The morning of September 12th, I stood at the bathroom sink, yawning and going through the early morning ritual of trying to wake-up.
Suddenly, through the announcer’s voice on the clock radio, I heard words that had the same effect as dumping a gallon of espresso straight into my veins: “We lost a good one overnight, ladies and gentlemen, Johnny Cash is dead. " As the announcement sank in, my heart sank with the realization that one of my heroes was gone. It was a moment that will be forever imprinted in my memory alongside the Challenger disaster and the September 11 attacks.
Why would the passing of a singer, one whom I’d never met, leave an impression like that of a great national tragedy? Cash’s music has been a huge part of my life since I was a small child. One of my earliest childhood memories is being three years old, having a head full of messy hair and running around the house in Star Wars pajamas while singing, “Ring of Fire. "
Even during those early days, Johnny Cash was teaching me to love all aspects of music: the performers, the instruments, the words, the stories and the traditions. My parents must have been baffled by their son, who couldn’t even yet work the record player himself, already absorbing the stories and asking about characters in Cash’s songs like John Henry, Casey Jones and Ira Hayes. A long-time romance with lyrics was founded in those carefree days of childhood. Years later, certain songs and artists receive partial credit for saving my life. Had it not been for special attention paid to the lyrics of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Neil Young when I was in recovery, I may have never found the inspiration to go on with life after the loss of my sight.
In the days following Cash’s passing, the television was saturated with countless documentaries and specials about the life of “The Man in Black. " How could the music of the son of an Arkansas farmer have such universal appeal? Why do so many people, from conservative senior citizens to young teens with strange piercings, all love Cash’s music?
Other than a distinct and unique voice, one reason Cash had so many fans was because he had an attitude of humility. Even during his most popular times, he took the stage and introduced himself with that famous opening line, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. " Never mind the fact there may have been tens of thousands of fans present, all of which had paid their hard earned money to see him perform. He still took on a persona, not as the superstar they’d all come to see, but simply someone who was as common as those in his audience.
The past decade brought a new view of Johnny Cash. He knew that surrounding himself with the talent of young, hardcore rock bands like U2 and Nine Inch Nails would keep his music fresh, unique and relevant. Cash never believed his music, nor that of his predecessors, was superior to that of today. By covering songs of those groups he influenced, Cash showed the wisdom of an artist who was able to see value in the works of those who followed in his footsteps.
Do you ever get the feeling that, due to experience, you know best? That your subordinates, children or others that are younger may not be able to compare with the standards you’ve set? Chances are we’ve all found ourselves stepping into this trap from time to time. However, this is a backwards approach. Believing one has all the answers leads to stagnation. By giving accolades to those with less experience, Cash showed a quiet confidence that actually boosted his popularity.
Influence is not established by taking on a “holier than thou" attitude. Quite the contrary. How fast are most people turned off by arrogance? How quickly do we walk away from someone who is a know-it-all? The best way to be an effective leader is by honoring the opinions and actions of one’s subordinates. Additionally, those who are newer to the game bring an enthusiastic mindset to the table.
The next time you catch yourself believing those lower on the proverbial totem pole cannot know as much, remember the humility and unpretentious mindset of Johnny Cash. While you’re at it, pop in one of his CDs. Take a listen to some of the best music of the 20th century…you may just learn a valuable lesson!
Marcus Engel is a professional speaker/author who inspires audiences to achieve success by making intelligent choices. Blinded by a drunk driver at age 18, Marcus battled through two years of recovery and 300 hours of reconstructive facial surgery to reach his goal of returning to college. After graduating from Missouri State University in 2000, Marcus began sharing his story professionally to audiences nationwide. In 2002, Marcus founded his own publishing company with the release of his autobiography, “After This…An Inspirational Journey For All the Wrong Reasons. " His messages of empowerment and motivation have been witnessed by hundreds of thousands through his keynotes, his autobiography and his monthly newsletters. Marcus Engel is a speaker, a message, a story you will never forget! Visit http://www.MarcusEngel.com for more information!