Leadership in Collaboration

Growing up in the 90s, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a front row seat to what many would call the “Golden Era” of hip-hop. Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Biggie and Nas were all major players to the soundtrack of my high school days. But the group, or crew, that had the biggest impact in my life by far was the Wu-Tang Clan.

Wu-Tang was hip-hop’s original “community group.” It was a collection of MC’s - U-God, GZA, RZA, Masta Killah, Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, ODB, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah - who understood the amplified power of collaboration. What made Wu-Tang special was the fact that every member would be fully supported by the rest of the crew when they dropped a solo album.

While normally in other groups, solo material is a preamble to separation for the Wu-Tang Clan that wasn’t the case. After dropping their debut album in 1993 “Enter The 36 Chambers” Method Man followed a year later by releasing a solo album entirely produced by the RZA (Wu-Tang’s Producer and co-founder) and featured many of the group’s members. This not only solidified Method Man superstar status, but turned the Wu-Tang brand into a household name in the hip-hop community. If anything it made them stronger, spreading their brand and making them almost omnipresent.

The thing is, houses are only as strong as the pillars holding them up. The more pillars you have the more stable the house. Collaboration, of course, does have its share of risks if any side is looking at things with the lense of their ego or just simply what they want. There’s a laundry list of groups and bands who fell short of their potential because of in fighting.

The Civil Rights Movement made great strides in the 50s and 60s despite having several different leaders of varied backgrounds and education. Even if they didn’t always agree completely on how to achieve their goals, they ultimately recognized that they were heading in the same direction. The two most prominent leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, were famously opposites in almost everything except for their destination - equality for Black Americans. However, they respected each other’s differences and recognized what each brought to the table.

If a person falls into the trap of letting their agenda or their ego undermine their relationships then their ability to create anything is hindered. It’s no longer about the destination; it’s no longer about the goal; it’s no longer about creating. It’s about them. It’s about doing things their way, their glory, and people listening to them. Creation is reactive. But once a person places their agenda above all else, they’re no longer flexible enough to go beyond what they initially planned. And any good creator knows that there’s always a better way to accomplish things than what they planned.

In the effort to advance electric car technology and fight the increasingly urgent problem of climate change, Tesla’s former CEO and founder Elon Musk released all of his company’s patents for public use earlier this year. By recognizing that the issue of climate change is bigger than his company’s monetary gain, Musk may have been able to greatly help the global efforts to curb the damaging effects of our collective carbon footprint. While he had once believed in patents, Musk says that he now believes it “stifles progress” without benefiting the inventor at all.

Much of building our own creative identity, or our house if you will, is understanding our own space within a collaborative environment. The majority of my personal creative life has been spent working with others - from promotions in entertainment and media to performing as a member in a hip-hop group myself, all the way to serving in a leadership role in Church. Someone once said to me, “In business you have two options, you can be the man in a small success, or you can play a small part of a movement.”

From dynasties in sports, legendary bands and major cultural movements, the art of collaboration has always played a key role. When we allow something bigger than ourselves to lead, it creates a space to focus on the commitment to the movement. In return, we lead by allowing ourselves to serve first - this is what makes us better collaborators.