“If you just focus on the work…” A leadership lesson from Taylor Swift

While the annual TED conference is taking place 1,300 miles north, the event at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last night provided a valuable soundbite of career advice from an industry leader. Perhaps the folks at TED might think about an invite for 2017.

You had to wait for it. After two hours and 20 minutes, the woman who opened the 58th Grammy Award telecast returned to the stage to accept the iconic statuette for Album of the Year. Taylor Swift took her moment of recognition to encourage those in dysfunctional workplaces keep going and avoid the distractions of toxic coworkers.

“I want to say to all the young women out there – they’re going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”


You may read in the tabloids that the speech was all about an on-going feud with a member of the Kardashian family, but that would trivialize the weight of the words, and devalue the message.

Ms. Swift is a hero to many young women and last night she became the first woman to receive the Album of the Year Award twice. She is an industry leader who has kept her focus on the work and become a major influence on how music is produced and distributed, and artists compensated. Don’t let the fashion distract, it’s a strategic piece of product packaging.

Still skeptical that a 26 year old performer should be taken seriously as a leader?

Last year, writer and magazine contributor Chuck Klosterman profiled Ms. Swift for GQ. Here she describes a key to her success that comes right out of all the research on emotional intelligence.

“I used to watch Behind the Music every day,” she says. (Her favorite episode was the one about the Bangles.) “When other kids were watching normal shows, I’d watch Behind the Music. And I would see these bands that were doing so well, and I’d wonder what went wrong. I thought about this a lot. And what I established in my brain was that a lack of self-awareness was always the downfall. That was always the catalyst for the loss of relevance and the loss of ambition and the loss of great art. So self-awareness has been such a huge part of what I try to achieve on a daily basis. It’s less about reputation management and strategy and vanity than it is about trying to desperately preserve self-awareness, since that seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.”

Last night Taylor Swift spoke from her workplace experience, and shared an essential leadership lesson for us all…”just focus on the work”.

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