A long time ago, I had B.B. King’s album Live At The Regal. I also had an acoustic jazz guitar given to me by my fourth-grade teacher, who sensed I would develop a more enduring affection for music if I wasn’t planted on a piano bench ham-handing passages from Chopin.
I was fascinated by the sounds that poured out of my little turntable when I put that album on. For a guitarist, it was the shimmering quality to his vibrato and string-bending that brought a new voice to an instrument that was really just coming into its own.
Yet, it was also his voice — a gutsy, sandpaper rumble that gurgled up from his heart more than his lungs. It was the blues. It cried of heartache, betrayal, pain, hopes and struggle that had roots in the stubble of a sharecropper’s field and the dim-lit juke joints of Memphis or Chicago — distant and strange lands to an upper middle class Catholic kid in St. Louis.
B.B. King had a voice.
It was more than vocal; it told his story, it spoke of what mattered to him, it cut through with truth, it connected with people. It summoned us to consider the poetry of the human condition. B.B.’s voice was steady. He kept the same model of Gibson guitar his whole career and never fell victim to the industry’s excess in production, sampling or synthetic sounds. You knew when it was B.B. King coming through, and you wanted to listen.
His life reminds me how often clients tell me they want to find or develop their voice as a leader. Voice is more than words — it is this sense of being able to articulate a vision, to understand the impact that words and actions can have on others, to know what matters and to have the quiet confidence and courage to cut through the noise and speak some truths that people need to hear.
It also means, as it did with B.B., to bring yourself to that voice — your story, your personality, your values.
Being an authentic leader means having your own voice. It’s about being clear, being honest, having something to say and the conviction to say it, even when unpopular.
It’s the voice your people want to hear.