When George Harrison auditioned as a guitarist for the Liverpool band The Quarrymen in 1958, he was only 14 years old. Joining the band some months later, his persona as the “younger” member of the band was quickly established. Remarkably, at this early stage of his career (with the soon-to-be Beatles) Harrison had not yet embarked upon his journey as a songwriter. As this skill evolved, his role within the dynamic of the Beatles would prove to be a long-standing challenge. Harrison’s tremendous gift for melody (penning such enduring classics as “My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Something” and “Beware of Darkness”) was somewhat impeded by the team environment in which he found himself. On some level — even with the enormous success of The Beatles — Harrison found himself on the wrong team.
The creative struggles that Harrison faced within a team environment are not uncommon. Harrison clearly benefited from his exposure to the talented group, before writing his first song around 1963. (Harrison never learned to read or write music — and didn’t regret that. He employed a “copyist”, as he termed it, to transcribe his melodies.) However, he struggled to gain a place for his music on Beatles’ albums, operating in the shadow of the prolific Lennon-McCartney machine. Reflecting upon Harrison’s contributions to Abbey Road, the last Beatles’ album, Author Peter Lavezzoli wrote: “Harrison would finally achieve equal songwriting status … with his two classic contributions to the final Beatles’ LP”.
Harrison forged relationships with other artists, including Bob Dylan, which offered him varied experiences that supported his creative growth. By the time The Beatles formally split in 1970, Harrison had already worked on other projects. In a 1971 interview, he revealed that he had a backlog of original songs, never recorded. (All Things Must Pass, originally a triple album, was also released in 1970.) Commenting on the break-up of the band, Harrison described the experience as a “relief” — a telling comment. (See the entire interview here.)
Talent alone will not ensure that an individual will excel to their fullest ability within a specific team. In the case of Harrison, he ultimately found alternative paths to pursue — but his actions were likely not without an emotional cost. Within our own organizations, leaders must become cognizant of factors which impact the success of individual players within a team.
What we might learn:
- Consider the individual carefully. Talented individuals will run the gamut in terms of both personalities and communication styles. For example, an introverted yet highly gifted individual, may require guidance or support to find an equal voice on a team.
- Monitor team dynamics. Collecting talent is one thing — nurturing how the contributors work together as a team, is another. Pay close attention to the dynamics within the group that could derail motivation and eventual success.
- Offer “side” paths. Pay attention to developing skill sets of your team members over time. People evolve — and so should their work lives. As was the case with Harrison, his talent emerged over time, but was not fully recognized by the larger group. Be on point to discover these gifts, and offer them vehicles to explore them.
- Monitor the “contract”. Although a team relationship may be prove successful — talented individuals still opt to leave, both physically and emotionally. (Harrison was barely present for the making of Sargent Pepper’s) Have conversations to establish the health of the psychological contract. Happy work life relationships, between employees and employers, are a two-way street.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.