This is Captain Fletch speaking, and we preparing to land another edition of the Leadership Toolbox. Please keep your seatbelts fastened until we reach the gate.
I always wanted to be a pilot. In fact, prior to graduation, I planned to attend pilot training for the Air Force, but a medical record review disqualified me from flying. Fortunately, it did not bar me from building all manner of things, including airfields, for the Air Force, but I digress. Last month, we explored the difference between leadership and project management. We discovered that tangible project management skills like scheduling and budgeting benefit from more intangible leadership skills like clear communications. This month, I would like to look at how learning about cultural and personal differences among a team can help leaders build a well-bonded unit.
One of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was an introduction to her record player and music. My parents shared the music and movies of their generation with me, which developed me into the old soul I am today. Now I have the distinct pleasure of paying this forward to my kids. My son just finished his first season of baseball. He obsesses over classic baseball movies and his favorite song is “Cheap Seats” by Alabama, which he’ll repeat several times as he rides in my truck. My daughter has a wide-ranging collection of vinyl for her record player, from today’s music to Fleetwood Mac and beyond. Music is something that is all around us. Even as I sit at my desk, I have my headphones in with ’90s alternative in the background.
Often, we hear about the particular importance of the musical playlist in the locker rooms of professional sports teams. Generally, it is controlled by the team captain or leader who works to have it reflect team culture. The question then becomes, how did the team arrive at these norms? As a former sports team captain, I recall it began with getting to know each other. We ate lunch together, we hung out after school together, we played summer ball together. A strong team bond reaches beyond the playing field. We developed mutual respect and learned to trust one another. We may not have enjoyed everything our teammates liked, but we took the time to learn and respect what others find important.
Once you establish mutual respect, it sets the tone for newcomers — and shows them how their efforts might contribute to or threaten that bond. As a team, we would gladly absorb new perspectives, but we never let anyone disrespect what we established.
Senior players always led efforts like these. As a freshman, I remember watching them regulate what was acceptable and squash any threats to good team order. Even other seniors who fell out of line got a quick reminder of the order of things by the leader.
Per usual, I assume everyone wonders what this has to do with leadership and construction. I have met and worked with so many different people, and gotten exposure to their cultures. Good leaders find and unite teams based on the things they have in common. Extraordinary leaders expose people to one another’s differences and guide team members to build a bond of mutual respect.
How do we accomplish this on the jobsite? Music is certainly an option. In the military, we would often let the person who won a physical training challenge pick the music for the next group workout. Of course, there were some rules — usually the officer or leader reviewed selections to ensure they were appropriate and not offensive.
What if we did this on our jobsites? The movie scene that comes to mind is from “Gone in 60 Seconds” when Nicolas Cage’s character plays “Lowrider” by War before attempting to steal 50 cars in a single evening. (Disclaimer: I do not support or recommend trying to steal cars!) Something about that song defined the culture of that group of car thieves. There was a wide-ranging diversity on that team, but this one song prepared them all for their mission. Another quality movie example is from “The Replacements” when the football players dance and sing to, “I will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor in the jail cell after a bar brawl.
What if we ended our morning huddle by playing a song from our locker room playlist? What if we let someone on our team who had a great day yesterday decide the song of the day? Maybe we let the young kid share some of their culture with us on that next long drive in the truck? We may not enjoy it, but what would it mean to our teammate if we made a simple gesture to say, “You are more than just another number in the employee total. You are one of us”? In the ongoing discussion of how to adapt leadership across different generations of workers, it can sometimes be as simple as taking the time to listen to their music and learning what it means to them.
Obviously, music is just one example of how we can accomplish building an intangible team bond. Perhaps you pick a funny YouTube video of the day or rotate who controls the TV channel in the office during lunch. Whatever the mode, the important thing is we build that bond that no one — inside or outside of our locker room — can threaten.
The team or crew leader must be the one to establish this culture, and recognize and regulate when someone or something threatens it. Give it a shot. I hope to hear stories from the field of “The Replacements”-style scenes. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but the locker room soundtrack just might be the leadership tool to cement an unbreakable, rock star team. Until next time, this is Fletch from the Leadership Toolbox, over and out.