James Corden Takes Center Stage 4 with Carpool Karaoke

Carpool Karaoke videos reliably go massively viral. The one with Adele has 107 MILLION views. The one (of many) with Justin Bieber has 70 million views. The new one with a quartet of Broadway royalty (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski) has 208,000 views in 12 hours. There is magic in the bit. There is also leadership in the moment. Specifically, there is Stage 4 and 5 leadership in those moments. If you catch them, you can see real examples of a leader creating a micro culture and the results that ensue.


The Results Thing

Yes, I did put results in the discussion of Carpool Karaoke. Beyond the pure joy of the videos, and the fun that James and his guests appear to be having, there is a real result here. TV is a business. Viewers, ratings, clicks, and followers are key metrics and lead directly to revenue. There is a business goal here. The results are real. Now, they are so far in the background that many may not notice, and almost no one but the really cynical is looking for them. That’s actually often when the best results get generated.


Stage 4 and 5

For the Tribal Leadership newbies, here is a quick review of the Tribal Leadership Stages:

  • Stage 1 (Life sucks) – it’s only 2% of people in organizations. People here are mercenary, trying to maximize what they can with no regard for others.
  • Stage 2 (My life sucks) – about 25% of people in organizations. People at this stage see others being successful, but are victim to the conditions around them to make their own situation any better than it is.
  • Stage 3 (I’m great, you’re not) – about 48% of people in organizations are here. This is where I am out to make myself look great, and it’s not a bad thing if that makes you look a little less great at the same time.
  • Stage 4 (We’re great) – about 22% of people are at this Stage. This is where the team is more important than the individual, where the overall result drives the team to greater success. It’s not that people are self-less vs. selfish, there is a collective ‘make everyone great’ in the team culture.
  • Stage 5 (Life’s great) – about 2% at this Stage, which is temporary, as it’s almost impossible to stay here long-term. These teams are out to make history, they are working for the joy, the

Let’s dig into some Carpool Karaoke examples of Stage 4 and 5

James Corden

Let’s start with James. Cultures are both enabled and limited by their leader. James has set an environment in the Range Rover where, as he has said, it is there to make the guest look as good as possible. There is no risk of failure, there is no ‘gotcha’ waiting. He created a minimalist setting, away from the studio, staging, handlers, teleprompters, etc. It’s just two people driving in a car listening to the guest’s music. In doing so, James as the leader, has deliberately set an environment for a different outcome than he could get on his set.


The Business Pivot

Great leaders are deliberate about the environments they set. This includes things like strategy, organizational structure, policies, team ground rules, expectations, culture, etc. When not deliberate, they default to the predecessor’s decisions or the boundaries set by the employees at the extremes of high and low performance.


The Stage 4 Moments

Here is the key for a Stage 4 experience. The leader, although fully competent and capable of taking center stage, gives away the opportunity to shine. James holds back, meets his guest ‘where they are,’ and lets them shine. He plays their tracks, likely in an order already established by their respective handlers. He breaks up the singing with question-and-answer, often about the music or the lyrics. Even the way he greets them into the car sets an informal, appreciative tone, which puts the guest feeling they are in a power position.


It becomes Stage 4 when James, after letting the guest relax and just sing their songs, finds the opportunity to hit a note that surprises the guest. This happened on Adele’s ride, with One Direction, and others. You see it in the ‘wow’ glance the guest gives James when he goes big. There is now mutual respect on the the same terms – they are both great singers. He held that back at first, and let the guest shine. Do you think the result would be the same if he led off with a competition when the guest first entered the car? Nope, that would be total Stage 3 (I’m great, you’re not).


Business Pivot

Great leaders build great teams with strong performers. As the leader, team members will default to your experience and rank. To get to a Stage 4 performance, you will want to ensure you have confidence in the people around you, and they have trust in you. Give that in order to get it. Let the team member shine, with you playing backup first. That will inform you about their capabilities and perspectives much more that establishing your dominance from the get-go.


The Stage 5 Moments

Stage 5 is rare, and special. It is found when the team achieves greatness. Even for James, these are rare moments. James is usually the most visibly affected when these flashes come. Two Stage 5 Carpool Karaoke moments are the time Stevie Wonder serenaded James’ wife, who is a huge Stevie fan, saying he “called to say James loves you,” with James sitting alongside in tears. The second is from the Tony Award Carpool Karaoke mentioned above. Here there are four modern day legends of Broadway in one car. They break into songs from Rent and then Les Miserables. Each performer, a star in their own right, plays together, taking different parts of the song, no one upstaging the other, and they nail it… in a car… with no audience around. They were simply having fun, legends singing a legendary song. It was their individual talents, their decisions to play well together, and to let each other shine in the environment James established that made it magic.


Business Pivot

Stage 5 is difficult to achieve. And yes, the cynical can say that this was simply a promo for the Tony Awards that James is hosting on CBS where his show airs, and that the legends were there to promote their own shows. Yes. Got it. Does not matter. They are still great. The result was still great. And I was more excited to watch the Tony Awards show – as well as the Copa America soccer matches (a topic for another time). Oh, and there is nothing you can do in your Stage 2-ness to detract from my joy in that Stage 5 moment.


The big question is: Have you experienced Stage 5? We’d love to hear about it.


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