Playing the Background

singular black chess piece apart from collection of red chess pieces

I recently promoted someone on our team to becoming the new Vice President of Sales. What this means for me personally is that I am no longer going to be as active in the day-to-day activities of the sales team. Because of this new reality, here are three shareable leadership ideas – as it relates to passing on leadership to others – that I have been contemplating lately.

First, “the job of leadership is to awaken the possibility in others,” says Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. In the vernacular of B.I.B., to be someone worth following you have to be someone that allows others to lead. The sign of a good Dictator is the lack of upward mobility and social unrest. The sign of a good leader, however, is a thriving team after the new person takes charge. Things should get better, not worse, for possibility has been awoken.

Secondly, as John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). In other words, egotism must be set aside. This is infuriatingly difficult for type A, self-starting, entrepreneurially-minded leaders. But to be someone worth following you need to become less so others can become more. The irony here is that we celebrate and applaud when Steve Jobs comes back to save Apple (1996), and when Howard Schultz comes back to save Starbucks in 2008– praise the Lord, we had our first kid in 2011. Did you know that Starbucks stock was trading at $19.12 at Will’s birth and now trades over $90 per share? Coincidence, I don’t think so! — But wouldn’t those stories have been even cooler if someone else on their teams had stepped up? Someone they had groomed? Obviously, Apple has more than survived Steve’s untimely passing, but aren’t they largely still selling updated versions of the products he, and others, created?

Finally, the name of this post comes from a song on my 2020 Spotify playlist (Background, by Lecrae). Admittedly, I am not a huge rap/hip hop fan —an admission that probably does not surprises my audience, I know. But Lecrae’s lyrics always challenge me to walk more closely with my Savior. So, while I will quote some lyrics to close this post on leadership, keep in mind that the context Lecrae is referring to while reading them (his relationship to God). In my life, these words have dual meaning:

Selected lyrics (click here for all)

I could play the background…

‘Cause I know sometimes I get in the way.

So won’t you take the lead, lead, lead?

Its evident that you run the show, so let me back down

You take the leading role, and I’ll play the background

I don’t need my name in lights, (Aye) I don’t need a staring role

Why gain the whole wide world, if I’m just going lose my soul.

Praying the whole world would start embracing stage freight

So let me fall back, stop giving my suggestions

‘Cause when I follow my obsessions, I end up confessing

That’s I’m not that impressive, matter of fact

I’m who I are, a trail of stardust leading to the superstar…