How Becoming a Great Leader Is Like Becoming a Great Guitar Player

Led Zepplin's Jimmy Page once said, "I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it." Indeed, the same can be said of great leaders. Guitarists and leaders share numerous qualities and go through many similar experiences. While great leaders might not have the virtuoso gene, they certainly go through similar learning processes as a guitar player to find their unique cadence at becoming great.

Donal Daly, CEO of Altify, knows a bit about these similar traits. An avid guitarist, and leader of a sales transformation company that helps enterprise-scale organizations reach their full sales potential, he's identified some parallels between the two disciplines.

Mastery Is Developed Over Time

Everyone is born with certain talents that help us through life and our careers. It's those who develop these characteristics that experience the greatest success.

No one touches a guitar for the first time and instantly woos an audience, just as novice CEOs don't always make the best leaders right out of the gate. It takes endless practice and determination to become an expert. The best guitarists take initiative and force themselves to practice, even when they don't want to. Just as reading music sheets is only a guide, reading about leadership won't actually make you a leader. You must put yourself into action, you must develop the callus at the end of your fingertips.

Business is hard. You have successes and failures that incrementally build you into a stronger person and more capable leader. Great leaders must consistently practice their leadership skills. "Repeatedly taking the opportunity to lead (groups), no matter the situation or significance, forces you to become a leader," Daly believes. "It's the best way to find out what style of leadership best suits each environment, team and situation." These are things that can only be learned by consistently taking action.


Play Like You Mean It

Practice has to be done with vigor to instill a change in skills. A guitarist doesn't improve by playing their guitar with an apathetic and dreary approach. Merely going through the motions won't work. A guitarist practices with a consistent level of determination and effort, because he or she knows music is made from the skillful soul, not the guitar itself.

The same is true for a strong a leader. You decide and define the company's culture. A determined leader must set the example and motivate his or her team. A strong leader necessarily puts aside his or her emotional and physical state, to lead the cadence of their team. "Always align your persona with your principles, particularly in the face of challenge," Daly explains. "It's those challenging moments where you need to be disciplined, and in-control, to be a good leader."

Maintain Focus in the Face of Rapid Changes

Excelling at the guitar requires repetition, but also versatility. A well-rounded and successful guitarist must explore different styles of music with different guitars such as acoustic, electric or 12-string. Without the trial there can be no conclusion. While at heart a guitarist might be a hard rock performer, at some point, a different style will be more appropriate. Being experienced and versatile will ensure that the guitarist is ready for this moment.

A guitarist can flow from song to song seamlessly and effortlessly. They can shift playing styles and tones rapidly. Think of the song "Free Bird." It has dramatic changes in style and sound. A guitarist has to create this emotional flow through songs, while still remaining even-keeled throughout their performance.


As the leader, you'll develop a style your teams will grow accustomed to. You must also understand that each member of your team is different. That means they will respond best to different styles and tones of leadership. You'll have your main style, but it's important to be able to adapt to different teams and circumstances.

Leaders need to have this same smooth versatility in their daily presentation. A leader will frequently be consulted by their team, receive phone calls or attend meetings creating a variable schedule. Leaders need to flow through their day giving full attention to each task. "As a capable leader, you need to maximize your time by rapidly transitioning from task to task, without losing time or decreasing output quality," Daly emphasizes.

Recruit the Best Bandmates

A solo guitarist can be well respected, successful and delight listeners. With that said, there is a limit to how far a solo guitarist can go. At some point, they'll need a band. Taking the lead position of a band requires trust, delegation and the recognition and support of others.

Ultimately, who you lead with is just as important as what you're leading. As both band leader or organizational leader, find the right people who align with the culture you've developed. In business, rockstar sales reps know how to unlock revenue in big customers.

Leading isn't just showing off your skills and accomplishments, it's doing this for your team. A leader has to recognize successes, and allow others to lead projects and tasks. The leader has to lead, but also has to trust others will deliver a comparable result. The goal of any leader should be to teach and trust others to function, without constant guidance and micro-managing. Lead with the intention of creating a self-sufficient team that will take creative approaches and foster success.

Take Action

Becoming a great guitar player, like becoming a great leader is a process that requires time. You can't simply be a one hit wonder; you need to put in consistent effort.

In music, just as in business, not everything is going to be successful. Learn how to manage your band and have them playing in harmony, the same way you lead your organization in harmony. "Most of all, believe in what you do," Daly emphasizes. Being passionate about your art, and believing in what you're doing is a right of passage, for both a great guitarist and a great leader.

As John Lennon was once quoted as saying, "If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect, you can call me that...I believe in what I do, and I'll say it."