3 Leadership Lessons Kendrick Lamar Reminded Me to Focus On in 2016

(Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2015)

I have been reflecting on many of the posts I have been reading about what to focus on in 2016. I am not a "New Year's Resolutions" type of gal. Having said that, I am passionate about personal development and organizational improvement.

I am always looking at ways to get better and help others do the same.

Important caveat before you continue: For those who have read my previous articles, this reference to Kendrick Lamar, a very controversial rapper, may seem completely out of turn, but please do continue to read. An interview I heard with him as the focus on NPR this morning had me thinking long and hard all day.

I would like to pass on three leadership habits he clarified for me in hopes that we can all become better people, managers and leaders despite any opinions any of us might hold about him as a person or his music.

For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Lamar, he has become the face for the Black Lives Matter movement that came about as a result of the many police shootings of young black men in America. He has become that face because he lived the life and grew up in similar neighborhoods to those victims. He grew up in Compton, California.

He never shot anyone, but saw someone killed right in front of him when he was 5 years old. By his own admission, that reality still haunts him today.

He raps about that bleak reality and it speaks to millions. In fact, he was recently nominated for 11 Grammy nominations.

Truth be told, I had never heard of Mr. Lamar or listened to any of his lyrics before hearing them this morning. I will not be running out and buying his CD's or rushing to download music on my phone either.

Let's put that aside.

It was his words that caught me off guard and it was those same words that had me conflicted about writing this piece today.

He was introspective and humble. He was wise yet self-deprecating.

I am pretty sure many of us would not think of a rapper in those terms.

Below are the three learnings I took away from listening to this unexpected interview this morning. It speaks to the responsibility of leaders:

1. I Can't Change the World Until I Change Myself First.- Kendrick Lamar

From a self-leadership perspective, this sums it up, doesn't it? Mr. Lamar was asked whether he intended, through his lyrics on a particular song, to name someone a hypocrite for judging those who have shot the young boys and men and then have killed their own people. He said he intended the lyrics for himself and then said that quote above.

I think this is a powerful parallel for managers who want to be considered leaders. Are we pointing, first, at ourselves when we are looking at people to "improve" or "change?" Have we managed to keep our own vices under control in the workplace before requiring that our employees abide by a set of rules? Rules that might even be counter to the goal we are trying to achieve? Do we hold ourselves to the same standards?

This is my hope for myself in 2016: to learn to be a better leader of me first!

2. How am I influencing so many people on this stage rather than influencing the ones that I have back home?- Kendrick Lamar

This one really speaks to the disconnect I often hear when I speak to employee focus groups or even in casual conversations with the frontline. Does this sound familiar?

"They are up in their offices and they don't understand what we go through."

The chiefs don't understand how much we do to make the lights stay on."

"The leadership team is really removed and doesn't understand what our customers want."

"I don't even think I have heard a thank you from them-ever."

When I heard Mr. Lamar say the quote above, I thought of the countless times I heard frontline employees recount how their leadership teams put on one face to the outside world, but then sort of "walk by" them and ignore their own team's needs.

What stage are you on and who are you influencing? Is your attention on the things that might make you look good to the outside world, but your employees are withering on the vine for lack of attention, empowerment, and a truly caring workplace? How authentic are you being?

In 2016, I plan to make myself more aware of who I am influencing and how I am influencing them.

3. And there's a lot of other artists doing things outside of that depth that I enjoy -- that music that I can actually have fun to, and not be in depth and think about, then I appreciate that. But as long as I'm doing it right now, I'ma continue to say just a little bit more that pertains to what's going on.- Kendrick Lamar

This lesson is a lighter one even if it doesn't sound like it above.

It's important to pick those times to have fun with our teams. In fact, many organizations market themselves as having "fun" and unique cultures. Fun is good because it helps us let off steam. It helps us connect to our people in a more human way and not be so serious.

There is a time, though, to be more introspective.

When he refers to the "depth," he is referring to having a conversation about what represents the truth for many. In his case and the case of those for whom he speaks, they don't often have a voice or feel as though their voices are being heard.

The same often goes for employees, supervisors and even managers and above. While they want to have fun, they are much more interested in being recognized for what they contribute. Put more simply, they want to be seen and listened to and they want to make a difference.

In 2016, I will commit to see and listen more and help others make a difference.

By doing these three things in a more purposeful way, maybe I can finally say that I am a leader.


I suspect that many may doubt Mr. Lamar's credibility, but he really is just trying to be the voice for what he has seen and heard his entire life even though he may be more removed from it now.

The question, here, is whether we can still open our hearts and minds to learn from him some lessons of self-leadership and authenticity.

For if we ever hope to lead others to better lives, we need to learn to lead ourselves by taking good, hard looks in the mirror and realizing that in order to lead, we have to fully understand what our team's plight is while also keeping our eyes pinned on the future.

I, for one, want to thank Mr. Lamar for using the words I needed to hear.


I hope you can appreciate this article. I would be thrilled if you chimed in with your thoughts. We are in this together and none of us are perfect. Thank you for reading. Please do share with those who you think might benefit.

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All the Best in 2016 Everyone!! #LeadThyself