Using Leadership and Team Culture to Create the Greatest Band

The Beatles—arguably one of the greatest bands in history—did not become that way by accident. Many stories abound about their long time playing nightly in Hamburg, getting to know and be in sync with one another. This could be the epitome of creating a truly high-performing team. But what about leadership?

The two key leaders, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, played off of each other in composing. Neither was a classically trained musician with a music conservatory pedigree. Lyrics and form were even written on the backs of envelopes at times. Clearly their passion was in writing the right lyrics and melody, and bringing the group together because they could work it out. They knew the strengths of each player, although you don’t have to live together in rather poor circumstances and play together nightly for a year for that to happen! Another great musician, Duke Ellington, was said to have used his orchestra as his keyboard. He also knew the strengths of each of his players and his orchestrations reflected their strengths in his compositions.

A good leader knows his/her team

A good leader knows the strengths of his or her team. He or she builds on and caters to those strengths. That’s one of the pieces missing in leadership development today—knowing and growing the team you are leading. The Beatles did not become an overnight sensation; they worked hard to achieve that. They didn’t just let it be. They changed players when it helped them achieve greater synergy and musicianship between them (e.g., swapping Pete Best for Ringo Starr at the suggestion of their producer and manager). They knew they had to get Ringo into their lives to ensure the right culture fit for their organization.

I definitely did look up to John. We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest.
-Paul McCartney

Leaders today need to do that by identifying the right players for the team—people that fit together and add value to the whole. Fitting together means they have to be right for the culture that exists or is being created. When Amazon makes a key hire, they make sure to have someone outside the team interview them to be sure they fit with the culture.1 When people come into Southwest Airlines for an interview, they get feedback from every Southwest employee the candidate interacts with along the way.2 These stellar organizations know the value of ensuring a culture fit on the team, as did the Beatles. Even if it took them eight days a week.

Start by forming

Why do we expect leaders and teams to be highly successful when all too often they are just thrown together? Don’t take a long and winding road. It’s at the beginning when a team is assembled and formed, to use Tuckman’s model, when a leader learns about team members’ strengths and how to best use them.3 As much as we want to charge ahead and get right down to the task at hand, the task will get done in a much more effective and even successful way if we take the time to form properly.

To expedite and strengthen the process, team members can take an assessment to understand each others’ styles and behaviors.4 The more the leader and teammates know about each member’s styles, strengths, and weaknesses, the more they can tap into everyone’s individual strengths and build a cohesive, collaborative, and high-performing team. Or, you can go perform in a cellar in Hamburg for a year!

The mark of a winning team—and a winning leader: Come together—right now!

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1 Taube, A. (November 20, 2014). This Jeff Bezos Quote Explains Amazon’s Insanely Difficult Hiring Process. Retrieved from:

2 Gallo, C. (September 10, 2013). How Southwest And Virgin America Win By Putting People Before Profit. Retrieved from:

3 Duncker, C. (February 15, 2015). Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Retrieved from:

4 Lafferty, J. C. (1973). Life Styles Inventory™. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

About the Author

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Howard Prager

Howard Prager brings significant knowledge and experience in leadership and talent development. He is known for his keen listening, understanding, and translating client needs to action, whether it be through instructional design, facilitation, consulting, organizational development, change, measurement or coaching. A thought leader in leadership development, his article on "How can we fix the leadership crisis?" was lead article in the March 2016 Talent Development Journal. Howard created the Team Banquet, a highly-regarded experiential team building exercise used globally. With over 30 years of corporate, academic, and consulting experience, he meets and exceeds client needs regularly.