Teach & Serve II, No. 27 – You Never Can Tell

Teach & Serve II, No. 27 – You Never Can Tell

February 8, 2017

A leader is challenged by something new, something for which no one planned. The leader looks at the team and says “we’re doing this.”

Do yourself a favor: take 9 minutes and watch the video below. Here is a true story: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band were performing in Germany a few years back and Springsteen notices a sign propped up on someone’s cooler bag. He asks for the sign to be passed up to the stage and on it is written “You Never Can Tell” the title of a Chuck Berry song (likely better known today as a cut from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and the song Uma Thurman and John Travolta famously Batuzi-ed to). Springsteen, and his audience, know the tradition: fans bring signs to concerts in the hopes the band will take requests and play one or two of these. Typically, this does not happen. Bands are locked in to their playlists, but we are talking about Bruce Springsteen here. After noting that he has not played this song in years, like since he was 16, Springsteen engages in trial-and-error that goes on for almost five minutes trying to find an appropriate key for himself and the band. He mocks himself, laughs, jokes with the band and then… well, again, do yourself a favor and take a look.

You’ve got 9 minutes to spare.

I’ll wait for you.

Wow, right? I mean, just WOW! The band has not played this song together. They have not practiced it. Their lead singer has not sung it in years and they pull it off. No, they not only pull it off, they nail it. And, look at them, they have a GREAT time doing it.

I am not sure why this video showed up in my Facebook feed this week, but, I am so glad it did. I am a guitarist (not a good one, mind you) and I get revved up by good, driving beats, I get charged up by good music and I simply love it when Springsteen notes “maybe I’m a little over ambitious, give me a capo.” The E Street Band, while they trust the Boss, look at him like he might be pulling them into a big mistake in front of a gigantic crowd. But they go along with him. And then Springsteen pulls the crowd in, asking them for their help. Suddenly it’s “Here we go! ONE! TWO!” and the song rocks.

I love this video, not just for the fun of it, the joy of it. I love it because of what is going on here. A leader is challenged by something new, something for which no one planned. The leader looks at the team and says “we’re doing this.”

How often do we as leaders shy away from this kind of opportunity? And why do we do so? When we are confronted with new and changing dynamics, when things for which we did not plan come up on-the-fly, instinct often tells us to shut them down, delay them, put them aside. There may well be good reason for this in some instances. However, if we have assembled talented teams we trust, people in whom we can put our faith and who have put their faith in us, should we not, at least sometimes, take on new challenges as they present themselves? Should we not trust ourselves, trust the team, trust the energy that can be created when something spontaneous happens?

Yes, there are risks involved. Perhaps our team looks at us as if we have slipped a groove. Maybe this opportunity hits in real time in front of a live audience – students, parents, our colleagues – and the stakes feel high.

And, perhaps, our style of leadership just has not allowed for the possibility of responding in this manner, of letting loose, of feeling a crest of energy rising and tapping into it.

If that is the case, that is unfortunate, because, as most classroom teachers who have had a lesson go left when they thought it would go right would remind us, what we have not planned for can often result in a tremendous class and vivid, teachable moments. What we have not planned for can be exciting and fun and memorable.

There are times our egos do not allow us to act spontaneously because we are paralyzed by how we might look if things do not go well. We are concerned about a loss of cache with our community. We are worried that we have to know the answer to the problem before we have started to work the equation and, in this, we sometimes lose the chance for magic to happen.

As leaders, we can be locked down in our approach, tied up in our procedures. We can face new challenges by putting them down, setting them aside, pushing them off. We can be intimidated by the moment and back away from it.

You never can tell what might happen if you let go and give it a shot. You never can tell what might occur if you and your team trust one another, put ego aside and say “let’s give this a shot, we trust each other and we are going to see what we can do together.” You never can tell what results from a leader who looks at her colleagues and empowers them to move as a group in a new direction.

You never can tell.