Do you ever wonder what makes rock stars so popular? Is it purely their vocal talent or mesmerizing guitar work? Is it their well-choreographed stage moves in coordination with a dazzling light show? Or do they have other qualities that appeal to the crowds who spend hard-earned discretionary income to sit in uncomfortable seats for three hours?
Earlier this year, my wife and I helped my Boomer parents check an item off their bucket list. For years, they had wanted to watch Sir Elton John perform in Las Vegas. However, due to health issues, traveling a long distance had become unrealistic. So, when we heard Elton was appearing near my parents’ hometown, we bought the tickets, loaded the wheelchair, hung the disabled parking tag, and off we went.
We arrived at the arena early, and I quickly began to notice that the age of the audience was far closer to that of my parents than my own. As I started the long walk from my obscure parking space, I began to realize that this evening might be a little different.
Joseph Kotarba, author of Baby Boomer Rock ’n’ Roll Fans: The Music Never Ends, states: “The purpose in writing this book is to describe sociologically the many ways people in our society who were raised on rock ’n’ roll music and its cultural baggage have continued to use the rock ’n’ roll idiom to make sense of, celebrate and master everyday life.”
If we embrace Kotarba’s concept that Boomers’ mastery of everyday life is significantly shaped by the rock ’n’ roll culture, it makes sense to learn something about the stars that contributed to this cultural evolution. As I sat in my seat watching Elton John “manage” the evening, I thought about how engaging and purposeful his performance was. I compared his actions to those of leaders with whom I work as they attempt to command their audiences, whether it be staff, residents of their communities, or larger public settings.
As I watched Elton, I noticed several distinct behaviors that should be seen in any great leader. Perhaps a reminder of five simple principles Elton demonstrated flawlessly will help us better understand Boomers and their motivations:
1. He respected our time. Elton John found a way to show up onstage at the appointed time. How many meetings have you attended that began late? Are there really many good reasons for beginning a meeting late?
2. He engaged the audience. From the beginning of the show to the very end, Elton John embraced his audience. He found ways to acknowledge individuals around the arena and even signed a few autographs during the evening. How do you engage your audience? Are you purposeful in your message as well as in your mannerisms?
3. He was energetic. Sir Elton, who is well into his 60s, brought an incredible energy to the arena. He laughed, he joked, he jumped on top of the piano, he moved around the stage, and he didn’t take himself too seriously. What kind of energy do you bring to your “appearances”? Would your audience describe you as genuine?
4. He was predictable, yet found new channels for expressing
creativity. Just when I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen next in one of his classic hits, Elton and his band would inject an unexpected twist in the anticipated chords. The
songs he has been performing, in some cases, for over 40 years wowed the audience time and time again. Are you just predictable enough to keep your audience’s attention? What new,
creative channels are you exploring?
5. He was humble and gracious. Saying “thank you” is more than the words; graciousness comes with tone and body language. Elton John made sure his audience knew he appreciated the purchase of the ticket and the time they spent that evening. Do people sense your humility? Is your appreciation believable?
Putting into practice principles that Boomers embrace can make your leadership position more attractive to these buyers. Take a lesson from Elton—or just watch the audience—and you will believe in the power of rock stars to lead.