Lead Like Taylor Swift: 5 Top Secrets Of Her Superstar Success

Taylor Swift is a global phenomenon, the likes we haven’t seen since the height of Beatlemania. Her new film, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, made $96 million in its opening weekend, more than any concert film ever. She is the first woman to have four albums simultaneously in the top 10 on Billboard’s top 200 chart. Eclipsing a record set by Barbra Streisand, Swift also has the most number-one albums by a female artist. Her net financial worth at the time of this writing is approximately $780 million. She may surpass Elton John by having the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, estimated at $1.4 billion.

What follows are five top secrets behind her stellar success. Taking even one of them to heart will help you become a more effective and inspiring leader.

1. Bring your WOW!

Swift’s current world tour is called Eras because, as she wrote on the platform formerly known as Twitter, it is ”a journey through the musical eras of my career (past & present!)” The film makes one thing abundantly clear about this tour: it is one of the most stunning sensory experiences in the history of the performing arts.

No Broadway musical or Las Vegas show comes close to the spectacle that Taylor Swift has created. (As she notes throughout her performance, an impressive number of craftspeople play a significant role in the extravaganza.)

In addition to the production’s sheer size and scope, Swift herself brings the wow factor throughout the more than three dozen songs she sings during the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour documentary (more than 40 songs in the 3-hour-15-minute concert that is the basis of the film). She changes outfits 16 times in the course of the full-length show. With a palpable sense of joy, she sings, dances, and plays guitar and piano. As the cutaways to the audience reveal, Swift’s sweat equity is repaid exponentially.

Whether or not your work involves performing in front of people, how could you up your game by bringing more wow to it? When would be a good time to do so?

2. Cultivate deep expertise in your field

As impressive as Swift’s shows are visually, spectacle is not the main reason for her astounding success. If she didn’t write such meticulously crafted songs, she would be playing to a few people in small-town bars instead of sold-out sports stadiums worldwide.

Like other artists at the top of their game, Swift makes creating a notoriously different form of art look easy. Here are two examples of a song’s verse. Only one is co-written by Taylor Swift. Can you tell which is hers?

Example 1

So cut the headlights, summer’s a knife

I’m always waiting for you just to cut to the bone

Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes

And if I bleed, you’ll be the last to know

Example 2

Golden afternoons, summer dreams in flight

Chasing shadows cast in the fading light

Heat reflects desires, mirages come and go

In this sunlit maze, does true love still grow?

Devoted fans will recognize the first example as an excerpt from Swift’s instant classic, “Cruel Summer” (co-written with Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark, the recording has 1.2 billion streams and counting on Spotify). The second example came from ChatGPT.

I asked this AI-assisted program to a verse in the style of Swift’s with the same number of lines (4), a similar number of syllables per line, and a similar theme (the emotional turmoil of a fraught relationship in the summer). ChatGPT’s version is missing something essential. It has no heart, soul, or whatever makes a song like “Cruel Summer” distinctive and memorable. Well over 100 times, I asked ChatGPT to create something similar to Swift’s lyrics, and each attempt failed miserably. None contained anything close to Swift’s catchy line, “Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes.”

Of course, it’s not only Swift’s lyrics that make her songs stand out. It’s also those infectious melodies. AI software may be able to create something that sounds close to Swift’s music, but it won’t have the stamp of greatness. For magic to happen, the work has to be composed by a person with a deep understanding of human beings and who has had enough life experiences to transform the elements of songwriting into a work of art.

What are you doing to increase your knowledge and skills in your field? How might you and the people you serve benefit if you set aside time regularly to focus on this aspect of your career?

3. Know that vulnerability means relatability

Lana Wilson’s engaging Netflix documentary about Swift, Miss Americana, reveals an artist willing to make herself emotionally vulnerable to her fans. She talks openly about her struggle with body dysmorphia, how vicious comments from the public affected her self-esteem and her lifelong desire for people’s approval. She also discusses the emotional ordeal of her 2017 sexual assault trial, in which she sued a former DJ for groping her during a meet-and-greet.

Indeed, her vulnerability makes her relatable in a way few artists are. Björn Brake, a 12th-grade student at Raffles World Academy in Dubai, U.A.E, shared with me in an email that Swift’s “honest and confessional lyrics about her previous relationships [have] caused her to be a role model for young women around the world who can see it is acceptable to openly talk about love, heartbreak and insecurities.”

How might your willingness to be vulnerable be beneficial? Suppose, for example, you attend an off-site meeting for your organization. If you shared something personal but appropriate that few people know about you, could this enrich your relationships with your team members?

4. Shake off nasty criticism

One of Swift’s most widely beloved songs is the antibullying anthem, “Shake It Off.” She explains that when she is on the receiving end of “players…haters…heartbreakers…fakers,” she doesn’t give in to their hostility. Instead, “I shake it off.”

Consider her reaction to a disturbing 2009 MTV Video Music Awards incident. Swift won the award for Best Female Video, and as she began her acceptance speech, hip-hop artist Kanye West jumped onto the stage, took the microphone from her, and declared that Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video was “one of the best videos of all time” and should have won the award instead.

Swift appeared shocked and taken aback. After West’s statement and subsequent exit from the stage, the camera cut back to a stunned Swift, who stepped back from the microphone and didn’t continue her speech. Later in the ceremony, when Beyoncé won the Video of the Year award for “Single Ladies,” she invited Swift on stage to “have her moment” and finish her acceptance speech.

Imagine being 19 and someone nine years older and more established than you did something similar at a public ceremony where your work was being honored. How well could you shake it off? That’s what Swift ultimately did.

The inspiring lesson is “never give up if you have something you want to accomplish,” wrote Karina Griese-Brake, Compliance Business Partner for Middle East & Africa and Head of Global Compliance TPI Governance for Fresenius Medical Care, in an email to me. “It was so ethical of her not to stoop to his level,“ added her direct report, Hanna Al Melhi, Ethics & Compliance Officer, in a voicemail message.

Swift’s “Shake It Off,” written several years after the VMA incident, is an irresistible riposte to those who seek to rattle us.

The next time someone tries to upset your apple cart, what would it take for you to shake it off? Isn’t there much to be said for chalking it up to “haters gonna hate,” as difficult as that can be, and continuing on the path you have set for yourself?

5. Drink it in

Sam Wrench’s film, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, has few pauses. Two of them occur when Swift finishes a song and takes in the spectacle of being in communion with 70,000 passionate fans.

The only sound during these moments is that of the crowd cheering. Swift looks delighted, amazed by what she has accomplished, and grateful to have been the prime mover in creating this stadium-sized community.

You, too, have accomplished a lot in your career and beyond. Do you stop now and then to appreciate your achievements? If not, why not? And if not now, when?

Summary and Call to Action

Here are five takeaways if you want to lead like Taylor Swift does:

  1. Bring your WOW!
  2. Cultivate deep expertise in your field
  3. Know that vulnerability means relatability
  4. Shake off nasty criticism
  5. Drink it in

If you commit to just one of these, you will get a good return on the investment you made in reading this article. Doing two or three would be better, and four better still. If you make it a point to do all five of them, you too will lead like Taylor Swift. As the titles of two of her songs suggest, embrace your inner ‘Fearless’ leader to achieve your ‘Wildest Dreams’ in business!

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