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Jay-Z: From hip-hop to the tippy top

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

It remains to be seen whether rap superstar Jay-Z will succeed in his leap to president of Def Jam Recordings, but young leaders can take a few ideas from his first year on the job.

For example, Jay-Z:
  • Knows he has to keep growing. Jay-Z had released 10 albums within 10 years and was growing bored. He didn’t want to keep doing hip-hop just to do it.

  • Is trying to temper expectations. In his words: “It was time to get new blood in the building and I know that takes a minute, but I also knew that people would expect me to be successful tomorrow.”

  • Stays humble. Many talented people, including Jay-Z’s boss, see him as a genius. But Jay-Z appraises himself as doing merely OK in his new job. In fact, he gives himself a “C.” He’s proud of his successes with young phenoms, but he also takes the blame for mistakes.

  • Gives straight feedback. He orders re-shoots when necessary. He also shares knowledge that few new artists have and even fewer executives share, such as paring down the number of songs so there are fewer people to pay.

  • Is learning. Jay-Z didn’t like the lackluster atmosphere when he arrived at Def Jam, so he started team-building to improve morale and generate ideas.

    He admits, though, that at first, he found it hard to address his staff.

    “When you’re on stage, it’s like: ‘What’s up, Cleveland? Wave your hands in the air, say ho.’ But to stand in front of people and give a speech … it’s not easy.”

    With each speech, it gets easier.
— Adapted from “Meet the New Boss,” Lola Ogunnaike, The New York Times.

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