I rarely use this space to note the passing of public figures.
I did when Red Sox great and childhood idol Ted Williams died in 2002. The heroic story of his life, both on and off the ball field, seemed to be something from which the greed-afflicted CEOs of that troubled economic time could take a lesson.
A few years later, in a lighter vein, I noted the death of actor James Doohan, who played Commander Scott on the original Star Trek. It seemed to me that we should tip our cap to the dependable, troubleshooting control systems engineer that every machine builder company needs on staff in order to to keep those relentless, overly demanding Captain Kirk-like customers satisfied.
Now I have another one. It's very likely most of you never heard of him.
Levon Helm died April 19 at age 71. He was a member of The Band, a group of '70s musicians who changed the landscape of the popular music of the time.
I'm no music critic, so you can research them on your own if you want to evaluate that claim.
I liked their music, but it was later on that I began to appreciate two other admirable traits.
For a number of years, until the inevitable pressures of notoriety, substance abuse and road weariness got the better of them, they were an ensemble band that willingly shared the spotlight. They looked like they genuinely enjoyed working together, recognizing the value in clearly displaying the unique talents they each possessed, and then smartly stitching it all together. As good as they were individually, together the result way exceeded the sum of its parts.
In addition, it seemed clear that they valued their craft. Making and playing original music was the thing. That seemed considerably more important, economic considerations aside, than being stage performers.
If the band members had a leader among them who best exemplified those traits, I think it was Levon Helm.
What are two essential traits that you hope every company or organization or department have in their DNA?
Well, I think you can't go too far wrong with, first, a collective enjoyment of the work at hand, and second, the sensibility and confidence to be unthreatened by individual skills and contributions that can and should complement the total effort.
You can read books and engage consultants who'll tell you how to build successful organizations. However, if you don't find these two traits somewhere in the motivational matter of your people, it'll be a lot harder to pull off.
The Band has being dying off one by one for a while now. Only two of the original five are still around. So it seemed like a good time to write this, and remind us all about what it takes to make good music in whatever we do.