Lessons from the “Fab Four”

John, George, Paul, and Ringo in their early days

Like many of you, I watched and enjoyed “Get Back” and, as a Beatle fan since I was 9, I couldn’t get enough of the show. The documentary illuminates a lot of great Beatle moments that I appreciated.

I couldn’t watch “Get Back” only as a Beatles fan. I watched it as someone who has been working for the past 5 years for a company that does organizational consulting.

With 20/20 hindsight, experience in business, and as a parent, I felt that I had a lot of insight into what went wrong for the Beatles. All the Beatles at the time of filming were in their late 20’s. I have a son who’s older than they were. It’s not surprising they made mistakes. And they also made some good choices. We can learn from those choices. Here are some of the lessons.

Mental health issues can affect anyone in your organization

John Lennon was addicted to heroin from about the time of the recording of the White Album through the early 70s. Jackson doesn’t show this at all and perhaps there wasn’t footage to use. But a key first lesson from the Beatles is that opioid addiction is a great mental and physical health danger. It can change your personality and radically change your behavior. John had been the bandleader but once he was using heroin, he started to fail in that role, which was part of the reason Paul tried to step up so much. So keeping in mind that people in your organization may have personal struggles, you may or may not be aware of, is a key lesson.

Don’t leave a leadership vacuum

Brian Epstein managed the Beatles from 1962 until his death in 1967. His death left a void for the Beatles because they didn’t have a manager anymore. Continuing on without a manager is like continuing on with a baseball team without a 1st baseman. Not every role is the most important, but your organization should clearly define roles and staff them so that others can perform their clearly defined roles. The Beatles finally decided to hire for the role but it didn’t work because of the next lesson…

Surround yourself with people you can trust

John Lennon said Allen Klein “is a con man but he’ll be a con man for us!” There’s no such thing. If a person is unethical, it’s only a matter of time until they turn on you with their unethical or criminal behavior. So, hire well for your org with someone who shares your values AND is someone that EVERYONE, internally and externally, can trust. 

Develop talent, even if that means they’ll leave

George Harrison was stifled within the confines of the Beatles as a band. Most of the songs on Beatles albums were written by either John Lennon or Paul McCartney. Two of every 14 songs on Beatles albums were written by George. By January of 1969, George had written hundreds of songs. There is no way he could have continued without at least being able to release solo albums, which would have benefitted Apple Corps greatly (and did).

Your goal in an org is not to hire for and then hoard talent. Your goal is to hire for talent and develop it with the hope that, someday, that talent will either lead or leave your org. A person who flourished in your org, even if they leave, can pay dividends down the road because there is always the chance they can help you or collaborate with you at some point. You give love and respect, you often get it back. Paul and John should have encouraged George to do his own stuff in addition to his Beatles stuff or instead. It would have been better for everyone. 

Be truly inclusive

Billy Preston comes into the recording sessions simply as a visiting friend but, since the Beatles felt they needed a keyboard player to complete their sound for this project, they asked him to play with them. It was magic and everyone realized right away that he would be essential for the project. He almost singlehandedly saved the day for the Beatles and the project that became the “Let It Be” album. You can glean a few lessons here. Bringing in new blood can help rev up your org and the people in it. Of course, having brought in a new “staff member,” be open to their contributions and ideas.

Obviously, Billy Preston is the poster child for an Inclusivity hire. It wasn’t that the Beatles were trying to hire a Black musician to make their band look better, but it’s crazy if you miss that his background in American R&B and gospel brought a fresh perspective the Beatles sorely needed. If you hire for diversity, it’s because you’re going to be inclusive and get new ideas you wouldn’t have had otherwise. The ideas of the people different from you are going to be new, fresh, and novel to you. That’s not a good thing, it’s the BEST thing. 

Take care of your best team members

Finally, the Beatles take Mal Evans, officially their Road Manager, for granted and it’s terrible to watch. That guy did everything for them and they didn’t appreciate it. And by “everything” I mean anything. If there was something that needed to be done, Mal did it. Food, transcription, banging an anvil, anything. Never let someone languish in your organization without proper recognition, support, and chances to grow. Mal Evans died at 40 when he was shot by cops in LA. A tragic death and perhaps one that could have been averted if the Beatles had looked out for Mal half as much as he looked out for them.

Final thoughts

The Beatles had stopped being an engaged workforce that thrived together. For the reasons I discussed, we can see why. I believe that successful organizations have productive and positive processes that generate meaningful and valuable outcomes. I didn’t expect to glean leadership lessons from the Beatles documentary, but there are leadership lessons to be learned everywhere. 

Steven Glickman

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