How to Be a RockStar Leader

Rockstar Leader
When you hear the word “rockstar,” what comes to mind?

Does it conjure up visions of a stage performance where adoring fans groove to the pounding vibe of a mega-celebrity with massive adoration? Does it evoke images of limousines, red carpet struts, and mega-attention?  Perhaps it makes you think of an indulgent lifestyle where someone “gets” everything in lavish doses because of their huge persona, swelling fan base, and their ability to command an army of servants to grant their every wish? Maybe an image of Mick Jagger, Bono, or even Hannah Montana?

What about in a corporate setting? Have you ever heard of an executive on a rocket ride to the top in the organizational structure being referred to as a rockstar? If you have, does the image make you think of what that person gives, or what he or she gets?


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Often times the images of a rockstar focuses mostly on their onstage performance and what they receive in return in the form of affirmation, applause, rave reviews, and lavish “things” that they get and get to do. Rarely does any attention focus on the mundane aspects of what actually creates their celebrity: hard work. (Yuck! Who wants to hear about that???)

If you ask someone if they would want to be a rockstar in their field of endeavor, that person would probably think of what they would get by being that rockstar, rather than what they would have to do and sacrifice to gain that position. Of course, this is probably normal. People think in terms of getting, rather than giving. It’s a much more pleasant thing to do.

When you think about what it takes to really become a rockstar, it boils down to talent, practice, creativity, hard work, enormous perseverance, and an intense drive to succeed. Because rockstars put in all the ingredients upfront is why they get the opportunities to succeed at such high levels. Look at the perseverance of Thomas Edison in creating the light bulb. That dude is a RockStar! He deserves his name in lights!

So, Do You Want to be a RockStar Leader?

If you answer yes, then start getting in shape, because it is going to take a Herculean effort just to get on stage. Probably, the biggest part of that effort is going to be in changing perspectives from one of a receiver to one of a giver. Give first, receive later is the very first set of “expectations recalculations” that will need to take place in your head.

And what do you give? You have to give a whole ‘lotta love.

Seth Goodin in a recent article about The Two Elements of a Great Presenter says that there are two ingredients in being a great presenter. I think that these two ingredients also apply to the formula on how to be a rockstar leader. He says this about being a great presenter:

The two elements of a great presenter

1. Respect (from the audience)
2. Love (to the audience)

There are no doubt important evolutionary reasons why this is true, but in my experience, every great presenter earns the respect of the audience (through her appearance, reputation, posture, voice, slides, introduction, etc.) and captures the attention of the audience by sending them love.

If you have ever experienced a rockstar presentation from a corporate or organizational leader, you certainly respected them greatly and they definitely poured out much love onto and into you. They showed up as a giver. They gave you what you wanted or needed in overwhelming quantities. They came to your table ready to feed you. And you adored them for it.

See this simple recipe entitled How to Become A Rockstar from wikiHow. The article tells you the behind-the-scenes steps it takes to get to a destination called “rockstardom.” It doesn’t go into details on how to smile for the cameras, or on eating caviar on your Cheerios. It talks about the selfless steps you have to take to reach something grand.

So, if you want to be a rockstar leader, go for it! You actually have a good shot at it if you give it a try. Like the article says on becoming a rockstar, focus much more on songwriting than on performing.

Do you dream of raging fans, adoring reviews, and your name in lights? Then start your journey by serving the very people around you today and see where that takes you.

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Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership &
CEO of
Recalibrate Professional Development.
He can be reached at
[email protected]

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  1. Patrick Malone on March 31, 2009 at 2:48 pm


    I suspect that real leaders never aspired to be a “rockstar” and would never describe themselves in that manner. The whole rockstar mentality is about style over substance, me over we. It is created by a media that panders to the basest elements of our society who then are able to live vicariously through their idols.

    I would hope that real leadership is slightly more profound than reaching “rockstar” status.

  2. Steven Sonsino on March 31, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Hi Tom

    I’m in two minds about this – like Patrick I think the excess and trappings of rockstardom aren’t something most managers want to be associated with. And the daily headlines could get in the way of thinking clearly about this.

    However, there are plenty of senior executives who have the confidence (arrogance?) of rockstars to make it more than a metaphor.

    On balance, though, if we can look past the veneer of rockstardom, I think the analogy holds some value. The idea of leading a tribe (another Seth Godin-ism) and needing/having followers, for instance.

    But above all your post made me laugh. And then I remembered… this thing we call work can be fun can’t it? And when we’re having fun it doesn’t seem like work. An ancient rockstar (Confucious, I think?) said “you find a job you love and you never work another day in your life”. Which sounds like being a rockstar to me.

    Time to practice my Nickelback karaoke…

    Rock on, Tom


  3. Sonny Navaratnam on March 31, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Hi Tom,
    I can see the construct of your Rock Star leader. Yes, to be a true Rockstar one has to undergo a lot of self sacrifice and be willing to give lots.
    However, may I suggest something underlying these aspects?
    The question is where the intentions of the leaders arise from? If the intentions arise from Fear Consciousness, then it actually is all about how much one needs to give to get what one is seeking. If the intention is from Love Consciousness, then it is all about what one has to give for the world. What one gets as a result is not considered in the intention. The life of the Rock Star is a result of the source of the intentions that underlie her/his life. Many are driven by Fear and accumulate vast amounts of wealth and live self indulgently, hopping from one escape to another desperately seeking the love that does not exist in their realm. A rare few are not heard of much outside their music. They are the ones who live peacefully and are involved in low profile, but extraordinary effiorts for the betterment of the human state.
    I agree with you about leaders. Jim Collins writes well about the level 5 executives who headed up the “Great” companies in his book Good to Great. Their intentions were clear. They came to those companies to serve. They never came for riches, fame or power.
    I hope this makes sense.
    Thank you for your article.
    It is a wonderful view of leadership..
    Humbly yours,

  4. Isabelle on April 1, 2009 at 8:12 am

    I believe charisma is a vibratory state. THe “higher” this level, the higher your charisma and the more attention -if not love- you receive. You can be excellent at what you do and never become successful. The difference is charisma. And some people have charisma but they deliver garbage too. And if you come to serve, with your charisma, that’s the highest option possible.

  5. Fahd Khan on April 5, 2009 at 1:20 am

    If today’s leader is not a servant leader, he is no more a leader.


  6. Jody on April 21, 2009 at 10:01 am

    In regards to political rock stardom, in order to have respect people need to trust you. Obviously there is a huge dissension between those that trust a politician and those that don’t. We are all hearing the same words and it’s like we don’t hear the same words?