Over Thanksgiving, I had the pleasure of watching Get Back!, the recently released three-part Beatles documentary on the making of the Beatles’ final album, 1970’s Let It Be. While I do love Classic Rock and the music of that era, I’m not a huge Beatles fan. But I have to tell you, I was enthralled by this documentary and what it tells us about teams and teamwork, including why people stay and why people quit organizations.
While there’s much to discuss about this documentary series—from the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono to the band’s creative process—what really struck me was the relationship between George Harrison and the rest of the band, particularly John Lennon and Paul McCartney as lead songwriters. Leaders can learn a lot from what happened between them, and you see it happening from the very beginning of the film. Anyone who is a fan of the Beatles has likely heard the story that George Harrison quit the band in the middle of recording the album, and it’s true, he did… but what’s most interesting about how the documentary tells this story is the build-up, the departure, and the return. Of course, we know now the band didn’t end up staying together much longer, but even without that historical knowledge, you can diagnose and predict what ultimately happened by the conversations and interactions between the band members at that time.
I had heard the story, George Harrison quitting in the middle of the making of an album, and in my head I envisioned a full-blown rock star/diva temper tantrum with drums being thrown and guitars being smashed. That didn’t happen. At all. At the end of one day, George calmly and quietly announces that he’s done. He’s quitting. He leaves the rehearsal with a flippant “See you round the clubs, boys,” and the rest of the band just looks at one another, almost as if they’re unsure if that had really just happened.
The reality is, you could see this coming. While it wasn’t loud and theatrical, George was quietly unattended to and not included in the creative process over and over again. He kept trying to put ideas in and Paul, who’s clearly acting as the leader, basically ignores and dismisses most of his ideas. Paul and John treated him like a cog in their machine.
In many organizations, this is exactly how some of our best people leave. They don’t have a blow-up and throw a tantrum (they almost never smash a guitar!) and we often act surprised when they quit, like we didn’t see it coming. The reality is that many of those folks, and often the most talented among them, have felt quietly sidelined. They’ve been putting ideas forward and as leaders, we’ve not been paying attention. Being a leader isn’t about being the smartest, most talented person in the room, it’s about knowing we can get smarter and more talented together.
As leaders, we need to give team members a chance to shine, to try out their ideas, to have us collaborate with them. We also need to remember that it can be incredibly difficult for someone else on a team to speak up. Imagine being with Paul McCartney and John Lennon and wanting to add in your own songs! While we may think we’re making space for new ideas, we need to be more active than that – we need to actually ask for the input. If we don’t, some of the most talented will figure it’s time to go.
The band and their significant others all make a trip to see George. That meeting doesn’t happen on camera, but we’re told “it doesn’t go well.” A few days later, the band makes another trip to see George, and the next day he returns. Clearly, progress is made, although it’s not explicit in the documentary what exactly happened. However, there’s a very telling ‘scene’ in the documentary (audio only) of a conversation between John and Paul. Essentially, they say George has a point. They haven’t been including him or listening to his ideas, and they haven’t put any of his songs up for consideration on the album.
There is a shift after that in how George is included. Ultimately, two of his songs do make it onto the Let It Be album, and there are a couple of other changes that may seem unrelated but shift the overall mood (and they’re smart for leaders to pay attention to):
As leaders, we set the tone and the mood. What mood do you want for a meeting or a project, or the upcoming year? That’s the mood you need to set as a leader and be intentional about. Right now many are doing strategic plans for 2022. As leaders, what’s the mood you want for the year? Given the goals and objectives, what mood is required? As you construct your strategic meetings, you’ll want to personally bring that mood to both the design and the meeting itself. If you want others to be inspired, as a leader you need to be inspired. Want others to be focused? You need to be focused. Want others to be curious? You need to be curious.
But what about George? While there were differences of opinion about approach, he did rejoin the band to complete Let It Be. He did the rooftop performance that winds up being the last live performance by The Beatles. Let It Be and Abbey Road were both recorded and released after George returned to the band, so the shifts that were made allowed for the creation of some amazing, iconic music.
As leaders, we need to be clear about where we’re going, and the teams we lead want to be a part of that conversation. They want to be heard. They want to have input. Ultimately, someone needs to make a decision and declare a vision, a purpose, a direction. If your organization is asking you for that direction, listen to those questions. Engage with them. Imagine together. Then make it clear where you’re going. By the way, in doing so, it’s still possible you may lose some people who don’t want to go where you’re headed. None of us want to lose our George Harrison, but sometimes that’s what we need to do for their growth… and for ours.
“And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be”