Musicians Cross the Generational Divide, So Can Leaders


December 7, 2010

“Music does bring people together.
It allows us to experience the same emotions.
People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit.
No matter what language we speak, what color we are,
the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith,
music proves: We are the same.”
~ John Denver ~

One of the greatest struggles leaders of today face is how to bridge the divide between the multiple generations at play in the workplace.  It’s hard to pick up a business magazine today without seeing a story about how the younger generation is not hard-working or they expect everything to be given to them.  Recently Fortune had an article about managing millennials and over the last several years, Business Week has published numerous articles about managing generations.

As I was driving to work yesterday it struck me that I enjoy music from almost every decade.  And, I know for certain I’m not alone in this preference because I can talk to someone 15 years older or 15 years younger and find music preferences that we have in common.  Why is that?  I think it’s because certain musicians find just the right style to appeal to multi-generational audiences.  For example, the singer I was listening to when the idea for this post came along was Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond started his career in 1962.  According to Billboard charts, he’s the third most successful adult contemporary artist falling behind Barbara Streisand and Elton John.   In 2005, I had the opportunity to see Neil’s world tour.  I debated whether or not it would be fun because I thought I’d be one of the younger people there (in my 30’s).  Was I wrong!  I went with a group of girls ranging in age from 33- 56.  When we got to the concert, the audience ranged from their twenties to probably their eighties.  Neil, who had to be in his late sixties at the time put on one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen.

For two hours he amazed the crowd and it was a huge sing-along to favorites like Sweet Caroline and Cherry, Cherry.  Both of those songs were earlier in his career.  He is also an entertainer who continues to write songs to this day.  In fact, he just recently released a CD called Dreams in November 2010.  Neil also stays relevant to younger audiences by trying new things like collaborating with younger artists.  Just last year, a possible collaboration between Neil and Limp Bizkit was announced on Twitter. I’m still wondering if that one will come to fruition.  Even if it doesn’t, it shows he is willing to try.

So, what can leaders learn from Neil Diamond’s career and other entertainers like him?

  • It’s good to play some of the old hits, but you have to keep adding to your arsenal
  • You have to keep changing and growing
  • You have to play notes that appeal to a wide variety of people
  • You should collaborate to stay fresh in your approach
  • You should actively cultivate relationships with people of other generations and hold them close

What do you think?  Any other ideas on how leaders can stay fresh in their approach?  Rock ’em in the comments!

One Comment

  • Considering that I am a 38 year-old in a band with a 16 year-old and a 46 year-old, I can be an authority on this subject.

    I admit that I just play it with the others. I am NOT a leader, except that I try as hard as I can top get the 16 year old bass player to mesh with me (the drummer) and Steve. If I can get him to hook up with the kick drum, then we’re good. This is a huge achievement for a kid who’s too cool for anyone.

    In the case of Limp Bizkit and Neil Diamond collaboration, I would say this is more beneficial for Fred than Neil, as Fred is a has-been at this point. I don’t know any adults who hum Limp Bizkit tunes whilst walking down the hall. I would think that more adults would hum Coolio’s “Gangsta Paradise” walking out the door rather than anything Limp Biskit has done.

    I see where you are going. However, Neil Diamond has a better cross-generational appeal than Limp Biskit- his career has spanned MUCH longer. Neil Diamond is a GOD, as far as I am concerned. Most kids’ parents have Neil Diamond music playing rather than Limp Bizkit.

    I have to say that if Neil does this thing with Limp Bizkit, the pairing is so freaking weird that people will listen for the “watching a train wreck” aspect. However, Neil is so freakin’ smooth that he will work it out.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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