How Lin-Manuel Miranda Created a Smash Hit: Leadership Lessons

When’s the last time you’ve heard so much buzz about a Broadway musical? Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has turned a history lesson into a serious case of ticket envy across America. Even before Hamilton was nominated for a record sixteen Tony awards andLin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton claimed eleven top prizes, people have been willing to stand in line for days and pay thousands of dollars per ticket for a chance to see this masterpiece of theater, musical expression, history and storytelling. What’s Miranda’s secret?  What can leaders from all walks of life learn from him to further their own excellence?

Focus on Passion and Results Will Follow

Leaders understand they are judged on results. Hamilton has achieved extraordinary commercial, artistic and financial success. Here’s the paradox: These results were not achieved by the desire to achieve them. The results were achieved because Lin-Manuel Miranda was moved by the story of Alexander Hamilton.  Miranda read the 700–page biography of Alexander Hamilton on vacation six years before his musical appeared off Broadway. He was so taken by the story of Alexander Hamilton that he immediately began writing the musical. He was rewarded for the passion in which he conveyed the story. As a leader, if you are not genuinely passionate about what you do you will not achieve, or sustain, excellence. Success maybe, but not excellence.

Leadership Lesson #1:  Passion. As you progress as a leader, you’ll encounter a wide variety of opportunities. Choose endeavors based on your beliefs, not what others want you to believe. People will not consistently follow leaders devoid of passion. Passion provides the energy to sustain excellence that inspires followers. Miranda performs the same script, the same songs and the same choreography live on stage seven times per week, including two shows on Saturdays. Yet each performance feels fresh, exuberant and personal to the audience. Miranda cannot sustain excellence at this pace without passion and neither can you. People see right through fake passion.

Show Up Every Day

Why was Miranda so passionate about the story of Alexander Hamilton? We can see clues of the origin of passion because the background of Hamilton related to his own. Hamilton was born out of wedlock in St Croix. He was reportedly abandoned by his father, and his mother died prior to his adulthood.  As a result, he moved to New York City as an immigrant at the age of seventeen. His background undoubtedly contributed to a remarkable work ethic, typified by being the first US Secretary of the Treasury at the age of thirty-four. Hamilton had something to prove.

Although Miranda was born in the US, his parents were Puerto Rican immigrants. His accomplishments mirror a similar work ethic to Hamilton. While still a college student, Miranda co-founded a hip hop comedy group and wrote the initial draft of the production In the Heights, which ultimately won Tonys for Best Musical and Best Original Score–along with a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. Prior to the current success of Hamilton, Miranda also appeared on a variety of acclaimed TV shows, including The Sopranos, House and even the childhood classic series Sesame Street. Perhaps one of the reasons Miranda was so moved by Alexander Hamilton is that he could resonate with his immigrant status and relentless work ethic.

Leadership Lesson #2:  Work Ethic.  Passion alone will not result in excellence. Contrary to popular belief, no one of great significance is an overnight success. You must demonstrate your passion by showing up every day. As a leader, your commitment to your craft must be demonstrated in a manner that others are moved to emulate. You will not achieve greatness by inconsistent effort, obsessing about failures or dreaming on your couch!

Develop Your Own Voice

When Miranda initially read Hamilton’s biography, he was obviously moved by the story. Yet in creating the musical, he did not convey the story through the aristocratic language of the Founding Fathers. Instead, he conveyed his passion of the story of Hamilton though his vehicle, hip hop. As a result, Millennials and Baby Boomers alike have flocked to an historical account in terms they can relate to in the current world.

Leadership Lesson #3: Authenticity. Bring your own voice to the things that move you. Don’t try to communicate like others; create your own style. This makes you credible.

At this point, Miranda reportedly earns at least $105,000 per week from Hamilton. Did he accomplish this financial success by initially trying to achieve it? Based on my work with elite performers, I would bet my career the answer is no. Choose to lead based on passion, work ethic and authenticity. These are the building blocks of sustainable excellence!

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