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Tin Man

Lately, I’ve been travelling frequently on out-of-town projects. Whenever this happens I spend a lot of time on the road listening to the radio, and for me, I like 70s on 7 for road music.

One of my first albums as a kid was America’s Greatest Hits, but to be honest I had forgotten how great this album is until I realized how many songs from it are played on 70s on 7.

Tin Man is one of those songs, and as I was driving it got me thinking about leadership, 40 years ago, and now.

The lyrics go,

“Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man, that he didn’t, didn’t already have.”

One of the classic “in the workplace” arguments remains whether leaders are born or made. Should we recruit leaders, and if so, how do we know they are a leader? And instead, should we develop leaders, and if so, at what cost?

I grew up believing that great leaders had hero qualities. These people were easy to spot, and recruit. They were often men who had done something extraordinary, at a younger age; making them easily admirable. They had a certain charisma. They weren’t shy. They didn’t waiver. They were John Glenn and Joe Paterno (or in my case Hayden Fry), and Ronald Reagan. In the case of the song, Tin Man, it was Sir Galahad.

Increasingly, there is a very different view of the possible make-up of a leader. You don’t have to go out necessarily and hire an old guy to steer your ship (although some of them are great, and I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be considered). Sure, the Ronald Reagan will still make a list of top leaders, but now so will a whole host of other people with very different personalities and work styles. I think this means that perhaps we overlooked certain qualities and those with them never had an opportunity to truly lead.

Yes, sometimes leadership needs an opportunity. I love reading stories about great companies and great teams that were created out of the recession in the early nineties. In a few years we’ll also read about another group of leaders who took their chance following the most-recent recession.

If I may make an observation, leaders today are younger. Also, leadership seems more reachable than in the past. Some leaders lead by building consensus and facilitating decisions. Some leaders are more diverse in their thinking in times past—perhaps because the variety of things we can do today is broader than in the past (you can play tennis and sing opera). Recently I saw a piece on Lynn Swann, the famous Pittsburgh Steeler who was also accomplished in ballet. That was a bit of a hard swallow back in the 1970s even though it makes perfect sense today. My point is that many leaders today don’t seem to put all their eggs in one basket.

So going back to the Tin Man analogy, there is something to the argument about leadership being born. In fact, research has shown that intelligence is a born trait among leaders. Granted, a leader does not have to be brilliant, nor even the smartest person on the team, but he/she does need to be able to understand the job at hand well enough to get the job done. In the land of Oz, there was never any question as to the Tin Man’s intelligence (the scarecrow, yes).

There is more that can be said about the Tin Man. He was crafted. In human terms, we can substitute the word coached. In this vein, other characters that are common to leadership come out—including presence of a mentor, ability to learn from feedback and focus on results. The Tin Man started great, and got better.

Thankfully, we are living in a time when there is more opportunity for leadership and broader acceptance of traits, behaviours and competencies that comprise a leader.

The funny thing about using this analogy is that the song Tin Man isn’t really about the Tin Man at all, or leadership for that matter, but rather it is a song about a young man trying to get the girl, as they say. And that is really the crux of the issue with music lyrics—they’re often difficult to interpret and are often misinterpreted… but I digress. I guess it is time for me to get back on the road and start driving and stop blogging.

Another music blog is on its way.

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