What's your tune?


I’ve got a personal DJ.

I’m talking here about my 4 year old son. Every time we get into the car to drive somewhere, Sam and I know the drill: I pass him my phone so he can choose the tunes. The soundtrack for our road trip is in his hands… literally.

I’m pleased to say Sam’s moved on from the Wiggles and other kids’ music, and is now selecting cool beats from my own playlists. So at least we all share the same taste in music. But the thing is, Sam’s pretty predictable in his song choices. Of the hundreds of tracks he could choose from, he sticks with 4 or 5 of his personal favourites. And he keeps playing them until he’s got the lyrics nailed.

So now, when I hear those songs played in another context, I think of Sam straight away. They’re his tunes.

What’s your tune?

I encourage people managers and leaders to think of the tune they want to be known for. And by ‘tune’ here, I don’t literally mean music (although the idea of having a personal soundtrack playing in your head is pretty cool). I mean belief, value or message.

You see, workplaces are full of noise. That noise comes from a range of things: a constant barrage of communication, too many so-called priorities, changing goals, customer feedback, changing markets, conflicting messages… the list goes on.  And the thing is, that noise ain’t going away any time soon. In fact you might say it’s the new norm; and those who complain about change and disruption are complaining about… well, life. 

So great leadership is about providing a clear tune that carries through the noise. A tune that people can connect with and hum to themselves when things get a little confused or out of control. That tune could come in one of many different forms:

  • a statement of vision (think JFK’s “land a man on the moon” speech)
  • a statement of success (think ousted Aussie PM Tony Abbott’s controversial “we will stop the boats”)
  • a statement of strategy (think of a football team with “play faster than any other team, every game, every ball”)
  • a personal value (think Richard Branson’s “it has to be fun”)
  • a cultural ethic (think of Jeff Bezos’ recent “if you can’t be kind to others, we don’t want you here”)
  • a team philosophy (think AFL team Sydney Swan’s “no dickheads” rule)
  • a mantra (think “Keep Calm and Carry On”)

Repetition brings clarity

Once you know what your tune is, sing it on repeat, just like my son does – because repetition brings clarity. Clarity amongst the noise, and multiple opportunities for the message to actually sink in. For example, my own mentor had to keep repeating his message to me that I needed to start saying no to some things before one day I truly understood why.

Sure, there’s a fine line between repeating a tune and becoming an irritating stuck record. But I think most people make the mistake of avoiding repetition altogether - perhaps out of fear of insulting people’s intelligence or sounding like a politician straight out of spin-coaching. The trick here is to riff on your tune in different ways – a bit like a jazz musician improvising around a well-known theme. The theme’s familiar, but there are many ways to play it.

So have the conviction to own your tune. Sing it often and become known for it. And then watch others as they start to hum along.

And for the song of the month, how’s this for a flashback. Or is that just me?


PS. Thanks to エン バルドマン for the photo in this month's post