Are Rockers Akin to Athletes?

RUSH is a high-performance sports team!

Rush photographed by Jason Dorland
Rush photographed by Jason Dorland

THE CONTEXT:

RUSH. A name that evokes strong reactions among music fans alike—favourably, and sometimes not. Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny the success they have experienced over their forty-plus years together.

As with any high-performance team that endures four decades, the members of RUSH—Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart—have the awards, the accolades, the tributes, the inductions, the record sales, the sold-out shows, the you-name-it that one might expect of a band that has lasted as long as this one has.

Nonetheless, the question begs, how have they done it?

True, they have each logged their respective 10,000 hours of practice, and then some. And, yes, they have had solid management and, therefore, made some good business decisions along the way. However, there are numerous bands out there that have practiced as required and hired top management groups to guide their careers who have not survived nor garnered near the amount of success that RUSH has. So, what’s different about this modest Canadian rock-trio?

WHERE TO BEGIN:

Too often, as coaches and leaders, we present a list of tasks for the people who look to us for guidance. Assuming that’s all they’ll really need to achieve their own success. However, as I’ve learned through my work as a coach—it’s the WHY in what we do that determines how well those tasks are executed. And, in the case of RUSH, their WHY runs deep!

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending RUSH’s last Canadian show in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a classic evening with RUSH! The three-hour show unfolded in reverse chronological order of the dates each song was created. It was clever, and highlighted the influences and styles that have seen this band through. I stood in awe as I watched three individuals at the pinnacle of their musicianship deliver a clinic on high-performance.

They were rehearsed as only RUSH can be—exacting in every aspect of the show. If there was ever an example of “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect,” these guys were it. That unrelenting drive to rehearse allowed them to appear relaxed, even playful at times.

“However, it was a moment in which one of them faltered that showcased the underlying reason why they have been so successful—so enduring.”

If you’ve ever seen Neil Peart drum, you’ll understand why he is so revered within the drumming community. He’s a perfectionist through and through. There’s nothing random about his time spent performing behind the skins. Which is what made this one particular incident so poignant for me.

As long as RUSH has been playing, Neil has been tossing drumsticks in the air. Many times during each concert when there’s a pause long enough for him, he’ll launch a stick skyward and then catch it effortlessly before he’s required to return to pounding out the beat that supports each song. It’s showmanship, and the crowd appreciates it as such with deafening cheers of gratitude. During one of his air-born stunts that night, instead of easily snagging his stick as he’s done probably thousands of times, he fumbled and then dropped it. Literally, without missing a beat, he grabbed another from the pouch at his side and resumed playing.

In the grand scheme of the show—it was no big deal, really. In fact, I’ll bet many people didn’t even notice, and if they did they didn’t care. But, one thing for sure, Neil cared. The concerts main camera now having focused-in on him splayed his disappointment on the huge screen center stage. Granted, he rarely smiles during concerts, and often looks incredibly intense at the best of times. As Neil tells his mom—“It hurts, of course I look serious!”

However, this was different and his teammates knew it as such. Geddy moved quickly from his place on stage to within inches of Neil’s drum kit. Geddy’s back to the audience, he stared purposefully at Neil all the while continuing to play his trademark bass. The message was, “It’s all good—let it go. We’re here to support you, Neil.”

Having picked-up his fallen teammate, Geddy returned to his mic just in time to resume singing. That’s when Alex stepped up to finish off the job. Of course, Alex being Alex, his role in the matter was to wildly rock back and forth in front of Neil until the frustrated drummer was moved to smile. With Neil back on his game, Alex turned never once missing a note on his guitar and casually meandered, eventually returning to his home on the stage. Cool, very cool! In the midst of a concert, in front of tens-of-thousands of people, two band members recognized the importance of supporting their teammate first. Not surprisingly, the result was that—we, the audience, experienced a better performance from Neil.

THE OPPORTUNITY:

High-performance comes in many forms—in this case, artistry. Here we have a group of musicians who have spent the better part of their lives striving to more thoroughly understand, grow and perfect their respective crafts. This tireless pursuit demonstrates beautifully the importance of WHY we show up everyday to our crafts.

Ironically, the iconic expression, “Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll!” has no place in a band that intends on achieving what RUSH has. Instead, that sentiment is all about the individual, not the team. Anytime your motivation to succeed is based on you alone, sure it can and will motivate you. However, in the case of a team, when we show-up to practice because of the commitment we feel towards our teammates—that will motivate us more.

True enough, the members of RUSH have practiced countless hours throughout their careers as musicians. However, I would argue that the WHY in their practice has been the governing reason behind their success. Knowing there was an unspoken responsibility to each other all of these years has built a culture that any team would envy. The trust, and I daresay love, that their friendships are built upon is integral to the longevity and success they’ve reached. When we show-up and support our teammates because their success means as much or even more to us than our own, that is powerful cultural foundation from which teams can then achieve their truest high-performance!

Photo credit: Jason Dorland.

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