March 2008 | Volume 1, Issue #9

In This Issue
Leadership Grooves
Leadership Riffs
Upcoming Engagements
Recent Feedback
The Cellar Jazz Club
Quick Links

Leaders do three things.  They work with and through other people to:

  • conceptualize the strategic direction;
  • align the passions and talents; and
  • support the implementation.

Their most basic tool in establishing this flow of successful collaboration is conversation.  But a particular kind of conversation is essential in leading people through these three stages of productive performance.  


Leaders must use considerate conversations.  They must be caring and kindly towards the feelings and circumstances of those involved in the performance and they must be reflective, thoughtful, and prudent about all the factors involved in bringing about success.  Leaders must initiate conversations that come from both their hearts and their heads and that touch both the hearts and heads of those being invited to follow.


Credible leadership cannot be forced.  Followers choose to engage fully based on how well they are respected and appreciated. 


Considerate conversations are rooted in that kind of respect and appreciation and designed to generate buy-in from the very beginning by:

  • gathering the wisdom of the group in conceptualizing strategic direction;
  • discovering the passions and talents available to the group in aligning the efforts; and
  • providing positive encouragement and learning as the results are achieved.   

These insights on the flow of leadership and the power of considerate conversations are some of the first fruits of my conversations with the leaders of jazz groups in Metro Vancouver.  More will follow in future issues.  I'd welcome feedback and comment at fraser@jazzthink.com. 

Warm regards,  
Brian Fraser                      



Leadership Grooves

Getting in a 'groove' for jazz musicians means playing exceptionally well, appreciating and enjoying the feel and flow of the music, and pleasing immensely all those involved in the performance - self, fellow musicians, and audience.  You find your 'groove' by paying careful attention to the source of sound, significance, and satisfaction deep in your soul.  Each month we will feature stories of people finding their leadership 'groove'.


The Top 5 Tips on Leadership from our 2007 Jazzthink Gigs


The leaders we work with tell us 3 different stories about what interferes with them getting the results they want.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


First Steps


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.


Leadership Riffs 

A 'riff' in jazz is a melodic phrase that is constantly repeated and played over changing harmonies and rhythms.  It's a core theme around which improvisation happens.  As leaders, our 'riffs' are communicated in conversation, the most common form of improvisation or jazz on this planet.  Each month we will highlight a key idea essential to great leadership around which you can improvise in your conversations.


The Art of Receiving


Last month a reader of The Jazzthink E-Zine drew to my attention to a quote from John Steinbeck, one of my favourite writers.  It's an appreciation of Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist who was the model for Doc in Cannery Row, from an appendix in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. 


The quality Steinbeck highlighted was his ability to receive, "to receive anything from anyone, to receive gracefully and thankfully, and to make the gift seem very fine."  Receiving, Steinbeck continued, "requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness.  It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships.  In receiving, you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.  It requires self-esteem to receive - not self-love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking of oneself." (John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Appendix, ""About Ed Ricketts"", Penguin Books, 1951, pp. 272-3)


Leaders of great jazz groups know how to receive the passions, talents, and ideas of those playing with them.  That kind of receiving is essential to the successful performance of the group.  Each player is encouraged to give their best.  But the even more important quality in making the performance exceptional is the willingness and ability of all the other players to receive what is being offered with respect and appreciation.  That positive attitude towards receiving what is being offered is the key to innovation and creativity, because the idea being appreciatively received may spark a new idea in other players that may lead the group to a place they have never been before - all because they were open and willing to receive with humility, grace, and focus.


The 'riff' of receiving well is one of the most catalytic practices leaders can master and improvise around as they seek to bring out the best in all those with whom they work.

Upcoming Engagements
Vancouver Board of Trade Logo 

JAZZING UP YOUR LEADERSHIP: How effective leaders engage colleagues


Date: Thursday, March 27, 2008



The Marriot Pinnacle Downtown - Ballroom

1128 West Hastings Street

Vancouver, BC


Registration: 7:30 a.m.

Program: 7:45 - 9:45 a.m.


To find our more and register, click here.

Recent Feedback

"Brian, your "Healthy Leadership & Jazz" session at Vancouver Coastal Health's Leadership Breakfast was a resounding success.  The analogy hit a chord with the audience and the message of engaging in 'considerate conversations' empowers each of us to take responsibility for our own personal leadership, something that often gets lost within a large and often complex system.  Your approach brings a breath of fresh air and sends us onwards into our day with a spring in our steps and recognition that to be in our leadership 'groove', we need to be listening & learning, encouraging and engaging, appreciating and aligning and delighting in all we do.  Many thanks.'              

Peter Wheatley and Lori Benning,

Leadership and Management Development,

Vancouver Coastal Health


Enjoy Great Jazz in Vancouver 

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