You may be in your 20s or in your 60s but the question is the same: How good will you be at what you do? And what will it take?
In June 2010, Patti and I experienced one of the best concerts we’ve ever attended. Carole King and James Taylor “Live at the Troubadour” played at the Gwinnett Arena to a completely sold-out crowd (in 4 hours!) of 13,000 people. Whether or not you like their music, you would be captivated by how good they are at this season in their careers.
Carole King is 68 and owns the stage with her charisma, winning smile, and endless energy. She’s a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer (1990) with 25 solo albums to her name, and has a span of U.S. Billboard Top Ten Albums spanning 39 years. “Tapestry” (1971) to “Live at the Troubadour,” with James Taylor (2010). As a four time Grammy Award winner, and a prolific song writer, King has a legacy of 118 pop hits that she has written or co-written!
James Taylor is 62 and still makes thousands of adoring fans feel like each one is his best friend sitting in his living room while he plays contemporary classics from “Fire and Rain” to “You’ve Got a Friend.” He was inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Taylor is a Grammy Award winner, and has a span of U.S. Billboard Top Ten Albums spanning 40 years. “Sweet Baby James” (1970) to “Live at the Troubadour,” with Carole King (2010).
Now I’m not saying they’re old, I’m saying they’re good! While many people begin to slow down and contemplate a rockin’ chair, others are still rockin’ it! How about you? You may be in your 20’s or in your 60’s but the question is the same. How good will you be? And what does it take?
The day after the concert, (with a big thanks to Chris and Mary Anne Morgan for inviting us,) I went out for my morning jog. I was thinking about the wonderful evening and began to make some mental notes about why JT and Carole are so good in their 60’s.
- They stuck with their craft.
If you read King’s and Taylor’s biography you would see that neither of them has had an easy road. They have paid a price and suffered the ups and downs of a long career in music. But they stuck with it and kept at their craft. That is a big lesson for all of us.
We live in a culture where people change not only jobs but careers. It’s difficult to become great at what you do when you change careers often. Changing jobs is one thing, that’s often the right thing to do. But think carefully before changing careers. Leadership in the local church takes time to learn. There is no short cut. Like a doctor, school teacher, lawyer, or engineer it takes time to learn your craft and get really good at what you do. Years don’t equal experience. Keep digging, asking questions and learning from those who have successful experience beyond you.
There is just no substitute for this loving what you do. You’ve got to enjoy your work. Life is too short to do something you don’t want to do. There are times when we must all do whatever it takes to provide for basic necessities, but I’m talking about the majority of our lives when we really do choose what we do.
It was obvious to everyone that performing was pure joy for Carole and James. They beamed an incredible sense of enjoyment that would be impossible to fake. Genuine performance is the ultimate expression of song-writers and musicians, and they loved every minute of it. All of us in the audience loved it all the more!
How would the people in your church describe you? Would they say you express joy in your leadership? Do they believe you love what you do?
- They are incredible collaborators.
Both James Taylor and Carole King wrote dozens of songs for other solo artists and bands. They played with other musicians and singers, and have collaborated together off and on over the decades. My wife Patti loves Aretha Franklin. Aretha was the first to make famous “(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman” written in 1967 by Carole. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (1960) was recorded by over 18 artists and bands! There are dozens of longer stories of great collaborations and James has dozens as well, collaborating with George Harrison, Paul Simon, David Crosby, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon to name just a few.
Taylor and King are gifted artists, but the truth is they are even better when they work with other musicians. The same is true for your leadership. You have gifts and talents, in fact, you may be a great leader. But you will always be better when you connect and work with others. Partnerships in ministry, both formal and informal, produce great results. Who are you collaborating with? How are you sharpened by others and how do you invest in your colleagues? Don’t miss the opportunity to enhance the health and growth of your church and the Kingdom at large by establishing key ministry partners.
- They practice until it hurts.
There is a difference between working in your ministry and working on your ministry. It goes nearly without saying that you must work in your ministries because that’s how you get things done. Working on your ministries, however, is how you get things better.
A couple friends of mine are professional musicians and they tell me that when they are not on the road, they practice a minimum of 8 hours a day. Practice is defined by working on something you can’t do until you can. Leaders must practice leadership!
King and Taylor practiced till their fingers hurt and they were physically exhausted but that’s part of how they became great, and they still practice! How hard are you practicing leadership? How focused are you on not just doing what you do, but improving what you do? What is the last thing that you couldn’t do, and you worked on it until you could?
- They play it to the heart.
We know that music is art and it’s played to the heart, but what about leadership, is it art or science? It’s both, but mostly art! So how do you play it?
When I coach leaders who struggle, most of them are leaders who over-think and miss the heart. They try to put everything into a strategy or system. That’s important but it misses the big idea that covenant (starting in Genesis 12) is based on relationship! Even the most rookie of leaders know that relationship is far more art than science. It’s important to remember that the strategies and systems that you need are played out with people. Strategies and systems are ultimately relational in nature! When you miss that fact, policies turn into problems!
When Carole and James are in concert together there is considerable business and technology in play. But ultimately when they take the stage it’s all heart. They sing and play from the heart, to the heart. How you do lead? Are you aware of the emotional connection you have with the people you lead? What do you do to increase that heart level of connection?
My thoughts in this article are meant to be long term ideas to help you be your best for the long run! Whether you are 30 something or 50 something, there is much more in store if you stick with your craft, love what you do, collaborate with others, practice till it hurts, and play it to the heart.