowledged the help of his band, his family, his faith and his wife, actress Nicole Kidman. "I would not be here tonight playing for you guys if it wasn't for the extraordinary faith and love of my wife," says Urban. "I married up, way up. She keeps me on my toes, sometimes literally, " Urban joked, referencing the difference in their heights.

Urban's humble, affable approach is emblematic of level five leadership. Best selling author Jim Collins argues that the key ingredient allowing a leader to become great is someone who has genuine personal humility. "The best CEOs in our research...display a remarkable humility about themselves, ascribing much of their own success to luck, discipline and preparation rather than personal genius," Collins says.

Keith Urban speaking at 'Kids Night Out' an event to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City



Being humble is one thing, being able to admit error is another. On this account, Urban is astonishingly candid when it comes to his life struggles.

Unlike most successful people, Urban has not attempted to white wash his problems. He's very open about the challenges he has faced, many self-inflicted. In interviews with the Huffington Post, People magazine and Rolling Stone, Urban has acknowledged he has struggled with depression, cocaine and alcohol abuse. In the Rolling Stone interview, Urban recounted missing a session with the Dixie Chicks "because of a three-day bender' and blames problems with his original band, "The Ranch", because "I was a mess. I wasn't leading." In 2006, just months after marrying Kidman, he entered rehab, the third such event in eight years.

To be clear, I'm not advocating you announce at your next employee meeting a penchant for too many beers on St. Patrick's Day. What I am saying is the combination of humility and vulnerability may be the two most important qualities a leader possesses. These two qualities are the central precepts of Creative Leadership, an idea proffered by Doug Guthrie, professor of International Business and Management at George Washington University School of Business says "By embracing humility, creative leaders advantage their organizations and themselves. Moreover, leaders must not only recognize their failures but also acknowledge them publicly. In being wrong, they can find both authenticity and opportunity. Humility and the ability to admit error me are two of the most important qualities a truly creative leader must have."

Indeed, in one of the most viewed Ted talks ever, Brene Brown argues that vulnerability and the ability to admit one's mistakes are what it means to be to be effective and indeed, alive.

The Ultimate Success Secret

Back at the event, one of the kids from the Boys and Girls Club asked Urban (beyond the help of family and friends) was there any other secret to his success. His answer? "Hard work. There are no other substitutes."

In a blogosphere filled with "10 easy steps to getting rich" and "5 simple steps you can take to become a millionaire like Richard Branson," it was refreshing to hear someone who actually understands that there are no shortcuts. "I spent over 20 years working on my music," Urban joked. "I was clearly an overnight success." What kept him going? His music. "Music was my love, it was my angel that helped get me through all the struggles."

Michael Herbert, President & CEO of Delta Dental whose company is a long-time supporter of the Boys & Girls Club puts it this way "Urban gave these kids the ultimate business lesson and that is this: effort, which is completely within your control, is far more powerful than luck or your lot in life."

Humility, vulnerability and hard work--the making of not only a great country song, but compelling lessons for leadership.