Lorne Michaels

I was recently intrigued with a few things I learned from Lorne Michaels and Willie Nelson. From Michaels I learned leadership lessons and from Nelson I learned a life lesson.

Lorne Michaels. Most of you know that Lorne Michaels created Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1975, when he was 31 years old, along with NBC Sports legend, Dick Ebersol. He recently gave an interesting interview to Alison Beard in Harvard Business Review about how he motivates team members, how they learn from their mistakes, how they handle losing their best performers, and what he looks for in new talent.

Because SNL is so focused on producing one quality product every week, he helps remind us that we all need to focus our leadership and energy on what is going on right now.

  1. Team Motivation. Michaels says you don’t need a motivational speech when you lead by example and your people see you have standards and expectations. If they care as much as you do and are the right person, they will motivate themselves.
  2. Learning from Mistakes. Michaels noted how they make lots of mistakes all the time and that is what makes artists better. They don’t dwell on mistakes they just talk about what they could have done differently to make it better. He reminded us of Malcom Gladwell’s observation about how it can take 10,000 hours to become really good at something, which is true in acting, writing, and many other work pursuits.
  3. Losing Top Talent. Like businesses, Michaels faces the prospect of losing top talent from SNL regularly. He noted that the most talented are often the most restless. He advises them all to “build a bridge to the next thing and, when it’s solid, walk across.” But to remember that not everything you want to go off and do is as good as what you have right here. The lesson for business is to make it as good “here” for your top performers as possible.
  4. What he looks for in New Talent. Michaels likes to bring in two or three new people every year because that keeps the show fresh. He said he might look at 60-70 people perform in order to select two or three. Since SNL requires creativity, Michaels looks for people who see things differently all the time. He likes to find intelligence and potential, and a natural ability to do and try new things. He also wants people who understand that the goal is to produce a quality show this week and not to satisfy their ego.

When you can focus on a clear weekly team goal your team will pull together. Good advice for all of us.

Quote from Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson, 80 years young. In an interview in Newsweek in September, Willie Nelson was asked whether he thought about death now that he was 80 years old. Nelson said, “I don’t really think about it, I know some day I’ll move on. Everybody does. But I don’t worry about it. I like where I am now. Everything’s fine. And there’s nothing I can do about anything that’s happened. The only thing I have any control over is what’s happening right now. So I don’t worry about a while ago or after.”