4 Leadership Lessons from a Piano Bar…


The other night, I had the chance to go to a dueling piano bar with some colleagues. Here’s how the whole thing works: there are two piano players who take requests. They go back and forth taking the lead on playing these songs. Usually they both play during a song, but sometimes one will take a break.

There were some great lessons in leadership that I watched on display there, and I wanted to share them with you.

Know your stuff – The musicians played Prince, Taylor Swift (you’re welcome), and Lynyrd Skynyrd; songs that aren’t performed on pianos at all. The ability to change out instruments like that, to substitute a piano for drums and guitars, demonstrates a level of skill and training that often goes unnoticed. These musicians know their skill to an incredible level.

As a leader you have to know your stuff. You have to read the books, attend the training, and practice the skills of leadership. For all of the charisma, charm, and talent you might have, there simply is no substitute for practiced skill.

Cross train – Perhaps the most impressive thing for me was watching one piano player get up and begin playing the drums along with the other musician. Throughout the night, these kind of transitions happened a few times. From pianos to drums, from drums to guitars, the musicians shifted around. They had taken the time to not only learn their preferred instrument, but others as well.

As church leaders, we need to know a lot of different things. You don’t have to know everything, and you don’t have to know everything equally well. But you can’t effectively train others if you’re not even a little skilled in that area. I prefer preaching and teaching, but I also do pastoral care and web development for my church. Those are skills to learn and practice. Cross training (learning outside of your preferred skill set) helps you be a better church leader, because it means you can fill in when it’s needed.

Cover Each Other – With the raw amount of improvisation that took place during the night, there were bounds to be mistakes. Notes got missed, lyrics got fumbled, etc. Some musicians would quit right there. Others would power through and hope you didn’t notice. What was impressive was watching the musicians cover for each other when the mistakes came. They laughed it off, sang a little louder (in order to help them regain focus on the song), and kept playing. There was no scolding, no noticeable frustration.

Church leaders need to remember that they’re on one team, not many different teams. I shouldn’t be competing with the church down the street. I should be working with them. Most mistakes are small enough that they’re not going to break the church, so laugh them off, support one and other, and keep playing church.

Shift the lead – Each musician would take turns leading the song. Though we in the audience couldn’t see an obvious signal to transition the lead, it was obvious that they were taking turns leading the other. This became really impressive when the two musicians became four.

When you shift the ownership and lead of ministry to someone else, you do two things: you play to someone’s strengths and you minimizes your weaknesses. You don’t have to be a swiss army preacher. You can have others around you to help you do your best, while allowing them to do the same. This skill of delegation can be really tough for a leader to get a handle of, but it’s important to have.

There you go. Four lessons about leadership from a piano bar.

I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Let me know your thoughts down below.

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