Producing classic albums for multi-platinum artists like Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and U2. Starting Interscope, a record company with artists like Eminem, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, Pharell, Katy Perry, and Kendrick Lamar. Co-founding Beats Electronics, the headphone company eventually sold to Apple for $3.2 billion. Jimmy Iovine is an iconic entrepreneur and businessman...yet in some ways he owes his success to a lesson about teamwork that he learned early on, when he was a 22-year-old engineer on Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run.
Springsteen was legendary--or notorious, depending on where you sat--for his tireless quest for perfection.
"We were just very, very determined," Springsteen says in the four-part HBO documentary about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, The Defiant Ones. "So I suppose if you were new to our 'club,' the relentless pursuit of our idea would have probably exhausted you. It was simply understood that you were there because you believed in what we were doing, and it was worth it. My job was to make sure that it was."
For example, Springsteen spent three weeks trying to get drum sounds: experimenting, testing, rinsing, and repeating...three weeks of hitting drums, over and over again, trying to find what Springsteen felt was the perfect sound.
Iovine grew impatient. "I couldn't hear any more," he says. "The speakers were so loud for so long, for so many days, and I was getting overwhelmingly tired."
His impatience soon became apparent to everyone.
As Jon Landau, Springsteen's long-time manager, says, "Bruce used to have this thing where he simply lost track of time. So I get [Jimmy] alone and I say to him, 'Stay. In. The. F-ing. Saddle. Don't quit."
"I say to Landau," Jimmy says, "I'm done. I kill myself for this guy, I work really hard, I do everything I possibly can...it's unacceptable."
"Jimmy," Landau responded, "you're missing the big picture. What are we here for? We are here to help Bruce make the best record he can. That's the job. We're not here to make you happy, we're not here to make me happy. We're here to contribute to the project--and it's Bruce's project."
Iovine continues the story: "[Landau] says, 'You go back there and say to Bruce, I'm here to support you. This is not about me. It's about the album. You will have a friend for the rest of your life, and you will have learned a big lesson.'"
"That's the big picture, right?" Iovine asks Landau.
"Yes it is," Landau says.
Springsteen didn't actually say, "This is not about me." But he created the environment and the culture that helped Iovine understand his role -- not just working on that album, but in the way he approached his career.
Why this is such great advice.
The same principle applies to great teams. Talent is obviously important, but the ability to work together, to check egos at the door, and to make individual sacrifices when necessary is the only way a team succeeds.
With great teams, it's never about you. It's always, always, always about the team.
Think about the business teams you've seen fail. Rarely was the failure due to a lack of talent. More often, those teams failed because of personality conflicts, ego clashes, or competing agendas.
That's why every great team player answers the following question the same way every great leader does:
"Can you make the choice that your happiness can come from someone else's success?"
If you can say "yes" to that question, you've taken the most important step towards becoming a great teammate--and great leader.
None of us have qualities like courage, vision, charisma, adaptability, and decisiveness in equal measure.
But every great team player answers that question the same way--and so can you.