istock geese
Credit: Zizar2002/iStock

The story of Randy Bachman’s most famous song holds a leadership lesson

“That’s lame.”  

“There’s no way we’re doing that song—forget it.”

So went the response when Randy Bachman pitched his song “White Collar Worker” to his Bachman Turner Overdrive bandmates. He liked the tune. He knew there was something special about it, but he also knew it lacked something. He just couldn’t put his finger on what the song needed.

Bachman had shifted the music to a more straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll feel from its initial lighter tone, which was a big improvement. He’d been working on the lyrics for some time. The verses seemed to be coming together fairly well, but he wasn’t happy with the chorus. His “White collar worker” line didn’t have the right feel, but what would make it all work?

He kept mulling it over...

Driving through the streets of Vancouver one day, Bachman was lost in thought while listening to the radio. He was enjoying the music but also thinking about “White Collar Worker.” It was getting there but seemed to be just three degrees from great.

And then it happened: during a live promotional segment between songs, the DJ uttered the words that forever changed the history of rock: “We’re takin’ care of business for you.”

That was the lyric Bachman was looking for! Forget “White collar worker”—“Takin’ care of business” would be the chorus.

At their next gig, which happened to be at a nightclub, Randy told the band to follow him at the end of the evening as he launched into the opening guitar riff of “Takin’ Care of Business.” It caught the crowd’s attention, and by the time BTO accelerated into the chorus, people had flooded the dance floor and were going wild with delight to the now-iconic song.

There is a profound lesson for leaders in this story.

To its credit, “White Collar Worker” had some good lyrics and a decent melody. However, it was three degrees from great—the song needed some adjustments to take it to the next level. Bachman had to be willing to keep working on it until he landed on something that he and his target audience were happy with.

How many leaders keep singing the same song over and over again, getting mediocre results, believing that if maybe they sing it more often, or a little louder, it will somehow produce great results? Leaders have to be willing to retool, rethink, adjust and adapt their message so it shifts that little bit to create something great. How many leaders are three degrees off—but unwilling to make the changes necessary to accomplish great things?

Wholehearted leaders are willing to make those changes. They’re lifelong learners. They’re committed to an ongoing process of improvement and personal growth. If what they’re doing is not producing great results, they don’t keep doing the same thing hoping for a different outcome; they adapt, adjust, correct and make that three-degree change.

What kind of change could you bring to your leadership to increase your effectiveness? Are you committed to improvement and personal growth? Are you willing to listen to feedback from others so you can make the changes necessary to move from mediocre to magnificent, from good to great, or from awful to awesome?

Are you willing to learn a lesson from Randy Bachman and draw from a variety of sources to increase the impact of your offering?  

We can all choose to make a three-degree change in the way we lead. It may not seem significant at the time, but in the long run, three degrees will create a profoundly different outcome.

If you truly want to take care of business, will you adjust? Or will you settle for three degrees from great?

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as chair of The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at