Five Leadership Lessons From Foo Fighters Front Man, Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl, Foo Fighter frontman, teaches us some classic leadership lessons worthy of examination. In my estimation, he was a born, charismatic leader. And like all “born leaders”, he still had to hone his craft. And I don’t mean the guitars, drums and vocals; I mean the art and science of leadership. I confess that this is a somewhat gratuitous and indulgent excuse to write about one of my favorite rockstars, but in all seriousness, Dave is a leadership coach in at least five ways. After waiting a year for the opportunity to see them in Austin in 2018, a lesson in leadership was the last thing I expected to take away from the show. But, indeed, that’s the most memorable part of my experience. Of course, my handsome date’s air drumming skills do deserve an honorable mention.
Dave is generous with recognition. He applauds each member of his band. He authentically gives credit where credit is due. He dedicates a lot of time in between sets extolling each band member, sincerely. He doesn’t do it a patronizing way, and he doesn’t speak in generalities. Instead, he gives specific reasons why that musician just crushed it. He doesn’t just say, “Hey, Taylor, you’re awesome.” He calls out Taylor’s vocals. In fact, Taylor has a broader range than Dave’s. Feedback should always be specific. What did the person do, exactly, that made their performance awesome (or poor)? Dave does this well, and delivers feedback in a setting that Taylor likes.
He demonstrates vulnerability and growth when he makes BIG mistakes.
Here’s an example: William Goldsmith, the first drummer laid down the drum track for their 20 year old masterpiece album, The Colour and the Shape. Dave wasn’t happy with Goldsmith’s performance, and without informing Goldsmith, Dave re-recorded the drums and released the album. He could’ve given feedback and coaching, or a performance management talk. At the very least, he could’ve told Goldsmith what he was going to do and why. I equate this with a lack of courageous leadership. This had a profound impact on Goldsmith who turned to alcohol and drugs. Now, that’s not on Dave’s shoulders, but it shows how profound poor leadership can affect a person. Dave also received a lot of flack and has to live with the fallout of his 20 year old foible. Sometimes, you can’t take things back.
Leaders don’t always have to know how to “swing the hammer” to be the boss, but it does give you a leg up if you’ve done the job. Dave’s technical abilities give him the street cred needed to command thousands of people. For example, when Dave tells thousands of people at Wembley to pipe down so he can speak, they listen. He rarely has to repeat himself. He has earned the respect it takes to command his audience. Even controlling a fight or a heckler is no match for Dave. A simple, “You don’t fight at my show”, seems to quash a conflict.
Dave gives people development opportunities. He takes a shot on people who could possibly ruin a show. That must be hard to do for a perfectionist like Dave. He usually invites someone up on stage. Sometimes it’s a ten year old kid to do a Metallica cover. Sometimes an adult, like the now infamous “Kiss Guy” who joined the band to play Monkey Wrench on Dave’s guitar. I'll let you YouTube it. Warning: NSFW.
When Dave’s world got rocked, Dave rocked harder. He was divorced, homeless, his band was falling apart, and he couldn’t access his bank account. During that time, he wrote what is, arguably, his best work ever: Everlong. He created and finished a beautiful project in a time of personal tribulation, something all leaders know a bit about. And borne from this strife was something beautiful. But Everlong, too, seemed to be a failure. However, he didn’t give up on it. He tweaked it into an acoustic version and took the calculated risk of playing the stripped down version on Howard Stern. He persevered, in spite of widespread doubt, for something he believed in.
As I rocked, and performed a bit of air-musicianship, myself, I started making these connections. Like many of you, I recognize instances of great leadership when I see them. In this case, I waited about 15 years and paid $372 for a ticket to a great rock show, and walked away with so much more.