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Are You a Wilbury?

Written by: Deb Sparrow
Published: Wed Nov 13 2019 13:21:36 GMT-0500 (Eastern Standard Time)

I’ve been uptight and made a mess

But I’ll clean it up myself I guess

Oh, the sweet smell of success

Handle me with care.

-Handle with Care by Dylan, Harrison, Lynne, Orbison, Petty

That path, the journey, is never a straight line, and while it is ours individually, we never travel it completely alone. 

With any luck, early in life you discovered who are, and perhaps are not, your people. That doesn’t make those who are not specifically your people wrong, or bad, it is simply that they may not be those who see the best in you and want you to succeed. Those people, my people, the ones who see something in me and encourage me to be the best I can be, are my gifts in life. I think of them as my Wilburys. 

If you are familiar with The Traveling Wilburys, you might know that they were the first ‘supergroup’ consisting of accomplished artists and songwriters who decided to team together in the late 80’s to make great music. After reading a little more about how they came to be, I’m not convinced that it had as much to do with the music as it did the relationships and connections. 

Maybe you are wracking your brain to remember who, other than George Harrison (the best Beatle, incidentally) was a Wilbury. To save you time and keep you from abandoning this article to run off to Google because trying to remember is making you crazy, the original members of the Traveling Wilburys were Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. After you finish reading this article (and enthusiastically giving it five stars, no pressure but genuine gratitude!), feel free to Google how many of the Wilburys are still alive. 

As you look at the list you might be thinking, as I did, “Wow, that is some incredible collective musical talent.” The thing I find interesting about the group is that it was started by Harrison and Lynne (of Electric Light Orchestra fame). Harrison’s original vision was to carefully select the participants to create “the perfect little band,” but in reality, selection was driven by who they wanted to hang out with and get to know better.

In other words, they wanted to make friends while making music. Brilliant, huh? 

I have had The Traveling Wilburys on my playlist for a while but never gave much thought to how the group came into existence. Believe it or not, I don’t happen to know many rock stars and how they go about selecting bandmates. I can only assume it has something to do with talent and need, such as a guitarist, or a drummer, or great hair, or maybe someone who can sing. The idea that it should first be someone likable and pleasant to be around?

Ah, cultural fit. Now that I understand. 

How this came to mind recently was an episode of the Showtime series Billions called “All the Wilburys.” If you are not familiar, Billions is the story of hedge fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod and the U.S. attorney who is determined to uncover his secrets and where the money trail leads. The culture at Axe Capital is not exactly kindly and credit union-like, if you are wondering. The business is cutthroat and the players are obnoxious and degenerate in the pursuit of wealth.

Maybe I shouldn’t confess to enjoying it as much as I do, nor should I mention that my favorite character is Mike Wagner, known as Wags, who is the COO of Axe Capital and Axe’s right-hand man. Wags is a self-described profane hedonist. He’s a great character, equal parts eccentric and obscene, both crude and brilliant, funny and unmerciful, and he evolves as the episodes unfold. Well, kind of. 

The Wilburys scene that caught my attention and has me thinking about how and where we fit involves Axe, Wags, and their obsessive, newly hired head of compliance, Ari Spyros. Spyros is much needed, but not at all liked, by the ‘rules are optional’ Axe Capital principals. Axe and Wags decide to fire Spyros because they don’t believe that he brings added value to their team, or in their words, is “not a Wilbury.” 

What does that mean? According to Wags, to be a Wilbury you need to have “…a certain combination of wit, cool, and credibility. Jack Nicholson? A Wilbury. Richard Dreyfus? A great actor, but not a Wilbury. Ari Spyros? Not a Wilbury. Not even close.” 

Now, I’m not saying that we should all want to be considered Wilbury material by the likes of Axe and Wags. At the same time, do we not want to be Wilburys within our own groups or tribes? And what if all organizations based their hiring practices on cultural and behavioral fit, in addition to the needed skills, experience, and knowledge?

How would you do, for instance, if you were being evaluated based on whether others wanted to hang out with you? And what criteria would that be anyway? Is it about positive energy, optimism, humility, and integrity? Or is it about the ability to build relationships and engender trust and build a safe environment, especially if you are a leader?

I’m pretty sure Axe Capital’s criteria is a lot different from most of our workplaces, and their definition of a Wilbury is not the same as yours and mine, but maybe they are not all that far off within the hierarchy of human needs. If you think about it, even a billionaire of questionable morals needs people around him, or her, who can be trusted, right? 

What is it, then, then causes us to trust or not? First, what is trust? It is the firm belief or confidence in someone’s reliability, ability, strength, and character. It is about a feeling of security and safety that you have or that you give. We all have people, or institutions, we would trust with our lives and the lives of our children. We also know others we would not, and that is most likely because we have learned not to from direct experience. 

How do you build trust and connection? It happens one genuine interaction at a time when we give our time and attention to others. According to Harvard Business Review (The 3 Elements of Trust, Zenger and Folkman, February 2019), there are three foundations of trust on which we evaluate leaders: positive relationships; good judgment/expertise; and consistency. According to the research of the HBR authors, it is positive relationships that seem to matter to us more substantially than good judgment or consistency.

Extending trust to others, whether in the workplace or personally, is a great way to build mutual trust. As people get to know each other, each disclosure of information, when reciprocated and handled with respect and care, creates a stronger relationship. Of course, trust can also be destroyed by not being truthful, caring, or respectful of others. 

Surprised by the HBR research? I’m not. For the most part, we are more trusting of people who invest in us and make an ongoing effort to genuinely connect with us. Maybe we all want to be Wilburys. People who show us that they want us to succeed and will handle us with care are the ones who earn our trust and affection. You can build a culture and a successful organization around that, believe me.   

Thank you for reading. Your feedback is welcome.

Deb Sparrow

Deb Sparrow

Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at

Great article!! Thoughtful, timely and as always beautifully written. Great work Deb.