The leaders we work with tell us 3 different stories about what interferes with them getting the results they want.
- There's too much urgent busyness cramming into their days, preventing them from taking time to coach and mentor their followers or reflect on the best strategies for the future.
- There's too much pressure from above to conform in rigid ways to performance standards set by superiors without consultation, preventing them from being adaptive and creative in achieving their goals.
- There's too much conflict, resistance, or passivity in the workplace, preventing them from motivating and mobilizing talent to serve purpose.
In our work with leaders, we use a jazz performance (preferably live) to provoke them to imagine different ways of leading that will address their most pressing challenges. We begin by asking them what qualities of great leadership they see in the performance of the jazz group. We want their wisdom in the room as we begin our explorations of new possibilities in leadership.
Here are the top 5 tips on leading that their wisdom has produced in 2007:
1. Inspire energetic passion in everyone
Creating inspiration for a performance is a collaborative task. You can't do it on your own. It involves taking the time to listen with respect to the desires and insights of those with whom you are working. A good jazz group spends time together, getting to know how they each play before they perform in public. They find out what they value most, what excites their passions, and what they can do best. Then they can move forward with unified enthusiasm.
2. Be clear about what you are doing
To maintain the enthusiastic unity, you must set clear goals that everyone understands and owns. But you can't over-design and prescribe. Jazz musicians play from what they call "core charts" or "lead sheets" that set out some basic melodies and rhythms, but leave lots of room for creativity and adjustment as the performance unfolds. It's not like a symphony score that details every note and step. There's a lot more room for individual contribution and group adaptation.
3. Appreciate and align all the talent in the group
Execution of a clear set of goals requires an appreciation of the specific talents you have among your followers and a leadership style that leaves room for them to shine at precisely those moments when their talents are most needed. The leader is responsible for creating the space for talent to contribute and for aligning all that talent to serve the goals.
4. Stay in sync and work together
When leaders are attentive to tapping into passion, providing clarity, and creating alignment, the chances of the group working well together and staying in synch with the flow of the work are greatly increased. Learning happens in the moment, as the performance progresses, with everyone on the team feeling free to suggest and explore new ideas and approaches to playing the melody and satisfying the audiences. The team finds the "groove" in which they all play exceptionally well and find great pleasure in their performance.
5. Enjoy yourselves
When the jazz group plays, leaders observing them comment most frequently on the smiles, the happiness, and the joy they see. These musicians are having fun! That enjoyment is rooted in the competence of the players, the common vision they share, the way they get to challenge previous ways to playing the tune, the ways they help each other play their best and even above that, and the encouragement they offer to each other.
Sounds hopelessly idealistic? Well, I might have agreed with you five years ago before finding out what people saw in jazz performances that reminded them of great leadership. But these 5 top tips come from what leaders have seen themselves in actual performances, so it can be done.
And the first step is to consider your conversations.
Leaders do their work through conversations, and conversation is the most common form of jazz in the world. Every time we engage in conversation, we improvise with vocabulary and grammar to create a new performance. The result of that performance depends on the tone and content participants choose to insert into those conversations. That's how leaders can exert their most positive influence - choosing to engage in collaborative and constructive conversations - considerate conversations - that follow the flow of these 5 top tips.