Leadership Lessons from a Guns and Roses Concert

AdVance Leadership » Leadership Lessons from a Guns and Roses Concert

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #045. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you will see how honing your leadership skills can enrich others’ lives. 

1 Insight

When you treat leadership like a set of skills to be developed, you will continually cultivate the craft and contribute to others along the way.

Last week, I (Garland) attended a Guns & Roses concert in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. As I stood in the crowd watching this iconic rock band perform, it struck me that there were valuable leadership lessons to be gleaned.

When I was a teenager, I loved Guns & Roses. Many nights I listened to their music, led by Axl Rose’s powerful voice and Slash’s mesmerizing guitar skills. Back then, I had to hide their albums from my disapproving parents. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!) Attending the concert last week, my nineteen-year-old son by my side, I felt a bit rebellious, but it was a nostalgic journey back to my youth.

A Tale of Two Artists

At the concert, the band played for three nonstop hours. I was struck most, though, by the tale of two artists.

Slash, the legendary guitarist, did not leave the stage the entire time. Every song, without fail, featured an extended guitar solo showcasing his technical prowess. I was in awe every time he unleashed his guitar wizardry. It felt like watching a master craftsman who had only improved with time.

On the flip side, Axl Rose seemed like a mere shadow of his former self. He had a powerhouse voice in his younger days, spanning multiple octaves. However, during the initial hour of the concert, it felt as though he was limited to a single low octave. I wondered if he would ever break out his range.

Fortunately, in the second hour, his vocal cords warmed up, and his range expanded. Yet, he never reached the heights of his earlier years. Adding to this, during most of Slash’s incredible solos, Axl would exit the stage and retreat to a small tent where he would change his sweat-drenched clothes. Inside sources told me that he would also take oxygen to catch his breath.

The concert showcased two great artists, but only one had successfully used the years to refine his craft. By the end of the concert, I felt honored to watch Slash perform.

I don’t play the guitar, but my son does. I watched his mouth drop in awe as he witnessed skills he dreams to develop. Slash’s unfathomable talent motivates many a young guitarist to keep striving. His inspirational abilities reminded me of the profound impact of a well-practiced leader.

Honing the Skill of Leadership

Leadership, much like musicianship, is a craft. It’s a set of skills: character, competence, capacity, clarity, community, culture, and consistency. To become a great leader, you must continually sharpen these skills over your lifetime.

Too many leaders are hanging out near the end of their careers more like Axl than Slash. Over the years, they allowed themselves to become distracted by lesser pursuits. They failed to put time and effort into what would have benefited themselves and others the most. They peeked at an earlier age, got either prideful, discouraged, or both, and stopped practicing. Now they’re forced to leave the stage for the oxygen tent while someone else commands the audience.

Which kind of leader do you want to be?

The rewards of honing your skills will extend beyond your own personal growth. When you commit to becoming a better leader, you’ll enrich the lives of those you lead.

Slash’s unwavering commitment to his craft is a testament to the power of continuous improvement. As a leader, you should adopt a similar mindset.

One of the simplest ways to continually improve your leadership skills is to ask three questions of yourself every quarter:

  1. What are the Presenting Problems that are currently causing pain in our business?

These Presenting Problems help you understand the challenges that you’re facing, but they are not the root issues. Rather, your leadership is the root issue, which leads you to the second question.

2. What type of leadership issue(s) is this?

Every problem in your business begins with your leadership. It may be hard to accept that, but it’s the reality we’ve seen time and time again.

As we mentioned earlier, there are 7 issues that cause at least 95% of the problems you face:

  1. Character – a leader isn’t willing to take responsibility or make the hard decisions to move their team forward.
  2. Competence – a leader hasn’t developed the skills that their team and organization need from them.
  3. Capacity – a leader is so busy that they don’t have the time, energy, and attention to guide their team well.
  4. Clarity – a leader hasn’t helped everyone on their team get clear on the highest priorities and what each person’s role is in accomplishing those priorities.
  5. Community – a leader hasn’t built trust with every member of their team and created a collaborative environment.
  6. Culture – a leader has not established values that drive the expected behaviors, attitudes, habits, and processes.
  7. Consistency – a leader isn’t consistent with their vision, attitudes, and expectations.

Use the second question to understand what type of leadership issue(s) are causing your presenting problems.

3. How do I need to upgrade my leadership to deal with this issue(s)?

Once you pinpoint the issue(s), you’ll know the area of your leadership that needs to be upgraded. For example, you might realize you have low employee engagement scores (this is the Presenting Problem). As you look at the data, you see that employees don’t feel like they’re doing meaningful work. This data indicates that you have a Clarity leadership issue.

To upgrade your leadership, you need to concentrate on developing Clarity. You can utilize the Four Questions Every Leader Must Answer Every Day. These questions will help people understand how their mundane tasks create a profound impact in the world. Your leadership is a skill that must be practiced. If you keep striving to improve your leadership, and you’ll become like Slash: pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, inspriring younger leaders to keep growing, and enriching the lives of those you lead.

1 Action

Take 10 minutes to ask yourself the 3 questions, then commit to sharpening your leadership skills.


Want to help your company unleash its leaders?

  1. Get your team to subscribe to the Friday411 newsletter.
  2. Get your copy of Gettin' (un)Busy, named by Forbes as “one of the books everyone on your team should read.”
  3. Email Garland to train your company’s leaders. We will equip them with 7 traits that solve 95% of their leadership challenges.
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