For years we’ve known more about Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends (I’m lookin’ at you, John Mayer!) and posse than her politics. But apparently, the 28-year-old superstar has had enough, because on Sunday she broke her longstanding silence about politics and brought her 112 million Instagram followers along for the ride.
You can check out the precedent-rocking post yourself, but this was the gist: “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.” Right-wing backlash was immediate, but Taylor’s career will survive.
The more important response was that more than 65,000 people registered to vote at Vote.org in the 24 hours after the post went live. That’s power. Think what you like about her music and her brand, or about celebrities weighing in on politics for that matter, but Taylor Swift’s action was the mark of a leader.
Real leaders do four things consistently, and Ms. Swift did them all. Here’s how CEOs and entrepreneurs can translate that into actionable leadership:
Real leaders understand the power of their platform.
When you have an audience, you have the power to move people to act. But it’s important to know what your platform can do and what it can’t. Taylor wasn’t going to move middle-aged men around the country to change their vote. But if you’re trying to get hundreds of thousands of young people to go the polls, especially in Tennessee, mission accomplished. Don’t congratulate yourself on how many people you can reach; focus on reaching the right ones with the right message. That applies to your marketing and your internal communications
Real leaders go first.
Taylor had to know she was sticking her neck out and risking a Dixie Chicks-style beatdown (Google it). But she clearly decided that the time had come when the cause was more important than the risk. Leaders take enemy fire so other people don’t have to. If your company is being attacked, step up and take the heat for everybody else. Accept responsibility for the product failure. Call a press conference. Take a controversial position no one else in the organization can.
Real leaders know their moment.
Think it’s a coincidence that Taylor’s post came on the heels of the ugly Brett Kavanaugh hearings? I don’t. Partisan rage was high…and here comes a respected, beloved young woman with a heartfelt call to action. That’s timing. There’s a right time to release a game-changing product or go public with bad news. Learn to read your company, your industry, the market and the press. Got a big, positive story? Hold out for a quiet news day. Need to issue a mea culpa? Wait until somebody else is sucking up all the oxygen.
Real leaders don’t lecture, they share.
Taylor didn’t tell people what to think. She shared her concerns and fears and explained to her fans why she felt compelled to act now…and why she hoped they would do the same. Tens of thousands (and counting) have responded by saying, “We’re with you.” Bury the leader persona. When you’re trying to motivate a team or an entire company, be candid and open. Talk about what you care about–and who. Don’t make speeches. Connect. You’ll be amazed at the results.