David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

The Hardest Working Leader in Show Business?

post # 270 — December 26, 2006 — a Managing post

I received the following email from Matthew Moore:


I have been mulling the life & work of the late, great James Brown and given your love of pop music, I thought I’d share this with you.

JB’s gift was as much collaborative as it was individual – he took musicians such as Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins and then created environments where they did their best work. He was tough – he was legendary for fining musicians for insufficiently shiny shoes and bum notes. And most of his collaborators ended up leaving him eventually.

He was definitely a great leader. Was he a great manager? I dunno, but here are some things I learnt from JB:

  • Give people the opportunity to shine. Everyone is his band gets an opportunity to showcase their particular talents. And results can be something like Funky Drummer or Superbad.
  • Work with what you got. When JB remade his band (usually after the previous one had stormed out or been fired), he had to work with the talents of his musicians. Not every bass player is Bootsy Collins. But that doesn’t mean that the bass can’t be a compelling part of the track.
  • High standards are not popular but very important.
  • Less is more. Cold Sweat has virtually no chord changes but is mesmerising.
  • How the parts fit together is key. Funk works not just because you have great individual musicians but because the basic elements (polyrhythmic drumming, synchopated bass lines, horn stabs) play off each other in a rhythmically compelling way.

I don’t live up to these lessons but I think there will be a picture of JB next to my laptop for a few weeks.

There are also some negative lessons from the life of JB (beating up your wife, smoking PCP, alienating your most talented colleagues) but I don’t want to dwell on those now.

Seasons greeting, Matt Moore

No Comments