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Leadership Lessons from The Who's "Magic Bus"

Written by Jim Keighley on March 2, 2014

"Thank you, driver, for getting me here…" Lyrics from "The Magic Bus" written by Pete Townshend

Everybody runs some task, system, or project in the course of their work. It's pretty easy to conclude that work is all about managing things – but in almost EVERY instance it's really about MANAGING PEOPLE.

In my experience I've learned that managing people in Corporate America is like driving a school bus – but not just any school bus – it's a "special" Corporate school bus.

Being a big fan of The Who, I call this bus, "The Magic Bus."

  • Like any school bus, The Magic Bus has one steering wheel and one gas pedal - both located at the bus driver’s seat (where you sit).
  • Unlike any other school bus – The Magic Bus also has a brake pedal installed at every seat in the bus.

So when you first start driving The Magic Bus – it lurches to a stop frequently and makes very frustrating progress, because everyone in the back is trying out their brake pedal.

You quickly realize that in order for the bus to get anywhere you must develop the skill to understand what's important to your passengers, and then influence each of them to lay off their brake.

  • For Johnny, you just have to explain the need for the bus to move ahead and how he can help.
  • You need to give Mary something so she won't hit her brake pedal.
  • Ralph wants a checklist to fill out to take his mind off the brake pedal.
  • Suzy, you have to yell at.
  • You need to send an email to George’s parents so they'll make him behave.
  • And Freddie? He is incorrigible – you have to kick him off the bus.

Net… everybody has a different price of acceptance to help move the bus forward.

When you are really good at driving a Corporate school bus – you will frequently glance in the rearview mirror, understand which of the little darlings is about to hit their brake pedal and why, and quickly take the pre-emptive action needed to get that individual not to mess with their brake.

Have a productive and safe trip!

-Jim Keighley

If you are interested in more perspective on developing and leading, here's a link to, Teach Your Organization to Exceed

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