The Boss and The Big Man: Leadership Lessons from Bruce Springsteen

Posted on June 20, 2011


When the change was made uptown And the Big Man joined the band From the coastline to the city All the little pretties raise their hands Bruce Springsteen, “10th Avenue Freeze Out”

Clarence Clemons, the saxophone player known to millions of Bruce Springsteen fans as the Big Man, died Saturday night of complications from a stroke he had suffered a week earlier. He was 69 years old. You can read more about Clemons’ life and career in a great article at

For anyone who isn’t a big Springsteen fan, it’s important to understand that Clemons was more than just a member of Bruce’s famed E Street Band.

He was The Big Man.

Not just because he was a large man; which he was.

Not just because his sax was a big part of many of Springsteen’s best songs; which it was. (For a quick primer listen to “Jungleland,” “Badlands,” “Thunder Road,” and “Born to Run.”

He was The Big Man because Springsteen helped make him into a legendary figure.

He was Robin to Springsteen’s Batman. He was Pippen to Springsteen’s Jordan.

He was The Big Man to Springsteen who is known as the Boss.

Springsteen has been known to describe the first night he met Clemons this way:  “With a lightning storm raging outside, the Big Man tore the door off an Asbury Park club, strode onstage, and made magic.”

In his preface to Clemons’ biography titled “Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales,” Springsteen wrote, “Mere facts will never plumb the mysteries of the Big Man.”

During his Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction speech Springsteen said, ““That night we first stood together, I looked over at [Clemons] and it looked like his head reached into the clouds. And I felt like a mere mortal scurrying upon the earth, you know. But he always lifted me up. Way, way, way up. Together we told a story of the possibilities of friendship, a story older than the ones that I was writing and a story I could never have told without him at my side.”

What’s magical about the relationship between Springsteen and Clemons is that the Boss never tried to minimize the role the Big Man played in his success. He celebrated it.

Springsteen endeavored to make Clemons legend as big as it could be, knowing that having a unique character like the Big Man in he band played a role in their success.

Watch how Springsteen introduced Clemons on stage.

Too often leaders of a band, radio show or other type of group are afraid of someone on the team eclipsing them or becoming more popular.

If you are the leader of a group learn a lesson from the Boss. When you find your Big Man (or woman), help them grow. Foster their legend, don’t fight it.

Then you can do what Bruce did next in the song “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.”

He let his guys lead the way, “I’m gonna sit back right easy and laugh. When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half with a Tenth Avenue freeze-out.”