Unconventional Ed Leadership: Parables of 3 Rock Bands

Posted: October 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

While you may not subscribe to my taste in music, I thought that the stories of three of my fave rock bands really lent themselves to educational leadership parables that we could learn from as we move forward. You may have other musical references to add, so please do!


Let’s start with probably my favorite musically, . . Bon Jovi.  They hit the scene around 1983 as the “hairbands” were getting significant airplay and promotion.  They have had great success in their 30+ career and to this day remain one of the most popular bands with a huge fan base.  The band stuck to “the music” and making sure the fans got what they wanted.  In the past years, they have written songs that bordered on different genres in order to reach diverse populations.  The leadership of the band is driven by the vision of lead singer, Jon Bon Jovi.  He strongly feels that there are 3 things that the band must do in order to be effective.

  1. Give the fans what they want and make it ‘real’ to them through different media and feedback opportunities.
  2. Retain high ethical standards. Don’t do things that keep you in the tabloids and give you “negative” impact.
  3. Never lose sight of why they do what they do. It’s about impacting someone with their music.

Jon’s leadership has also been seen with the launch of the Jon BonJovi Soul Foundation. It “exists to combat issues that force families and individuals into economic despair. Through the funding and creation of programs and partnerships, we support innovative community efforts to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.”


  • Strong ethics in leadership can help propel you forward and have lasting impact on your “fans” (students).
  • Connect with your “fans” (students). Get on FB, Twitter and give them real feedback mechanisms in order to impact how you continue to deliver the”music” (curriculum) to them.
  • Never lose sight of why you do what you do. It’s about the students and making a difference.
  • Sometimes a broader purpose (JBJ Soul Foundation) can provide you with credibility as to your commitment to your “fans” (students).

Though Bon Jovi may not be truly unconventional, they have had incredible sustainability and impact.


Guns and Roses blasted onto the LA music scene in 1985 with an “in your face” new sound that got tons of attention. Their approach to music was to break the mold and just have fun in the process.  The fan base grew and the music garnered them tons of success in the first few years of their existence.  After the release of their second album and a world tour that was fairly successful, they quickly fell apart.  Their “leader”, lead singer Axl Rose began to take the band in a totally different direction, believing that he knew what the fans wanted and he became so self absorbed that the band went in totally separate directions.  While some of their music still has impact today and continues to get airplay, the band as a whole has had very little success and impact in music.  Axl Rose continues to try and capitalize on the brand of “Guns and Roses”, but constantly tries new things, new band members, new approaches with not very much impact.


  • Leadership must have vision that is connected to the “fan base” (students, teachers, etc.) and doesn’t try to prescribe the change based upon selfish goals.
  • Band-aid (no pun intended) approaches to education (new programs, new people, etc.) aren’t always good without an understanding of the outcome (student results).
  • Being unconventional (different) may garner you some initial successes, but you have to sustain the innovation and more importantly you have to make the “music” that your fans (students) want to hear.


You knew I was going to mention them, didn’t you? KISS is a rock icon. They truly disrupted the music scene with their makeup, firebreathing, blood-spitting, light shows, and fire/smoke antics.  Kiss become one of the most popular bands in the world and as bassist, Gene Simmons states, “people don’t know who the Prime Minister of Sweden is, but everyone in Sweden knows who Kiss is!”.  They have more gold albums than any other American rock band.  Kiss did experience a huge lull in their success after they took their makeup off and began to try and “fit in” with other music of the 80’s.  However, they went back to what made them successful – “the brand of Kiss”.  They have put the make up back on and at the age of 60+ are still filling arenas all over the world.  Lead singer, Paul Stanley stated in an interview with CNN, “Kiss is a brand and our success is based upon the brand”.  They have truly been unconventional both in their live performances and in their marketing.  Kiss comic books, Kiss coffins, Kiss condoms, etc. are just part of the “branding” of Kiss that has helped them be tremendously successful financially.  While one may not truly like their music, you can’t go anywhere without someone knowing who they are and what they’ve done. Their story really epitomizes the focus on “brand” and how building a strong brand is important and connecting with fans through many different branding strategies is imperative to success.


  • How are you “branding” your school/district/curriculum? Are you making it relevant and something that people want?
  • Unconventional ways of getting your “brand”/”music” across are ok to explore if they get you the impact and results that you want.  NOTE: Don’t spit blood or breathe fire, but it’s ok to be different.
  • You must connect with “fans” where they are (FB, blogs, etc.), but more importantly, you have to be disruptive in how you teach and allow them to be disruptive in how they learn.

Three bands with some similarities, but with some really good lessons to be learned about how we lead education reform.  Being unconventional like Kiss and building a brand around whatever you create seems to be one of the keys to success.  We can also learn the leadership lessons from Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses (what not to do) and embed those tenets into our leadership fabric.

If you didn’t get the parables, so be it, at least you now know my taste in music and if/when you see me speak you’ll know I believe in music and unconventional approaches to education.

You Matter!


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