Alan O'Neill: 'We are the champions: business lessons courtesy of Freddie Mercury'
Oscar-winning movie Bohemian Rhapsody will get you thinking about how partnerships and clearly defined team roles go a long way to ensuring success
Interest in rock band Queen has enjoyed a renaissance recent months. People above a certain age are talking about them again and humming their iconic songs. The newly-released Bohemian Rhapsody movie has put the band back on our radar in a big way. I must confess, I had forgotten about many of its greatest hits and I’m thoroughly enjoying the nostalgia that goes with it all.
I was on a long-haul flight this week and the film popped up on the menu in front of me.
With Freddie Mercury being played by Oscar-winner Rami Malek, I was engrossed for the full two hours and 13 minutes. Now I won’t attempt to critique it, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it inspiring, funny, and really quite emotional.
The band was initially called Smile and the four original members were playing the pubs and clubs circuit, but with limited success.
When the lead singer left the band, it opened up a place for flamboyant Farrokh Bulsara, born in Tanzania to Indian parents, to join the band.
Farrokh adopted the English name Freddie and later became Freddie Mercury. And as you know, the rest is a history of amazing musical success, personal tragedy and a fantastic legacy of great hits from these four business partners.
The Business Challenge with Partnerships
When Freddie joined and brought his style, his voice and his creativity, the band became a well-functioning unit. Each member had a clearly defined role. There was a lead guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a lead singer. Unlike most organisations, their individual roles were very clear and there was no ambiguity.
Even when it came to song-writing, each one’s talent was respected and they each had a go at it. After a few years of global fame, Freddie was encouraged to leave the band and launch a solo career.
Although it didn’t work out, he was subsequently welcomed back to the band — just like the ‘prodigal son’. There was, of course, lots of sulking and raised voices but the three members were very grown-up about it all. Very soon they were back to rehearsals for the famous Live Aid concert, the crescendo of that phase of their career with Freddie.
Partnerships between friends in business can be very challenging. Art in this case imitates real life as our country is full of SME partnerships that were built on great ideas and ambitions. But they don’t all work out.
I know of one organisation that is owned and run by two people who never speak to each other at all. They operate their business and communicate exclusively through their accountant.
Can you imagine the lost opportunities that go hand in hand with that scenario? Not to mention the personal stress and risk to the business. I have no idea what caused the rift in the first place but, whatever the reason, it’s bad for business.
Tips to Make a Partnership Work
You may be starting out on a new venture with some colleagues. Or you may already be up and running as a business partnership. Is there room for improvement in how you work together? If so it might be a good idea now to renew your vows!
1 Revisit your north star and ask yourselves… why are you in business? What business legacy do you want to leave behind when you move on? That question will help to get grounded once again.
2 Consider the values or principles that you all hold dear. Undoubtedly, you’ll include respect, integrity, honesty, etc. But expand those words into examples of where they apply in your business. This will help you check in on your culture and bring the behaviours that are expected and accepted to the fore.
3 Shape the most appropriate structure to ensure you deliver your strategy. Start with empty boxes in an organisation chart and profile the required role in each box. Then match up each partner to the best position — and clarify their roles and responsibilities.
That exercise might reveal the need for changes to how you currently operate. But if you use your north star as your guide, that will make those decisions a lot easier.
The Last Word
I know it’s a cliche, but communication is central to the success of any partnership. It’s not easy, particularly when relationships go off track. But remind yourself that there is too much to lose by allowing ambiguity to prevail.
In the Coronal Travel case study below, Darragh and Shane are in business together for four years although they know each other a lot longer than that. They assure me that they do take time out to discuss their roles and relationship. If they can keep that up, that’s a recipe for a successful partnership.
Now I do appreciate that these conversations can be awkward, but that will only apply to the first one. An objective facilitator would guide you through this process.
Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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