ACDC’s Long Way to The Top: lessons in team dynamics and identity

Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the biggest selling rock albums of all time, ACDC’s Back in Black. The band that created this masterpiece also crafted another motivating story of success. It is the story of a migrant family who escaped poverty by moving to Australia and ended up becoming global rock icons transcending generations. Built on the foundations of focus, energy, and work ethic, the band’s journey has some powerful lessons in team dynamics that could be relevant to any leadership team today. 

Taking a few pages out of ACDC’s playbook, it is imperative for leaders today to ask themselves:

    • What is our team identity, and how do we know this?
    • What do we stand for?
    • How are we able to build on each other’s energy and talent?
    • How are we providing a sense of stability and consistency to our followers?
    • How can we inspire those around us through good times and bad?
    • What do we want our legacy to be?

Exploring these questions can go a long way in helping you set the stage for refining your team dynamics. It may prove to be the difference between your business becoming inter-generational, rather than a gleaming pop-like fad.

Focus on identity
Emerging out of the Australian live music scene of the mid-1970s, the band’s music took its inspiration from blues and rock. However, ACDC was inimitable. They took their music intensity to a different level, and their performance on stage and effort in the studio was unrivalled—all of this driven by a sheer commitment to their organic style.  As their identity began to take shape, the members consciously avoided chasing the trend of the era. There was no divergence to ballads, glam nor thrash rock. As a collective, ACDC took immense pride in their identity and what they represented — a back to the wall no-nonsense approach to rock and roll.  Backing this was an intense work ethic that saw them push each other and their collective creativity to another level.

Business leaders are continuously sharpening their personal brands, but this needs to become a team sport. Akin to ACDC, the collective power and impact of a leadership team’s identity becomes a multiplier in driving change and maximizing performance. 

Work ethic in studio and on tour
ACDC’s ascent was well before the era of social media and music digitization, making their success even more remarkable. Whilst the band was highly influenced by the artistic direction of the Young brothers, all members contributed to the writing and construction of each album. As a team, they were prodigious songwriters who had an uncompromising commitment to quality. The band knew that this standard was the underlying reason for their global success and were single-minded in preserving this quality. Coupled with their toil in the studio, ACDC’s live performances were something to behold and equally key in the forging of their character. A series of iconic global tours, playing back-to-back concerts, saw them emerge as one of the greatest live bands of all time. Most of which took place before the era of convenient and comfortable transportation.
Their trademark raw energy was for all to experience and engage with. Also critical to their success whilst touring was their humility and desire to learn and grow, always on the look-out to sharpen their craft. This lack of ego was exhibited throughout their career with their willingness to perform countless gigs anywhere and at any time. 

More than ever, today’s uncertain times demands a rethink on how leaders show up and execute. Leaders need to manage how they decrease talking about it, and increase being about it. 

Dealing with challenge and tragedy
ACDC as a team brought a level of professionalism unseen in other bands. Torn by tragedy throughout their history, from death to addiction, the band was able to continuously evolve and endure. From the succession of their iconic front man, Bon Scott, to the replacement of other members; the direction and focus of the band never faltered. Unlike other performers, such transitions were never leaked to the media nor compromised for the sake of “easy-points” publicity. Much like a well synchronized corporate team managing shareholders and risk, protecting their reputation was a premium.
This was achieved through a highly disciplined approach to confidentiality, respect for each other, and thoroughness in their decision making.

Dealing with challenge and risk is nothing new for leaders, even on a global scale. Here, leaders need a clear balance between alignment and stability, with the need to also be inspiring and energetic… as perpetually illustrated by ACDC. 

Legacy and Lessons
It has been almost half a century since the birth of ACDC and the band remains as synonymous as ever with high-energy rock and roll. From their humble beginnings, through tragedy and line-up changes, they continue to be a universal symbol that survives to this day. Beyond their edgy logo, this legacy can be seen through their inter-generational fan base, musical influence on artists, or just by tuning into any rock radio station anywhere in the world. Inconspicuous as individuals, but iconic as a team, ACDC serves as a powerful and resonating lesson to any leadership team today wanting to create a lasting impact.

This article first appeared in Forbes Middle East in Aug 2020