“Take nothing and turn it into whatever you want,” Leadership

“Miss Alex White Interview,” Leadership Class

by Brandon Reed

I was thrilled when I first heard about the project of interviewing someone in your field who is a leader. Mostly because my mentor, Miss Alex White, is one the top leaders in Chicago, if not the entire country – she is one of the most thoughtful, hardworking, innovative people I know and with that, we talked for over an hour. It went from me asking questions that I had planned to a full-blown conversation of how she felt that she about being a leader in other parts of her life, and thinking about the future of current endeavors.  Alex has been conquering major achievements her entire life. All the way from an early age starting with being top of her class in both her high school, North College Prep and her college, DePaul. She’s gone from founding her own record label called Missile X Records that pressed vinyl for bands and shipped them world wide to being in numerous bands that have received countless amounts of praise from top news sources. From Levi’s to MTV to Redbull to playing a float with Sir Richard Branson, Alex White has been around the world and back. Literally. I picked Alex because I knew she would deliver and everyone who knows Alex knows that when you task her do anything, she just that.

We first met through a friend of a friend at a party when I was seventeen. I knew about her current musical group called “White Mystery” and was told that I was going to meet her. Obviously my excitement level was through the roof. To make a long story short, after meeting her at that party, I continued to follow her to every show she played, sneaking in, and making sure that she saw me there. I continued to pester her until she finally asked me “what do you want?” and to be honest when she asked me that at first, I didn’t even know what I wanted. I just knew I wanted to be involved in anyway I could. Fast forward a couple years and here we are. We’ve come a long way now; I’ve gone from interning for her for 2 years to being her PA and great friend.

We sat down and began with her newest endeavor which has been taking on a group of college aged people as interns (WM Superstars) to help expand the band she is in, White Mystery. This is where I was able to get much of the standard leadership attributes out of her in the sense of taking a group of kids who really want to be in the music industry and are looking to White for advice, and guidance as they carve their own path. I was curious to see what leadership type she thought was, and not to my surprise she was firm on being an Authoritarian-style leader. We went on to talk about how she has an extremely clear vision of what she wants to happen within her career.  When I brought up the question of what kind of leadership style she sees herself as, she had me explain each one and before I could even continue after getting halfway through explaining Authoritarian, she immediately said “that one.” We both shared a laugh because I already knew and I believe she knew that I already knew. White said, “I definitely take feedback, but I have a very very clear vision of what I want White Mystery to be so I find myself dictating orders.” I think this makes a lot of sense, and there’s a chance to somewhat alleviate the stigma that authoritarian leadership style means something negative. Being an authoritarian leader to me just means to have a strong vision and plan in order to meet goals. Knowing how to do each part, but needing a team to complete the size and amount of work that is given due to the nature of the music industry. I feel that in some parts of my own life I couldn’t use any other style then authoritarian because I have such a strong sense of control over what I would like to see happen with certain goals. Now, the same goes for the opposite, where at my job at Reverb.com, it wouldn’t be as successful as it is in such a short time if it was lead by an authoritarian styled leader. It takes the creativity and freedom to make choices in order to make Reverb what it is. So in that way I believe a leader needs to be able to control what style he/she is based on what the resources they possess and the goal they have to accomplish.

We then started talking about certain challenges she’s been facing in her current work. One of which she mentioned was delegating tasks out to the WM Superstars. The assignment of discovering peoples’ strengths, and then utilizing those strengths to help push goals forward efficiently is something that is extremely important in order to have a machine running at peak performance. This is when the thought of the strength finder test came to mind. Understanding how certain businesses try to take advantage of tools of this nature so no ones strengths go under the radar and no time is wasted on delegating tasks to someone who may not be the best person for it.

This led into some of her other roles as a leader in the community. We began discussing her position as Vice President of the Grammy board. Alex talked about taking her authoritarian style in this setting where she is still “cracking the whip” so to speak and how even in a place where she’s surrounded by leaders she still grabs a hold of the reigns and make sure that everyone does the correct work to achieve the big picture. This is where we began to talk about how Alex broke the mold as a leader in regards to the music scene in Chicago. The music industry is very hard to crack and most of the time it requires a lot of money, and a lot of outside resources. Alex spoke about hearing everyone around her telling her she wasn’t going to make it anywhere with a publicist, or a booking agent. I found myself very interested in this point because as the manager of my own band, I have to deal with this obstacle of not having someone else handle booking, press, and the rest of the work. We both agreed on that although this method may be slower, but you’re able to not only keep all of the money you make, but also make the decisions you want and learn. Opposed to a gaining notoriety fast with management. My thought has always been a slow rise will show longevity because a sharp rise will always be followed by a sharp decline. I really liked the point she made about being a “thoughtful rule-breaker.” This is what she describes her method of managing her own work and not paying others to do it. White went on to say “it’s never been disrespectful, no, I just have I really really good idea of what is correct and I’ve been extremely educated.” I thought this was one of the best things I took out of our hour-long interview. The idea of being confident with your knowledge and ideas, then being able to take them into your own work and succeed. Not allowing the people around you to tell you that there is one way to get to the end of the road, and if you don’t do it that way you’ll never get there. This is what makes a leader. Someone who understands that yes, there is that way to do things, but that’s been done and I am going to do it my way.

Being a leader doesn’t always have to mean that the ideas have to come from you and only you. Miss Alex White spoke about one of her goals being to interview all of the people she follows as leaders in the music industry. With interviews from Lee Graziano of the 60’s rock group American Breed to bassist Karl Green of Herman’s Hermits, Alex has already talked with some of rocks earliest influencers. White spoke to learning from other leaders as a way to hone in on your own skills. Looking to someone who has seen success to teach new ways or different perspectives. This is exactly what I see Alex as. To me, she was the idea of someone who has a complete understanding of how to set goals and complete them. The most admirable part of it to me is that she does it in her own way and has a system that she can explain to anybody.

Being a leader means having a vision and going about it in your own way, this is what I took out of the conversation I had with Alex. There are plenty of people who want to be in charge or want to do something great, but it’s just a matter of doing it and doing it in a way that is reminiscent of past leaders but putting your unique spin on it. Nothing you do is a first for the world, but it’s a first for you and if you have something interesting and unique to say about it, it will be great. Being a leader isn’t something you learn, or have to take specific steps to accomplish. It’s something you just have within you.  It’s not easy to explain and not easy to accomplish, but Miss Alex White is the best example to show how you can take nothing and turn it into whatever you want.


click here for Brandon’s band, the Holy Motors.

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