A Leadership Lesson From Tracy Chapman’s Grammy Performance


Discover how Tracy Chapman's 2024 Grammy performance offers a timeless leadership lesson on guiding others to discover something beyond a paycheck.

Don't miss this FREE WEBINAR


Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST

Are Those Following You Experiencing Purpose?

Did you watch the Grammys?

I didn’t, but my social media feed was full of what many suggested was the night’s best moment.

Tracy Chapman performed her hit song Fast Car, singing at the Grammys for the first time in 35 years.

The reaction in the room and online was overwhelming. Outside of a few trolls, everyone LOVED the performance, leading those in leadership spaces to wonder why.

Why was this moment so moving for so many? 

Why did this song shoot to number one the following morning on iTunes? 

Why did artists all over the Grammy audience stand, sing along, and even shed a tear?  

The Story of Fast Car

If you don’t know the song, it’s the story of a young woman growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic father. With her boyfriend (and his fast car), they finally make it out to begin a new life, yet the woman finds her new life looks like the life her parents had. While she works to pay all the bills, the man she’s with spends his time and their money at the bar. To quote the song, he sees “more of your friends than you do of your kids.” The song concludes with the woman hoping he’ll take his fast car and leave.

You can read the full lyrics here.

It’s a beautiful story in song. So why did it resonate so well 35 years later?

What Everyone Wants

The song speaks to a deep emotion living in the heart of every human.

We’re all looking for more. For purpose. For a reason to be. A reason to work, live, and exist.

The song is full of lines like “Finally see what it means to be living,” “She wanted more from life than he could give, “Leave tonight or live and die this way,” and “And I had a feeling that I belonged, I had a feelin’ I could be someone, Be someone, be someone.”

Be someone.

This is the core emotion of the song. To finally be someone.

People With Everything Still Searching for Something

The Grammys were full of successful artists. I don’t know any of them personally, so this is pure conjecture, but as I watched the replay of Tracy Chapman singing and the room full of artists standing, singing along, some shedding tears, and offering a standing ovation, I felt it was more than Chapmans 35 year absence that struck a nerve.

In a room full of people with seemingly everything, the common emotion of being “someone” felt palpable. And needed. 

Again, perhaps I’m seeing something that isn’t there, but if these artists are anything like every other person in the world, I suspect this assessment isn’t far off.

Everyone desires to be someone. We all strive to find purpose. We want to be seen and feel valued.

This common emotion offers us a distinct leadership opportunity and responsibility.

Leading People to Purpose

If you want to be a leader worth following, help those in your care discover purpose beyond their paycheck.

In The Marketplace…

For those of you leading in the marketplace, you have an opportunity every day to help those on your team discover more about who they are, why they are, and how to combine their passions, skills, and abilities with opportunities in or outside your organization.

You’ve heard it said, “People leave bosses, not companies.” This is true. People leave when those leading them care more about getting something from them than being for them.

If you want to form a dynamic team, culture, and workplace experience:

    1. Help everyone in your care feel cared for.
    2. Help them discover themselves.
    3. Give them opportunities to stretch and attempt to lead above their current station.
    4. Delegate opportunities, not just tasks.
    5. Support their passions, even if that means leaving your team.
    6. Focus on people more than progress (and watch progress increase!)

Leadership is about results, but that only happens with, in, and through people. The best results come from teams who feel supported beyond the results.

In The Church…

For those of you in church leadership, you’ve already realized the deep desire for purpose. Most likely, you’re in pastoral leadership because you find purpose within the role.

What we saw in Tracy Chapman’s Grammy performance was just a remarkable reminder of this common desire. No amount of money or fame is enough to satisfy our desire for purpose. God placed that hole in our hearts for His Kingdom. It’s our job as church leaders to point people toward this greater purpose and guide their steps as they seek their unique contributions to the Kingdom.

This is part of a healthy discipleship pathway.

What Did You Feel Watching Fast Car? 

This song was part of my youth, so naturally, it spoke to me. But as a nearly 50-year-old, it hit differently watching it again.

Give the song another look. And pay attention to the people in the room. I suspect they are supporting Chapman as their fellow artist, but there’s something deeper happening.

Perhaps a collective desire to “be someone.” 

If you can support those following you to find a purpose beyond a paycheck, you’ll always be a leader worth following. And you’ll always have a dynamic team.

Additionally, you’ll discover something, too: a more satisfying leadership experience.