Music can move us, make us smile; bring back memories - both good and bad - and many other things. Today, I plan to show you how music can help make you a better leader.
Everyone has a connection to at least some music; everyone has favorite songs, genres and more. In this article, I am not trying to identify the five "best" songs for leaders, or even necessarily my favorites. I didn't even scour my entire collection to generate this list. What I did was identify songs that have a message that have helped me as a leader, and therefore I hope can do the same for you.
I was explaining this concept to my wife. Her first response was, Are you including Take This Job and Shove it (by Johnny Paycheck)? I told her no; but there is likely a whole list of songs that could be cautionary tales for leaders too.
I’ve taken a different approach with the list below. If you are familiar with the songs, I hope you see the connection I am making. If you aren’t, I hope you will listen and look for your own lessons, as you enjoy the words and the talented musicians who bring them to life.
How You Ever Gonna Know by Garth Brooks
For me, nearly every line of this song holds a lesson for us as leaders; ringing so clear that little more needs to be said. Here’s one example:
You know failure isn't failure
If a lesson from it's learned . . .
If we remember and apply this lessoned learned for ourselves and our teams, we will have higher performing, more productive and innovative teams, with higher levels of trust.
The overall focus of the song is about trying. And as a leader, don’t we want all of our teams members to always be trying . . . to grow, improve and excel?
How you ever gonna know
What it's like to live there
How you ever gonna know
What you never knew
How you ever gonna know
If you're down here doin'
What the good Lord put you here to do
How you ever gonna know
If you could have done it
How you ever gonna know
How it feels to fly
How you ever gonna know
If you never dare to try
How You Live (Turn Up the Music) by Point of Grace
Let’s just start with the chorus...
Turn up the music
Turn it up loud
Take a few chances
And let it all out
Cause you won't regret it
Lookin back from where you have been
Cause it's not who you knew
And it's not what you did
It's how you lived
Yes, in the sphere of your career, who you know – building your network – is valuable. And what you do can add to your experience and credibility, but ultimately, what will make a difference for you as a leader is the example you set – how you live.
There is a larger scope to the message of this song as well, one that is personal in nature, but metaphorically for us as leaders it matters too – because as leaders we must also be looking at the big picture, and the greater meaning if we want to make a bigger difference.
There are more examples in this song, but here is just one more line for you . . .
Wherever you are and wherever you been
Now is the time to begin
There really is no time like the present, is there?
Dream Big by Ryan Shupe & the RubberBand
Leaders are responsible for seeing a future vision and helping their teams see it (and move towards it). If you are going to cast a vision, it is hard to argue with the chorus of this song.
And when you dream, dream big
As big as the ocean blue
'Cause when you dream it might come true
And when you dream, dream big
If you don’t create the big dream, who will? And when you dream big and share it with others, you give others the chance to see your dream and help you move towards it.
Dare To Live (Vivere) by Andrea Bocelli & Laura Pausini
Video (of a live performance)
This is a big powerful song, another about us personally (and the only one on this list not entirely sung in English). Whenever I hear this song, I am captivated by the beauty of it. I doubt you can listen to it and not be more confident and inspired when it is over than when it began. As leaders, we need to be inspiring others, and so we must be filling our inspiration bucket in order to share it with others. This song, like all of the others on this list, does that for me. While they may not all do it for you, I’d bet this one will.
Beyond that, here is one line that speaks directly to us as leaders, and our role in serving those we lead . . .
Dare to live until the very last
Dare to live forget about the past
Dare to live giving something of yourself to others
Even when it seems there's nothing more left to give
Finally, even if you know this song, do yourself a favor and read the lyrics. Unless you speak Italian, you are in for a treat as you read the English translation of the Italian parts.
Believe by Brooks and Dunn
I am a Christian, and for that reason this song specifically speaks to me. Even if your faith is different from mine, I hope you will listen to this song too, because the message for us as leaders is broader than some of the words.
This song speaks to the power of mentorship – between a young boy and an older neighbor. As leaders, we may have a bigger impact on more people than we realize. And when we realize that, it should make us humble, not full-of-ourselves. And one line gives us, as leaders and individuals, something to think about, regardless of our faith:
They tell me that there's more to life than just what I can see
I believe
Here are five songs for you to listen to and hopefully learn from. While I hope you will do that, I also hope you will share other songs with your colleagues and friends, that inform and inspire you as a leader. With your additions, perhaps we can all create a powerful playlist to help us lead more effectively.

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