What Justin Timberlake’s Career Can Teach Us About Leadership

In March of 2000, Jive Records released “No Strings Attached” by N’Sync and it set the record for the highest selling album debut of all time. In their heyday, N’Sync was the boy band that everyone aspired to be. They incorporated the perfect mixture of rebel, boy next door, and sex appeal to every young girl in America. Each member had their own special characteristic: Lance Bass was a wholesome boy from Mississippi who spent his spare time studying space exploration, Joey Fatone was seen as the “bad boy” Italian American from Brooklyn. JC Chasez was the shy boy from DC with amazing dance skills. Chris Kirkpatrick was known as the “family man” from Pennsylvania.

And then, there was Justin Timberlake.

Most people who came of age in the early 2000s probably still have “No Strings Attached”, “NSYNC”, “Celebrity”, and “Home for Christmas” CDs lurking somewhere in their houses still to this day. Over the years, they may have collected dust but, when any of these songs come on the radio or at a bar, it’s pretty amazing to see how many people still remember every last word. We relive our youth through these songs. They remind us of simpler, easier days when we listened to the albums on their walkman on the school bus or writing the lyrics in the margins of their notebook during reading class. Maybe even writing (Your Name) Timberlake on everything that we own.

What happened to N’Sync? I’ll tell you. Timberlake decided that maybe he would have much more success as a solo artist. Every group has a leader, and whether pushing Timberlake to the forefront was a move from Jive’s backend or a conscious agreement between all five band members is debatable. Justin was usually front row and center. He was a leader. And he decided to take a risk and leave the group that had launched him to fame.

Think of the groups that you are involved in: in the workplace, organizations, or even something as small as working on a group project for school. If you are not the leader, than you are following the leader. If you don’t step up as the leader, somebody else will. There also tends to be a lot of role confusion at the beginning of a group, which often leads to conflict. In order to succeed and hold onto your power, you must learn to be direct and assertive without becoming a dictator.

I know that we were all sad when Timberlake left the group to begin his solo career. People even laughed at him, and wrote him off as a wannabe R&B artist, someone who would never make the crossover and would go crawling back to the choreography and harmony before the year’s end. But if he had listened to those naysayers, we would never have been able to jam out to “Sexy Back”, “Suit and Tie” and most recently, “TKO.” Dammit, babe, they’re all staple pop songs that have impacted us all at some point.

We live in a “dog-eat-dog” world. If you love something, then pursue it. Success can mean leaving people behind, because sometimes they hold you back. It’s not a slight at your friends or colleagues by any means to think this way — there is always something to be said for loyalty, but sometimes you do have to cut ties because you’re simply not growing anymore. It takes a lot more work to propel more people through the water than it does to go solo. Sometimes, it’s in your best interest to call all of your own shots. Because if you don’t take charge, someone else definitely will.

Justin chose a solo career, and that is not a bad thing. It was what he knew he needed to do if he wanted to grow as an artist. When he first left the group, there was a lot of negative backlash from N*Sync fans the world over. The thought of everyone’s favorite boy band breaking up was devastating to most, but if we think about the way Timberlake was feeling we can better understand the positivity of this move. He outgrew the boy band and was able to recognize that before it was too late. If he would have waited too long to take the leap, he could have very well of missed his chance for the success that we all know and love today. (Just imagine a world without “Dick in a Box” and the Barry Gibb Talk Show sketch on SNL.) Timberlake has expanded his talents beyond music and has taken advantage of his solo fame in multiple domains.

Any of the five members could have been the one to rise to the top and start their own solo career (and indeed, JC tried valiantly with this little ditty) but it was Timberlake who stole the thunder. Is is because he was the most talented or the most driven? Maybe it was a little bit of both.

Sometimes, you have to be a leader, and sometimes being a leader involves branching out on your own. Sometimes being a leader means being a pioneer. And just like Justin Timberlake’s solo career, sometimes much better things await. Sometimes you need to leave your ramen hair behind to reach your full potential. TC mark

image – Justified

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