I love the Iowa State Fair. I’m an Iowa native and August always means the Iowa State Fair and a symphony of cicadas. The cicadas have followed me to the East Coast so I still get to hear them each year. My visits to the Iowa State Fair, though, are not annual events anymore. If I’m lucky, I get back to the fair about every five years. This was one of those years!
Even though I’ve been going to the Iowa State Fair since I was a small child, there are still things one must do every time one goes. You’ve got to see the Butter Cow which unfortunately was damaged by vandals this year. The picture seen here shows how the cow looked on the opening day of the fair when I was there. You’ve also got to walk through the midway to let all the carnival barkers have a chance to take your money. You’ve got see the Big Boar. For the first time ever I got to see the Big Boar weigh-in competition. Otis, weighing in at 1,103 pounds, was the winner though he was actually 232 pounds lighter than Reggie, the 2012 champion and record-setting Big Boar. So, why didn’t Reggie come back to defend his title, you may ask? One word: sausage. Otis is a one-time winner, too, but watch for him to appear in a deli section near you.
Speaking of food, you’ve also got to hit the myriad of food stands at the fair (I had two incredible monster cinnamon rolls and, to honor my heritage as an Iowa hog farmer, a pork tenderloin and a pulled pork sandwich).
Though there are things I have to do at the Iowa State Fair as part of the tradition there are always a few surprises. This year it was The One and Only Bandaloni. Bandaloni is a “one man band” but don’t let that phrase conjure up the wrong image for you. Bandaloni is not some quasi-talented guy on a street corner trying to make a buck by playing a ukulele, harmonica, and cymbals strapped to his knees. (He’s actually got a nearly full drum set on his back.) He’s a talented pro who sings and plays up to 12 instruments at the same time all the while strolling about and interacting with the large crowds he draws. A local television station in Des Moines did a feature on Bandaloni’s appearance at the Iowa State Fair that is worth a look.
My ingrained Iowa farm kid work ethic makes it virtually impossible for me to simply have fun watching someone like Bandaloni without finding a good reason for enjoying myself so much. The lesson I learned from Bandaloni that justified the fun I had watching him was this: Bandaloni exemplifies much of what it takes to be a good, effective leader today.
First, leaders need to multitask seamlessly. Leaders usually don’t have the luxury of doing just one thing at a time. They have to continuously juggle and balance responsibilities, expectations, and priorities. Even when they go a little off-key or miss a beat, they need to recover and keep going.
Second, leaders need to focus. Though it may seem counter intuitive, effective multitasking requires intense focus to make sure everything is being addressed with high quality. Sure, some busy leaders who are moving about wildly and without apparent reason are truly unfocused. But others, and I believe these are the most effective leaders, if you look more closely, are like Bandaloni who have no wasted effort and they make amazing music. This only happens when they are genuinely focused despite the 12 different simultaneous tasks they have to perform which may make them look a little wild and uncontrolled at times.
Third, leaders need to adapt to changing conditions. If Bandaloni had been sitting on a chair performing his act on a stage, it would have been far less impressive. Instead, he moves through the audience interacting with individuals even as he performs. To do this Bandaloni has to be able to quickly and intuitively adapt his act for any possible situation (and when you perform at state fairs you get a wide variety of situations). Leaders in the 21st century can no longer sit as the authority on the stage making pronouncements to their follows. Instead they have to be engaged and able to adapt to the different individuals, situations, and contexts they encounter.
Finally, leaders need to have fun. Bandaloni is having fun even as he is helping others have fun. This is what makes it everything work so well. The fun a leader has in doing the work of leadership conveys the sense of joy, excitement, passion, and committment she or he has. Think about it. I bet anyone you know who has those four things going for them mostly have a lot of fun doing their work…and their spirit is contagious to others.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got. After all, I was on vacation. In one last homage to summer vacation, join me in laughing, smiling, and singing along again with Bandaloni at the Iowa State Fair on August 8, 2013. Enjoy!
Copyright 2013 by Thomas W. Klaus