Advance Performance | Leadership Lessons from Taylor Swift
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Leadership Lessons from Taylor Swift

Leadership Lessons from Taylor Swift

Earlier this year, Fortune magazine named 25 year old Taylor Swift number 6 on their list of World’s Greatest Leaders ahead of Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Although the magazine editors received hate mail for this choice, they were clearly very insightful on Taylor Swift’s leadership skills. When Taylor took on the biggest and arguably most influential company in the world last month, she proved she is a force to be reckoned with!

Taylor Swift

Taking a stand for your own creativity and work

In June, Taylor Swift wrote an open letter to Apple, criticising the terms of their new music service, as it was going to offer a free trial period to consumers during which musicians wouldn’t get paid. She wrote “I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”  Swift went on to argue that she was standing up for the independent artists who should be paid for their time and creativity, believing in valuing creativity and artists owning their music.  Hours later, Apple changed its terms and agreed to pay the artists during the free trial period.

Valuing her own work and the work of other artists has been a long term leadership trait shown by Swift.  Last summer, Swift herself wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal in the section “Journal Reports: Leadership” in which she shared her hopes for other artists not devaluing their work.  Previously, she pulled all her back catalogue of music from the streaming service Spotify due to their undervaluing of artists in royalties.  Her album 1989, which she wouldn’t allow on Spotify, became the bestselling album for twelve years in its first week.

Appreciating your customers

Before the release of her album 1989 last year, Taylor invited a number of fans to “secret sessions” to share the album, and enjoy a slumber party at her home.  She helped Rebekah Bortnicker pay off her college tuition fees; flew to Ohio to attend Gena Gabrielle’s bridal shower; and sent many fans personally-wrapped Christmas presents.  Her mum Andrea is known to select fans at concerts to go backstage to meet Taylor after the show, and she sends personal goodwill messages to fans that are going through difficult times.

Taylor Swift has a great understanding that she would not be in her position without her fans, and shows her appreciation to their loyalty and enjoyment of her music and brand. She has over 59 million followers on Twitter, 33 million followers on Instagram and 71 million followers on Facebook!

Inspiring others through action and education

In 2012, Michelle Obama presented Swift with The Big Help Award for her “dedication to helping others” and “inspiring others through action” including promoting children’s literacy.  In 2010 she held a live webcast Read Now! with Taylor Swift which was broadcast to schools in the USA to celebrate Scholastic’s Read Every Day campaign, and she donated books to libraries and $250,000 to schools for books.  A strong supporter of arts education, she has funded Nashville’s Hendersonville High School to help refurbish the school auditorium’s sound and lighting systems and pledged to fund a new education centre to hold workshops for teenagers and senior citizens at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

Ownership and reinventing her brand

Taylor Swift may be dominating the pop charts now, but five years ago, she was known as a country artist.   She is one of the few artists in the USA who has successfully moved from this specific genre to embrace the mainstream pop world.

Swift has described her latest album 1989 as her “first documented and official pop album“, which reflects emotive issues, her personal life, her feminist views, and growth as an independent individual.   She says she wants “to make music that reflects all of my influences” which include Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Alanis Morissette, Michelle Branch, Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris, and Bruce Springsteen – interestingly, they are all artists who tell personal stories within their lyrics.

She has developed a great understanding of her brand and ensures she manages its development by controlling her images, her lyrics (so that they cannot be reprinted on cheap unofficial products) and concerts.  She takes a stand for other artists to own their creative works and their whole image.

Standing up for women – supporting other female artists

Taylor Swift is renowned for celebrating the creativity and success of other female artists by inviting them to join her and perform in her concerts, featuring other strong creative women as superheroes (they chose their characters) in her video Bad Blood, and openly supporting creative works which she admires including Jessica Alba, Lena Dunham, Ellie Goulding, and the supermodel and businesswoman Cindy Crawford.

In Maxim magazine she said feminism was “probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.” Standing up for equality and individual creativity are key features of the leadership style of Taylor Swift in our ever changing world of technology, image and social media.

You can learn more about Taylor Swift on her official website.