Leadership Lessons We Can Learn from the Temptations




Pictured (left to right): Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and David Ruffin — the founding members of the Temptations. (Source: rollingstone.com)

You know what sounds better than reading yet another boring white paper on leadership?

The Motown sound.

As it turns out, you don’t have to follow the professional crowd by shelling out mega bucks to listen to a critically acclaimed speaker in hopes of fortifying your arsenal of leadership skills. Take a few examples from one of the most wildly successful Motown acts of all: the Temptations.

Source: Motor City Radio Flashback

Over the course of the 1960s and 70s, the renowned Motown male group skyrocketed to fame, thanks to the brilliant business strategy of Berry Gordy Jr., lyrical mastery of Smokey Robinson and impeccable instrumentation of the Funk Brothers.

Though, even at the pinnacle of the record label’s success and the group’s own chart-topping numbers, the Temptations weathered their fair share of trials. From egos that led to personnel changes to the loss of four founding members, the group continues to perform across the world today. Their legacy, enduring. Here are three things you can learn from the Temptations to build a successful team.

No man is bigger than the group.

In his autobiography, founding member Otis Williams shares that when it came managing talent — and egos — the Temptations carried a philosophy adopted from Gordy himself, “…no single person is ever greater than the group itself.”

This was the principle that drove the decision to remove David Ruffin from the group. But as Williams iterated, even in the face of change, “The whole always exceeds the sum of the individual parts.”

Leaders can use this to do a self-check of not only themselves, but also the teams they manage. If you find there’s much tension centered around egos, it may be time to assess the individuals parts and find out what can help everyone move forward as a whole again.

Being unconventional can lead to breakthroughs.

The Temptations led the way for artists who desired to be more than just performers. By thrilling audiences with precise, energetic choreography and flashy, tailored suits, on top of sheer vocal talent the group was nothing short of sensational to watch. During a time when most performances were dull and stiff, they were entertainers.

Using unconventional ways to coach teams, leaders can find success of their own. Jumpstart creativity by hosting meetings elsewhere, such as outside on a nice day. Empower team members to take initiative. Take the time to learn the wants, needs and desires of your team members. Ask them what their learning or communication styles are, so you can reach them on a level that makes sense.

Temptations. Forever.

To move forward whole, with minds open to trying new ideas, teams have to be one unit.  And it’s the brotherhood among all the Temptations who were lucky enough to call themselves members, that has carried them to the success they know today.

Instill pride in your teams and encourage them of the goals ahead. You don’t have to be all friends (healthy conflict is good), and you don’t have to create a legacy to orchestrate an inviting team culture. Nurture a mutual desire to achieve — whatever the target is in sight — and you just might be on your way to creating (Motown) magic of your own.

Source: Giphy.com

Leadership is a challenge. That’s why the experts have studied it for years. Teams will always have their good days and bad. A little advice from the Temptations? Keep on moving, and “don’t look back.”

Invest in your work, invest in your teams, invest in your passions. Then get ready, ’cause here you come. ||

Additional sources: Williams, Otis, and Patricia Romanowski Bashe. “Chapter 6.” Temptations. New York, NY: Cooper Square, 2002. 133. Print.

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