3 Leadership Lessons from Frank Sinatra to Inspire High Performance and Employee Engagement

February 26, 2015 Aubrey Chapnick

I love Jazz. For me, jazz music is the ultimate medium where teamwork, creativity, passion, skill, agility and intellectual genius come together. If you are a Jazz musician, you know how difficult being on the bandstand with other players can be and the amount of situational awareness that one needs in order not to have a cymbal swiped at your head for making a mistake is truly amazing (that actually happened back in the olden days).  Interestingly, business leaders can learn a lot from Jazz musicians. Now more than ever, business leaders and their organizations must be extremely creative, unapologetically innovative, and execute in seamless ways. They must bring together and apply technical expertise in increasingly ambiguous environments and captivate their customers' attention in ways that they never have before. Jazz musicians are masters of doing just that and today, I’d like to examine a story about Frank Sinatra which highlights why effectively understanding and communicating your organizational vision and mission is a cornerstone skill for all leaders to master to inspire a highly engaged workforce.   

From a young age, Frank Sinatra knew that he was destined for greatness and that his voice would get him there. Despite his outward confidence, Frank worked through a number of difficulties before becoming a superstar. When he first started, Frank had a great deal of difficulty gaining exposure due to his relatively boyish voice and young age. By the mid 1930’s, after spinning his wheels for a number of years, Frank decided to take vocal lessons which allowed him to reinvent his singing style, and catapulted himself towards becoming a superstar. Interestingly, it was not the technical aspects of his vocal training that helped him become a better singer and performer. It was actually his teacher’s observation that Frank didn’t understand what the lyrics to the songs that he was singing were truly about. After noticing this, Frank’s vocal teacher pushed him to dig into the reasons why certain song lyrics were written. By doing so, Frank came to the realization that you can’t sing a song without understanding what the words truly mean. This discovery completely changed his approach to being a singer, and by taking the time to understand the background of the music that he was singing, Frank was able to connect with his audience on a higher level and capture their hearts.

Whenever an organizational leader is trying to drive business results, it is vitally important that he or she has a strong understanding of what the organization’s vision and mission are and why they are important. Without a strong understanding of a company’s vision and mission, its leadership cannot possibly capture the hearts of those who work for the company and instill a sense of pride in them. Just like how Frank Sinatra was not able to capture the hearts of his audience before learning what the meaning behind the songs he was singing actually were, it is impossible for a leader to capture the hearts of his/her employees if he/she doesn’t have a strong understanding of why his/her organization exists in the first place. If you as a leader do not understand why your company exists in the first place, how do expect the people around you to get excited about coming to work every day and rally around the business?

As a leader, effectively communicating your organization’s purpose through the lens of its vision and mission statement is critical in order to connect your employee’s work with the overall purpose of the company. By learning how to do this effectively, you will be able to inspire greater performance from your employees and instill a powerful culture of brand stewardship that will help propel your business strategy forward.   

Here are three things that we can learn from this Frank Sinatra story that will help you as a leader communicate your organization’s vision and mission in a way that inspires.

  1. Personally connect with what your organization’s mission and vision mean to you. As a leader, you must form a strong understanding of why your company exists. By developing a personal connection with your organization’s purpose and how it specifically relates to the work that you do, your employees will begin to look at their specific roles differently and approach tasks with greater personal connection. Some important questions to ask yourself might be, “What are the things that make me proud to be a part of this company?" “How does this company’s work impact the lives of others for the better?” and “How do my daily tasks impact my company’s business?”  
  2. Model and project the organization’s vision and mission whenever and wherever you can. Frank Sinatra modeled who he wanted to be every day. His image was a deliberate projection of the vision that he created for himself, and all those around him bought into it. As a leader, failing to champion your organization’s vision and mission on a daily basis has a detrimental impact on your employees' connection with what your company is about. Once you have established a personal connection with your company’s purpose and the work that you do, make sure that you become an organizational cheerleader at every opportunity you get. If you commit to doing this on a consistent basis, your employees will take notice fast.
  3. Create personality around your organization’s vision and mission. There is no question that Frank Sinatra’s success was as much due to his personality as it was to his voice. When communicating your company’s vision and mission to others, create a powerful organizational personality/culture that is based on your company’s vision and mission. By crafting a culture and identity that exemplifies what being a part of your company is about, others will want to buy in. If the leadership team exemplifies this culture on a consistent basis, you might just have a real Rat Pack on your hands by the end of it!

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