A rockstar’s perspective on leadership

Photo credit - www.telegram.com

Photo credit – www.telegram.com

Nicknamed “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen earned this title in the 1960s when he played with a band called Earth. He was responsible for collecting the band’s fee from club owners and distributing it to band members. This real rockstar “boss” exemplifies the leadership qualities many admire.

According to Harvard leadership development expert Gianpiero Petriglieri (2017), rockstar leaders:

… fill up every room with their big ego and even bigger heart … voice the hard truths without making you lose hope, and make you work harder and feel lighter for it.

Springsteen has had an impressive career and shows no sign of slowing down. His concert tours and and song-writing continue unabated. His popularity and performance schedule at 68 indicates he must be doing something right! What are the leadership qualities he aspires to? Legitimacy, purpose and authenticity.

Legitimacy – To hold people’s attention, serve their imagination
As a performer, holding people’s attention is critical. The prerequisite for that, and for effective leadership, is to be there for the people. Springsteen style is to move. To sing songs. To fill arenas. But mostly, Springsteen brings a community (of fans) together, and inspires them with his words and the fervour of their delivery.

A leader’s legitimacy … rests upon “how deeply you [can] inhabit your song.”
~ Petriglieri, 2017


Purpose – Let purpose find your craft
The process of honing the skills of your craft, helps you find your purpose. So says Springsteen, getting to your purpose is “knowing what to do with what you have and knowing what to do with what you DON’T have” (Springsteen as cited in Petriglieri, 2017).

Drawing on his biography, Petrieglieri (2017) suggests Springsteen’s proposition is that this requires you to:

  • Take a stance
  • Make it last
  • Have freedom to run

In sync with his songs, honing your craft and finding your purpose takes hard work and deliberate intention. In this process, you can let purpose find you, but you can’t hope it finds you. Springsteen’s work (his music) is to get people turned on. Its purpose is to keep the American dream alive, and and never let it go.

Purpose has a long gestation, and is borne of actions and encounters, not just ambition and doubts.
~ Petriglieri, 2017

Authenticity – Love will make you better. Reflection will make you last.
Leaders need to be self-aware. Self-awareness can be developed through reflection and drawing on the support (and feedback) of others – colleagues, friends, support professionals. Like many artists/writers, Springsteen’s work (songs) is “emotionally autobiographical”. He applies this self-reflection, to understanding others and reveals it in his songs.

 … what makes leaders authentic [is] …  letting their work reveal them
~ Pertriglieri, 2017

A recent show on Broadway features Springsteen sharing perspectives on life, his career and leadership. Read about it here.


Petriglieri, Gianpiero. 2017.”Bruce Springsteen, Artful Leadership, and What Rock Star Bosses Do” in Harvard Business Review, 27 September 2017.

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