When I wasn't in a sterile corporate environment during the day, I was living the bohemian dream among the country's most magical musical community. I tour managed through North America and Europe, and I counseled or cheered on a number of folks we now hear on the radio. I was a party to their nocturnal nature, their unbridled pursuits of joy and their deft journeys into the human condition.
Then I had to wake up every day and navigate an entirely different set of suit-and-tie norms, the nature of which left me with cultural whiplash. I was a terrible corporate leader during this time. When I look back on it, I recognize it as one of the single most defining moments in my career.
Here's what life among extraordinary musical talents taught me about bringing my emotional intelligence to work:
Self agency is the difference between an open mic night and an arena.
A common misconception about musicians, most often perpetuated by Hollywood, is they are chronically co-dependent and incapable of existing alone, that they travel in packs and play away the quiet. While this is sometimes true, it's typically only a phase.
The most successful musicians I know are fiercely independent. They are their own best advocates. They aren't afraid to say no. Even when surrounded by others, they are independent thinkers and doers, making the magic happen for themselves before anyone does it for them. Labels and radio and booking agents don't show up for lazy talent.
The same can be said for any other industry. You can be the best at what you do, but if you're not making it happen for yourself, no one will do it for you.
The environment musicians create is as important as their talent.
Another common attribute of success for professional musicians is their craftiness inside and outside of the studio. They're constantly improving their skill - learning from each other in a pursuit of collective greatness.
And while they're making that magic, they're creating a rich and enjoyable environment. Studios are colorful and fanciful and moody. They are never boring for a reason.
Your office doesn't need to be covered in tapestries and dusted in incense. But it should bring out the best in your team. Find out what works for them and build it.
They can read a crowd and play to it.
Rock stars not only read the crowd, they know how to elevate the crowd's energy. It's more than being a charismatic hype-master. It's about appealing to others' emotions and inviting them into the experience.
Same can be said for a conference room. Knowing how to read a room is half the battle of any meeting. Some of the most successful business people can be quite lackluster in charisma, but by appealing to the emotions around the table, they win the day.
They don't get shut down.
Rock stars of all ilks never quit. They might disappear from the limelight, but they're never far from an amp. They tap into their deepest internal drive and ride the ebbs and flows of success.
The best musicians - like the most powerful executives in the world - don't take no for an answer. They're not (always) jerks about it - they just find another way. Their power comes from knowing exactly what they want in the first place and staying flexible in how they get it, sometimes forging an entire new trail by defying norms and crossing the boundaries of old thinking.
When someone shuts a door in your face, find another way through. Climb through a window if you have to.
Success is their ultimate participation trophy.
It is rare, if not impossible, for a musician - or any professional - to gain success in a vacuum. It is the result of a relentless pursuit of shared experiences, combined energies, and mutual fandom in and around the environment of their work.
Participation is more than just showing up, it's going a step further and playing an active role in someone else's success. The most successful musicians promote others and help them achieve their goals. And, perhaps most importantly, they celebrate with each other, even when someone else's wins are more significant than their own.
Take a page from the rock star's song book: You don't have to be a die-hard extrovert to find your people. But you must find them. A varied and deep network is your most valuable asset. And it will only work hard for you if you work hard for it.