Last Friday when I was getting my hair cut, I sat in the chair and asked my stylist: “Hey, would you mind if I play a Jimmy Buffett song right now?”
I explained that I always think of Jimmy Buffett on the Friday before Labor Day because of the song “Come Monday” and its opening line: “I was heading up to San Francisco for the Labor Day Weekend show …”
“Go for it,” he said. “I’ve actually never listened to Jimmy Buffett before.”
The next day, I got a text from him early in the morning: “Did you hear? I can’t believe it. Jimmy Buffett died. We were just talking about him yesterday.”
My first thought upon hearing the news (after an initial wave of sadness that the musical “great” had passed on) was that I’m glad I played a little tribute to Buffett, sharing his music with at least one person who didn’t know who he was.
Jimmy was an iconic musician and entrepreneur, best known for hits like “Margaritaville” and his devoted fans called “Parrotheads.” But beneath the casual beachcomber persona was a smart businessman and leader with decades of experience. Let’s dive into some leadership lessons from Jimmy Buffett:
Pursue your passion authentically. Jimmy’s music embodies his love for the beach, relaxation and the sea. His authentic representation of his passions has endeared him to millions. Yet his sound was unique, unable to be labeled pop or country or rock in the traditional sense. He once said of his music: “They say I’m uncategorized; and to that I say, ‘Thank you.’” As leaders, it’s essential to follow your passion, wherever that may lead.
Adapt and pivot. Jimmy’s career didn’t take off immediately. In fact, his album “Down to Earth” sold just 324 copies and “Margaritaville” (released in 1977) was his only single to reach the pop Top Ten. Early in Jimmy’s career, he made shifts in his musical style and brand before finding his niche. Great leaders understand that adaptability is vital.
Collaborate and network. Over the years, Jimmy collaborated with various artists, which expanded his reach and appeal. Leaders should recognize the power of collaboration and networking, as it can lead to unexpected and fruitful opportunities.
Balance work and play. While Jimmy’s brand revolves around relaxation and beach life, it doesn’t mean he shied away from hard work. Instead, he mastered the art of balancing work with relaxation. Leaders should find this balance to ensure sustained productivity without burnout.
Prioritize sustainability. Jimmy’s advocacy for marine conservation and his efforts towards environmental sustainability underscored his forward-thinking leadership. Today’s leaders must recognize the importance of sustainable practices for long-term growth and the well-being of our planet.
Diversify your portfolio. Jimmy was not only a prolific singer/songwriter but also an avid sailor, accomplished entrepreneur (with his Margaritaville resorts, restaurants and merchandise) and a best-selling author. Leaders should look for opportunities to diversify, thereby minimizing risks and maximizing growth potentials.
Engage and cultivate your community. In 1985, coincidentally the same year when Jimmy opened his first Margaritaville location, bassist Timothy B. Schmit coined the phrase “Parrotheads” to describe Jimmy’s fans. And the name has stuck ever since, with Jimmy’s “Parrotheads” serving as a testament to his ability to create and nurture a community. As leaders, the emphasis shouldn’t just be on the product or service but on building and sustaining a dedicated community around the brand.
Make the most of whatever comes your way. Time and time again, Jimmy combatted challenges with good-natured humor and a well-worded pun. For example, he was an avid pilot and would typically fly himself to his shows. In 1996, Jimmy was flying one of his planes, Hemisphere Dancer, with Bono of U2, Island Records Founder Chris Blackwell, his wife and two daughters, when the plane was shot at by the Jamaican police. They later admitted opening fire on the musician was a “case of mistaken identity,” but the entire incident inspired Jimmy to write “Jamaica Mistaica,” turning a serious situation into a catchy, laid-back song.
So, what’s the message? When I arrived at the Washington Dulles airport this morning, I was reminded of Jimmy yet again as I read the departure signs and thought about his classic lyric “Reading departure signs in some big airport …” (See for the lyrics to my favorite Jimmy Buffett song, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” which showcases that Adapt and Pivot lesson; and if you’re feeling really inspired, click on the link to give it a listen.) Whenever I’m feeling down and disappointed from a mishap, I play this song and specifically, recite my favorite lyric, so let’s end this post with my all-time favorite Jimmy Buffett line: “Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long. There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know that I just can’t go wrong.”
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.