Sometimes it’s about style

Dr. James J Lynch on the leadership lessons learnt from the E-Street Band.

The ability to lead is directly connected to the desire to serve others. This is a time-tested principle and is often referred to as servant leadership. The success of any organisation can be directly attributed to this type of leadership whether it is a family, business, sports team, school or even a band. The more the leader serves the more loyal are those who follow.

Each organisation mentioned is made up of a fragile mix of egos and psyches and as individuals grow within the organisation the egos also grow. Often as the successes grow in both quantity and quality members of the organisation have a tendency to grow distant and apart.

This is particularly true when the leader does not cheer and applaud the successes of the members. In fact often the leader takes credit for the success of others and often blames others when things go wrong. The servant leader or level 5 leader enjoys the successes of others and more often than not blames themselves for any shortcoming of the organisation.

Great organisations have great leaders who lead first by serving others then through this serving have followers that are loyal to the mission. The mission is always well defined and very focused. In fact all great organisations believe in the hedgehog concept, the ability to do one thing well and in doing that better than any other organisation find immense success. 

The ability to establish this clearly defined goal, communicate the obtainable goal clearly and have loyal followers willing to commit to attaining the goal is the mark of a servant leader. This is particularly true if this is being sustained over a long period of time.

Loyalty is nurtured through a direct correlation with how Springsteen recognises, honours and treats them

Several examples of this leadership blend are evidenced in the New York Yankees under Joe Torre and the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls under Phil Jackson. These are intentionally used to serve as examples as both teams had arguably the most talented athletes in their sport with gigantic egos and the success of the organisation required everyone to work together. 

Many managers and coaches have been places in similar positions and have failed yet under the direction of Torre and Jackson both the Yankees and the Lakers were successful as these two joined individual successes into group success. The leadership previously mentioned defines the leadership techniques of both Torre and Jackson. Serve your people, establish a goal and communicate the mission.

Bruce Springsteen may be the Torre or Jackson of the music world while the E-street Band may be the Yankees, Bulls or Lakers. When analysing the current members of the E-street Band every member is an excellent musician in their own right and each has successful musical careers, as songwriters, television personalities and others.

With all these successes come large egos. Left alone each ego takes a life of its own and can work against the success of the entire organisation, in this case the band or its leader. So what has kept this group of successful troubadours together for decades?

If one were to apply the leadership benchmarks earlier described it would be suspected that the answer is quite clear, it must be the leader. If the leader first thinks of others, a servant leader, not only will individuals benefit but also the entire group.


This service to others can be described using several different constructs and in so doing will show that this is a ‘real’ style rather than some public front that the leader puts forth. These examples will show that this individual subscribes to a set of principles that have withstood the test of time.

A sense of family, friends and community seems to be at the core of Springsteen’s style which is evidenced by his long friendship with Joe Grushecky. Grushecky, a retired special education teacher in the Pittsburgh area, met Springsteen several decades ago and they have remained good friends throughout this time.

Grushecky, having a band of his own, organised a fundraiser for a flood ravaged area in Allegheny County and who shows up to assist – Bruce Springsteen. Grushecky in explaining why states Springsteen’s ability to focus on always making things better

Additional examples can be found in Springsteen’s efforts to support other friends such as the Kristen Karr Foundation, The Light of Day Charities, Monmouth County Food Bank and others. Most of these efforts get very little press and the goal is to help friends achieve their goals, not in any way to get noticed.

Another example is the passion he shows as he introduces each member of the band at every concert even those deceased members. One of the best examples come from the infamous holiday concerts at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, once again for charity. Springsteen invites band members to come and play for the party and nearly all attend along with other additional friends.

Springsteen makes them a part of his family and they too embrace him into their families no matter what inconvenience, in turn each becoming a servant leader.

It is apparent that the examples have shown that the E-street Band is an effective group of servant leaders being led by a level 5 leader who serves others. This unique blend of leaders serving each other and those they come in contact with serve as an effective model for all organisations; schools, communities, profit, non-profit and even families.

Using principles of serving others permit the principles of freedom, power, fun, survival, belonging and love to be fulfilled by each member of the group for each member of the group. These principles, referred to as basic needs, lead to the joy and happiness of self and others

It has been shown that if these basic needs are being tended to by the leader and each member of an organisation, the leader and the organisation reaches a higher level of effectiveness. This is not to say that the leader may have to create friction at times, ‘tough love’, to move an individual to a higher level of effectiveness

Because of the practices of servant leadership being practiced by both the leader and the members this is viewed as a natural occurrence for the benefit of the member of the group and as such positive relationships are not destroyed.

The manner in which Springsteen and the E-street Band practice these concepts make them a model for group effectiveness while nurturing individual success and creativity. Using these principles in other organisations can raise quality of service delivery and personal and organisational effectiveness. “Leadership is a choice, not a position”.


About the author

Dr. James J Lynch is adjunct lecturer at Wilmington University, an associate at HYA Search Associates and Fellow at Training Vision and serves as the Senior K-12 Leadership Consultant for the Education Leadership Research Center at Texas A&M University. He may be contacted at


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