#23 Radio Head

by Steven Cerri on January 2, 2007

“Being real doesn’t get it”

Good evening!

I was listening to a radio show just before the new year to an interview with the lead member of band Radio Head. Now Radio Head has been called one of the best bands around and at times the best band playing anywhere. I don’t much listen to them, but I found the interview interesting and there is a connection between what I heard and technology management.

At one point, the lead member of Radio Head was asked what it’s like to continually play the same songs over and over while on tour. He responded that by the time his band had played the same songs over and over on their last tour and then they thought about the fact that they were going to record some of those same songs and then they would have to play them again on their subsequent tour, he indicated that it was a bit much.

In fact, he said that on his last tour there were times when he would just stare at the audience for a long while mumbling something about having to play these songs again. The interviewer said that she had heard that at one point he was “unravelling” on stage and he admitted that he indeed had been “unravelling”, mumbling and complaining to the audience. Having to play the same songs over and over was getting to him he said. When she asked about his rationale for doing that in front of the audience that had paid money to see him and his band, he said that,

“Well, I can either be real or not. I think people want me to be real.”


The people in the audience didn’t pay to see him be real. They paid to be entertained. The band members can be self-indulgent before or after the show, but not during the show.

Do you go to concerts hoping to see the band members work out their personal crises on stage or do you go to hear them play the songs that excite you and make you want to hear more? In the environment of a concert, the band members are expected to transcend their personal issues and do what they came to do… play their music, and play it well. The situation, the context, requires that they behave in a way that is appropriate for that context. (Bruce Springsteen gets sick before many of his concerts but you wouldn’t know it when he steps on stage.)

So, “What does this have to do with management, and technical management in particular?”, you might ask. The same is expected of a manager as is expected of the band. As a technology manager, you’re not expected to work out your issues of management, leadership, self-esteem, authority figures, shyness, etc. while you are managing or leading your direct reports. Just like the band members, you’re expected to be human, you’re expected to lead your team, but you are not expected to be “real” in the sense that you don’t deliver. And as a manager or leader your job is to deliver the management or deliver the leadership. That means your job is to be effective.

You’ll often hear me say that I’m not concerned about the comfort of the manager. Some people say that the manager needs to be comfortable in order to do a good job of managing. Not so. I don’t care if the manager is comfortable. It’s important that the employees be motivated and if that means that the manager is uncomfortable, so be it. As a technical manager your job is not to be “real” in the sense that it interferes with your effectiveness. Just like the audience that paid to attend a concert to be entertained, your company is paying your to be an effective manager and an effective leader. And, your direct reports are expecting the same thing.

Let me be clear. In order to be effective you don’t have to give up your humanity. However, if being effective means stretching your behavior so that you are a little uncomfortable, then stretch. In the final analysis your being paid for the results of your team, not for being “real”.

Just some food for thought.

Until next Monday.

Be well

Steven Cerri

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