What the Beatles Teach Us About Leadership

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In November Disney+ released Get Back, a look into the recording sessions that produced The Beatles’s album Let it Be. Director Peter Jackson obtained the 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio that was recorded for the1970 Beatles documentary Let It Be, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. That original documentary was 80 minutes; Jackson’s Get Back goes for 468 minutes. The original debuted to mixed reviews; this one is a masterpiece. This is not a documentary of talking heads and the Ken Burns effect on old pictures. Instead, Jackson has cut and pasted the original 1969 footage into an omniscient, third-person view of a day in the life (ahem) of the world’s most famous musicians. I loved it. I couldn’t help but take away some observations about leadership while watching the most prolific artists of their generation. Here’s a few:

With a Little Help From My Friends. The Beatles constantly play the music of others. In their sessions they show an interest in Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry. We could imagine these guys having a pretty insular experience, since for the past decade they were musically untouchable. Not so. George Harrison admits that he cannot play guitar as well as Eric Clapton. Lennon and McCartney admire the work and marketing of the Rolling Stones. It’s hard to play our own music if we aren’t in awe of the music of others. Yet leaders do this all the time. I know church leaders who rarely attend a workshop or other church to get ideas. Some elders never ask other elders for help or advice. Some preachers struggle to find the good in sermons they didn’t preach. Some leaders never bother to call a friend in human resources to ask about a hiring matter or an acquaintance in finance to ask about a budget issue. We need to get out. We need to see what others do. We need to ask good questions, listen, and learn.

With Love From Me To You. I heard the Lennon/McCartney dynamic soured toward the end. Maybe. But it’s not apparent in Get Back. Sure, it’s strange that Yoko Ono awkwardly inserts herself into scenes as if she’s the fifth member of the Fab Four. But Lennon and McCartney’s relationship seems solid during the recording sessions. Sometimes when they riff, they lock into each other’s eyes and just laugh; genius respecting genius. We can all be a bit cynical, and we are drawn into apocalyptic tales that show the worst in others. Remember the Fyre Festival? Or the political scandals? Or celebrity divorces? Or the pastor’s downfall? People love watching the meltdown. Get Back invites us into the mutual admiration between the songwriting savants. Our love for our coworkers and partners in the Gospel is more valuable than what we gain by publicly airing our differences. I suppose some artistic geniuses and church leaders can temporarily flourish while being openly hostile (like Mark Driscoll) But most of us aren’t geniuses and most of us cannot lead when such dysfunction rules our hearts. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I’ve Got a Feeling.  In graduate school, Evertt Huffard would repeatedly remind us that “Ministry flows from burden.” His point was that we devote our energy to the things about which we feel most passionate. In Get Back, McCartney clearly feels the most burden to produce the album. The other three are there, but not in the way that he is. He takes the lead on most of the songs (like “Get Back” and “Let It Be”), while also spending the most time grinding at the piano to tweak the music. At a moment when the others seem content to move on to their own individual careers, McCartney is the one who thinks the Fab Four have one more album left in them. He keeps pushing. This is probably where many church leaders find themselves. God distributes gifts to everyone in the church; the same is not true for burden. Some people care more. There are seasons in our ministry when we need to push others and there are seasons when we need to give them room to breathe. It’s been a delicate balance during the pandemic to discern which season we are in. Do people need to be hugged or prodded? Are we providing necessary space or are we enabling bad habits? The person who thinks about these things all day is the Paul McCartney for the church, the one who just can’t imagine this project failing.

This documentary was the perfect encouragement to leaders who find themselves grinding in an office by themselves. It’s a reminder of craft and discipline. But it says even more about working with teams and leading communities. God’s work through us often happens to us first.

Bob Turner is the Senior Minister at White Station Church of Christ-Iglesia de Cristo in Memphis, Tennessee.

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