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Thursday, June 23, 2022

THIS is how you help a struggling employee


Peter Gabriel sits on my personal Mount Rushmore of musical artists. He's also its longest resident, first etched during my high school years. I did not get the chance to see him play live, however, until the summer of 1994, Aug. 8, to be precise. He played the Stabler Arena at Lehigh University, a warm-up gig for his set six days later that would close the Woodstock '94.

Paula Cole, who had not yet struck it big herself, was Peter's main backing vocalist. She joined that tour for its final two legs, replacing SinĂ©ad O'Connor. 

For that final leg of the tour (which included the date I attended), Peter added Don't Give Up to the set, a song originally made famous for Peter's duet with Kate Bush on the So album. The show I attended was one of the first (if not the first) at which the band performed Don't Give Up. Unfortunately, about half-way through, Paula Cole had a bit of a problem with the lyrics and went completely silent through her part while band kept playing.

Peter jumped in. "It's been a while since we've done this one." Paula then composed herself enough to finish the song (beautifully and brilliantly, I might add).

But it's what happened next that stuck with me for the past 28 years. 

When the song ended Paula understandably broke down in tears on stage. After all, she was performing with rock royalty and she was just getting started in her career. And she had made a big mistake in front of a sold-out arena of thousands. 

Peter handled it like the legend that he is. He walked over to Paula, put his arm around her, and told her and the crowd the following: "I've done a lot of gigs together now with Paula and this is very first time that she's screwed up, so this is a special occasion. On the other hand, it's probably the 150th time that I've screwed up, so she's learning from a master in the fuck-up department." (He's not wrong; Peter Gabriel is famous for flubbing lyrics on stage. I've only seen him live four time, and I've seen seen him forget lyrics, flip verses in songs, or repeat entire verses in songs he's performed live hundreds and hundreds of times.)

Next time you're facing an employee who's made an error or is otherwise struggling, think of my story about Peter Gabriel and Paula Cole. You're much more likely to be happy with the results if you build them up instead of breaking them down.